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The world’s #1 selling toy is on a quest to reinvent itself for today’s kids

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There’s a chart at Mattel that undoubtedly keeps its VPs up at night. I saw it on a slide during a corporate presentation. And while the company wouldn’t share it to be reprinted here, let me paint you a picture the best I can remember it. The Y-axis is time spent playing. The X-axis shows age. The first line depicts kids who play with physical toys—cars, dolls, and other products Mattel is known for. The other line shows kids who play with tablets and phones—apps on Android and iOS devices. The physical toys start high. The screen toys start low. But by age 6, these two lines grow close. And by age 8, they cross. Children are barely in their preteen years as they leave toys as we know them behind, these days.

And that’s why, despite Hot Wheels being the number one selling toy in the world—the average U.S. child owns 50 Hot Wheels, according the company, and 500 million of these diecast cars were sold in 2018 alone—Mattel has spent the last four years rethinking Hot Wheels for the digital age.

Today, Mattel is launching a new product called Hot Wheels ID. It’s a premium, $7 version of the $1 Hot Wheels cars you know. Nearly identical to the Hot Wheels produced for the last 50 years in every way, these vehicles sport one important update: They have been retrofitted with NFC chips, so they have a digital identity, too.

That means Hot Wheels ID vehicles—using new track designs and components that accompany the release—will connect seamlessly to the cloud, which records their vehicle and race history like a Carfax report. Using iOS and Android apps, but playing with Hot Wheels much like they always have, kids will see their top speeds, lap times, and how they stack up to the world’s Hot Wheels drivers. In one game mode, called Slingshot, you launch your vehicle on a physical Hot Wheels track, then you look to the screen as a digital copy flies through a flaming hoop like Angry Birds. Kids will also be able to race digital versions of their cars inside the apps, too, without buying diecast vehicles at all, leveling up their performance and paying to unlock new features through microtransactions.

What Mattel hopes it has created is a version of Hot Wheels that’s true to the last 50 years of the brand, but future-proofed for decades to........

© Fast Company