Games that combine virtual and physical components are becoming increasingly popular as technology advances. “Play-Doh Touch” uses screens to enhance traditional clay-play and Tiggly has made a mission out of finding ways to blend physical toys with digital games in order to educate kids in subjects ranging from math to vocabulary. Even Disney has embraced this new play-style via the release of the “Infinity” and “Amiibo” lines that feature collectible toys that have the ability to interact with characters in virtual games, essentially rendering them as literal “action figures.”

One of the forerunners in the “phygital” movement” movement is a start-up company called "Magikbee" which aims to help small Children fine-tune their motor skills by placing interactive building blocks on a screen that responds to their presence.

The ten blocks included in the kit essentially "talk" to the screen while the child builds a tower or complete a puzzle that is enhanced via illustrations. "Magikbee" uses augmented reality to foster their creations. The startup company began in Portugal but their wares have become very popular in the United States.

Magikbee has aspirations to become the leader in the fusion between virtual reality and traditional toys which have been termed the “phygital movement.” Their patented technology led them to the finals of the prestigious Silicon Valley World Tech Cup Challenge in the categories of Argumented Reality and Virtual Reality.

Hugo Ribeiro, the co-founder, and CEO of Magikbee, recently discusses his inventions, how advancements in technology impact play, and much more via an exclusive interview.

Inventing and designing professionally

Meagan Meehan (MM): What prompted you to get into designing toys?

Hugo Ribeiro (HR): It all started when I noticed a problem. I worked for over twelve years in marketing and my job was to look into gaps and problems and find perfect solutions. In this case, my younger daughter was the inspiration.

She loved to spend time with her iPad and if we'd asked her, I think she would have said she prefers playing with the iPad to playing with her toys. This screen-focused tendency and lack of connection with reality started worrying me.

MM: How did you initially think up the concept for Magik Play?

HR: Magik Play is our first product and is part of a wider a vision that we have for kids.

As I designed it, I was trying to find a way to address the concerns I had about my kid’s use of the iPad, and thinking that it could be cool if her toys somehow interacted with the device so she could play with both at the same time. I then met Pedro, my co-founder, who was already working on developing interactive technologies to bridge the gap between physical and digital. We immediately began working together to make that vision a reality and we started the company.

MM: What about blending virtual and physical toys most appealed to you?

HR: Studies show that its crucial for kids to have a connection with their surrounding environment. Meanwhile, they love digital devices - having your kid swiping around aimlessly on a smartphone or tablet is a common problem!

So, we tried to come up with a solution that would keep children happy and engaged but would also offer educational and developmental benefits to them. We thought that inventing something that blended virtual characters and physical toys were the best of both worlds.

MM: What was the actual design process like; for instance, how did you think up the characters, levels, and challenges.

HR: First, there was the immersion phase during which we looked at a huge number of games and toys and tried to think of how we could get the most out of connecting physical objects and digital characters. We knew how great building was for kids - it helps them be creative and to work fine-motor skills, balance, and coordination.

It’s a universal and timeless way of playing. So, building structures to help characters overcome obstacles was the first thought we had. We then at a certain point, noticed that some kids liked to build but also enjoyed destroying what they had built, and so we incorporated that insight in our "Runaway" game, in which kids help a character escape and at certain points have to destroy the structure so that the bad guys can’t chase them.

Games, technology, and future potential

MM: What was it like to work on this game and how long did it take from start to finish?

HR: Our proprietary technology is unique and magical but was challenging to develop. It took us more than a year to perfect and adapt before it was ready for kids.

We tested it with kids to see how they were playing and we fine-tuned it until we thought it was ready to take to the market. During the process, it was massively rewarding to see how kids played with our games and we believed that we had designed the perfect fusion between digital and real-world play.

MM: What is your favorite aspect about Magik Play?

HR: It’s difficult to choose just one. We love to see how the game and the toys merge in a seamless and kind of magical way. If we had to choose just one of the most surprising benefits we see in our games it would be the collaborative nature of some of the challenges. In one of our games, 'Runaway,' kids have to build quite complex structures. Sometimes even adults find them tricky!

It’s awesome to see kids playing as a team and helping each other to get through each challenge.

MM: What have been some of the greatest experiences you've had regarding player feedback?

HR: It has been an amazing journey. The best experience we have had with feedback was from a Mom with an autistic kid. She wanted us to know that her kid, Dylan, started playing with Magik Play at therapy and that it had helped him so much in various ways: "When he builds something and it comes to life, he is amazed, proud and grasps the concept of cause and effect. It has the ability to put shapes into the real world. A triangle can be an actual ramp, a rectangle can be a building--it opens up his world!" We didn’t develop Magik Play specifically for kids with autism, but seeing the benefits it can have makes us enormously proud.

MM: What is coming up next for you regarding your career and are you currently designing any other games?

HR: At Magikbee we are very focused and committed to launching products that can really help solve problems that kids and parents have. We are preparing new and exciting products to launch in the next couple of months. There’s a new math game that will help kids learn important skills in a fun way (this game is going to be compatible with the Magik Play kit) and we are also developing a new product. It will work with both Android and iOS devices, and we believe that it’s going to have a fantastic effect on kids because it addresses a huge concern that parents have. I can’t reveal much more right now but the "phygital" movement has incredible future potential.