BB-8, the roly-poly droid from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” is already a beloved character even though the movie won’t be released until mid-December. A big reason for that is Sphero’s remote-controlled version of the character, which rolled onto the scene two months ago and left virtually every other new “Star Wars” toy in the dust.
The company and “Star Wars” owner Disney have given the baseball-sized toy droid more to do than play a major part in kids’ games, serve as a rolling conversation piece at parties, or antagonize pets. Updates to the BB-8 toy’s mobile app deliver messages from characters that appear as holographic projections.
Friday, BB-8 owners will be to access exclusive content through their apps, including dialogue provided by Disney unit Lucasfilm, from “The Force Awakens.” Villainous Captain Phasma (played by “Game of Thrones” star Gwendoline Christie) and a stormtrooper for the evil First Order will be the first new characters given the BB-8 treatment. The release comes on the heels of a content release last week which included R2-D2 and fellow legacy character C-3PO.
The new material feeds into BB-8 from updates to the mobile app which people use to control the toy. More updates are coming soon, too, according to John Blakely, Sphero’s chief product officer. Users can expect another one around the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally known as “Black Friday,” and yet another around when the movie comes out Dec. 18. After “The Force Awakens” is released, Blakely said Sphero will have greater leeway to release more content and features since there will no longer be a need to worry about spoiling the movie’s plot.
Owners won’t need to worry about shelling out more money for the app updates, either, as they’re included in the original $149.99 price, Blakely said. He added that there are no plans to raise the price on BB-8, even as the company works to satisfy the hot market for the toy during the holiday-shopping season.
Sphero significantly ramped up BB-8 production after legions of fans snapped up the toy during the Force Friday event early in September.
“We immediately invested in even more production lines being opened,” Blakely said, adding that the process takes time because of the additional demand on the company’s suppliers. “We are doing our best to meet that demand, although it’s been significant, even more than we projected.”
The demand for BB-8 toys has helped raise Sphero’s profile, not to mention the sales of other products, such as the company’s namesake toy, and it looks like the “Star Wars” character could be the beginning of a wave.
Since Disney is a strategic partner and an investor in Sphero, might there be interactive doodads inspired by properties in other realms of the media conglomerate’s empire? Blakely wouldn’t comment on any specific plans, but he did say BB-8’s success makes him confident that retailers and content providers are paying more attention to market for “connected play” toys. “I think this is sort of a breakout hit for it,” he said.
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