BB-8, the roly-poly droid from â€œStar Wars: The Force Awakens,â€ is already a beloved character even though the movie wonâ€™t be released until mid-December. A big reason for that is Spheroâ€™s remote-controlled version of the character, which rolled onto the scene two months ago and left virtually every other new â€œStar Warsâ€ toy in the dust.
The company and â€œStar Warsâ€ owner Disney have given the baseball-sized toy droid more to do than play a major part in kidsâ€™ games, serve as a rolling conversation piece at parties, or antagonize pets. Updates to the BB-8 toyâ€™s mobile app deliver messages from characters that appear as holographic projections.
Friday, BB-8 owners will beÂ to access exclusive content through their apps,Â including dialogue provided by Disney unit Lucasfilm, from â€œThe Force Awakens.â€ Villainous Captain Phasma (played by â€œGame of Thronesâ€ 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, Spheroâ€™s chief product officer. Users can expect another one around the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally known as â€œBlack Friday,â€ and yet another around when the movie comes out Dec. 18. After â€œThe Force Awakensâ€ 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 movieâ€™s plot.
Owners wonâ€™t need to worry about shelling out more money for the app updates, either, as theyâ€™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.
â€œWe immediately invested in even more production lines being opened,â€ Blakely said, adding thatÂ the process takes time because of the additional demand on the companyâ€™s suppliers. â€œWe are doing our best to meet that demand, although itâ€™s been significant, even more than we projected.â€
The demand for BB-8 toys has helped raise Spheroâ€™s profile, not to mention the sales of other products, such as the companyâ€™s namesake toy, and it looks like the â€œStar Warsâ€ 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 conglomerateâ€™s empire? Blakely wouldnâ€™t comment on any specific plans, but he did say BB-8â€™s success makes him confident that retailers and content providers are paying more attention to market for â€œconnected playâ€ toys. â€œI think this is sort of a breakout hit for it,â€ he said.
For the latest entertainment news Follow @WSJSpeakeasy