LeapFrog Enterprises is launching a video game console for children with an educational twist — games approved by those who teach kids.
The LeapTV costs $150 when it debuts this fall with more than 100 educator-approved games and videos. The new product is a bet that the living room console is here to stay and that LeapFrog itself has a shot to carve out the market for smaller kids who enjoy educational entertainment (or more for their parents, who want their kids to learn while playing games). Kids will be able to play with personalization features and motion-sensing controls that are similar to those that Nintendo introduced with the Wii in 2006.
“We are coming in at the younger side of the age range and are bridging the game between fun and learning,” said Dave Perkinson, the vice president of global content development at LeapFrog in Emeryville, Calif., in an interview with GamesBeat. “We will have the best educational games designed from the ground up.”
LeapTV will have three ways to play, including a classic controller or a pointer. You can also play with motion-sensing controls, getting kids to be more active and off the couch. The machine aims to change the way kids learn by combining activity and movement with educational curriculum. You can transform the device into the type of control that fits the game.
The games target kids ages 3 to 8. The big question is whether the market will be a large one, as older children become aspirational and want to play with the same kinds of devices that teens play with, such as iPods, iPads, game consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and Nintendo handheld devices.
“We wanted to make kids independent, and parents independent, so they don’t have to be there to get the machine going,” Perkinson said.
There will be nine cartridge titles available at retailers at launch time. The rest will be available through digital means. The console has 16 gigabytes of flash memory to store digital content.
“All of the gameplay will be age appropriate, and that’s important to parents,” Perkinson said. “There is nothing to graphic or too violent.”
The system is one more move by LeapFrog, which has been making educational games and toys for 20 years, to keep up with the times. The success of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 showed that gamers still want consoles in the home. Back in 2011, LeapFrog introduced its LeapPad Explorer tablet gaming system. But console makers haven’t addressed the early childhood market. Of 37,000 games rated by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, less than one-tenth of 1 percent are rated “early childhood.”
“This is a problem we really wanted to solve,” Perkinson said.
The traditional controller requires two AA batteries and it has up to 25 hours of gameplay. The controller uses Bluetooth connectivity, and the system has a universal serial bus camera with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels at 30 frames per second. It runs on a proprietary 1 GHz chip created by LeapFrog, and it is comparable to an ARM Cortex-A9. The controller has a built-in accelerometer to detect motion. It weighs 1.2 pounds. There’s a USB port for the camera, Ethernet, and HDMI out. It has a gigabyte of DDR3 main memory, and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. It can output HD video at 720p.
“With the camera, we can put kids in the game and make them the star of the show,” Perkinson said.
Perkinson said the company expects to create a platform that other game developers can design video games that run on LeapTV. The content will run the gamut of reading, math, science, and problem-solving. Kids can level up their skills, and the games can adapt to the progress that the child makes. The child can personalize the user interface for their preference and age level.
“It is shocking that less than 1 percent of the tens of thousands of video game titles are rated appropriate for children under the age of 6 years. We know that young children want to experience new ways to play through technology earlier than ever, but parents quickly discover that there are very few solutions that are developmentally appropriate or educational for young children,” said Jody Sherman LeVos, the director of LeapFrog’s Learning Team. “At LeapFrog, we built LeapTV from the ground up to make it the best first video gaming experience for children. From the simple user interface to the innovative controller with a built-in ‘hint’ button and a world-class Learning Library all designed or approved by our Learning Team, LeapTV gets children’s minds and bodies moving while engaging in learning fun.”
The titles include the Dance and Learn game using the Body Motion sensor. In that game, kids read a word and perform an action, like “jump.” The system measures how well you perform the action, and then it requires you to freeze. It measures how well you stop doing the action.
There’s a mix of licensed titles, like Sofia the First and Ultimate Spider-Man (a reading game), and original titles. Most of the games have audio instructions, as many younger kids can’t read. LeapTV will also have sports, karate, pirate, and horse-riding games.
Children can run, hop, tip-toe, or wave their arms to defend goals, karate-chop fast-moving blocks, scuba dive, and more. With the Pointer Play, players can slice jungle vines, chop coconuts, and swing from building to building like Spider-Man. And with the classic controller, gamers can play traditional exploration or racing games. The controller has a “hint button” that provides contextual help, where it gives a hint that helps the child solve a problem without giving away the answer.
“At LeapFrog, we strive to offer the best first experiences for children whether through our top-selling family of tablets, the recently unveiled LeapBand activity tracker that encourages and rewards children for getting up and active, and now our incredible new educational, active video gaming system, LeapTV,” said John Barbour, the chief executive officer at LeapFrog. “Our experiences engage, entertain and educate in a unique way where children are having fun while they learn. LeapTV is the perfect example of how we infuse learning through an innovative gaming experience, from exploring math while playing sports to learning how to read while dancing to fun music. In every way, LeapTV has been designed from the ground up, just for children.”
Game cartridges will cost $30, while downloadable games will sell for $5 and up. Additional controllers cost $30. Perkinson said the company worked on the system for more than a year.