Behind the Work: ToyToyota Backseat Driver

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One way to encourage brand love is to get 'em while they're young. That's the thinking behind ToyToyota, a new content platform and toy brand launched by Toyota and Tokyo-N.Y. creative lab Party. Party had hooked up with Toyota Motor Sales and Marketing (TMSM), which "wanted to create innovative digital content that would help rediscover the fun of driving, and create new brand engagement with future drivers, 'the kids,'" explains Party co-founder Masashi Kawamura. With Party, ToyToyota recently debuted its first "toy," Backseat Driver, a mobile game that simulates the driving experience for kids in real time, as they sit in the backseats of their parents' Toyotas. The game taps into the iPhone's GPS to depict a whimsical driving route on screen that mimics the one outside. Kids earn points by passing/collecting landmarks along the way. As they rack up points, they get to add custom details to their virtual cars.

"We wanted to create a digital toy that could connect the virtual gaming experience with the actual driving experience, something that links the parents in the driver's seat and the child in the backseat," says Kawamura. "That's when we came up with the idea of a driving game, where your car moves along with the actual car you're riding in. Our aim was to make this toy into something that enhances the driving experience, and become a tool that creates a new conversation between the kids and the parents."

Overall the biggest challenges involved the latency of GPS and creating a "close to reality" experience for the game players, says Party co-founder Qanta Shimizu. "We took coordinates from the GPS to find out which areas you are currently driving and changed the scenery." The Foursquare API proved useful too--that's what allows players to find landmark items to collect (and score points with).

The project was created both in house at Party and with outside partners, including Qosmo, the main developer team, and raughark and Yoshiyuki Odajima, who created the 3D objects. Party and Rhizomatiks handled technical management.

"The app may look simple, but it's actually delivering rich and complex programming," says Shimizu. Initially, there were minor issues with the "save" function of players' data when launched, but a software update is now available. "The great thing about an app is that you can always update to make it better for users," adds Kawamura.

The game, which works not just in Japan but globally, saw 8000 downloads within the first four days of launch. As is the case with digital products, Backseat Driver is constantly in development and Party will "continue working on this app to sustain continuous communication with users" and ensure it remains fun to play with, Shimizu says. Looking back on the process, if they were to do it all over, Kawamura says his team "would definitely keep the core idea to be 'experiencing enjoyment of mobility,'' but "would probably spend more time developing the entertainment aspect of the app when users are not moving, making it an app that's fun, either moving or not."

Meanwhile, the creative shop plans to continue creating new products for ToyToyota and is currently pitching on the next installment.

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