For the digitally obsessed youth of so-called Generation Z, what is the definition of a toy?
That's the question that Rodger Raderman and Doug Penman set out to answer in 2009 when the two parents founded a company called Nukotoys in San Francisco.
On Tuesday, they came up with their answer: A set of trading cards that works with a series of iPad games. Players tap the cards on an iPad or iPhone in order to unlock new content in the games. Nukotoys launched two games, "Animal Planet Wildlands" and "Monsterology." The first builds on Discovery Communications' Animal Planet cable TV channel, and the second is based on Candlewick Press' "Monsterology" book.
Nukotoys hopes its trifecta of media -- mobile games, physical trading cards and traditional entertainment -- will resonate with digitally savvy kids and tweens.
"We decided that the toy of the future is a connected toy," Raderman said in an interview. "We're building a platform that merges virtual and physical play."
Though Nukotoys is among a growing cluster of game companies reaching beyond the virtual and giving players something tangible, it relies on an age-old, proven business model -- card collecting.
That's not a surprise given its star-studded board of advisors, which includes Peter Adkison, who founded Wizards of the Coast and published the Pokemon trading card game. Other advisors are Tom Kalinske, former chief executive of Mattel and Sega of America, and former Lucasfilm President Gordon Radley.
Nukotoys' cards have an advantage over their mute predecessors -- they can communicate with Apple's touch-screen devices.
Using digital paper technology developed by Printechnologics called Touchcode, each card has a unique digital signal. When players tap the cards on to capacitive touch screens such as the iPad, the devices can "read" the cards' signals and unlock new content in the game.
The games are free to download, but the cards cost money -- $1.99 for three cards, $3.99 for seven, and $19.99 for a premium set of 28 cards. In addition, parents can buy virtual cards within the games and dole them out to their kids one at a time, like an allowance.
Raderman calls the cards "app-cessories" -- physical items that can interact with digital applications.
"A lot of entertainment, media and toy companies that want to move into mobile digital find this to be a very promising route," Raderman said.