by Steve Rehkemper | 05 May 2022
Biographies and Interviews
For whatever reason, the notion of having and keeping a pet has always been part of human nature. Playing with and caring for a pet is an intrinsic value, part of being a good person and it’s no big surprise that we have instilled this value in children’s toys throughout history. Whether toy puppies or other domesticated animals, toy pets made by toy companies usually attempt to be as real as possible- by emulating the sounds, motions or feel of real pets. Over the years, the quality of the appearance and audio animatronics of toy pets have become quite good and Rehco, our toy invention company, certainly created our fair share of these including Daisy the Play-With-Me-Kitty and JJ the Jumping Pug among others in the FurReal Friends line! As children play with toy pets, whether realistic or whimsical, their imaginations flourish and the concept of caring for and about something is instilled into their learning foundation.
As toy inventors, we are on a continuous mission to find and create new ways to play with toy pets by providing an interactive experience that is as close as possible to having a real pet. In turn, we’re hopefully helping children understand the value of caring for something. When we first envisioned the idea of a virtual pet in the 1990s it was with the intent of tapping into this very concept of taking a child’s play pattern to the next level. With the invention of V-Pets (virtual pets) by Rehco in 1995, later marketed by Tiger, taking good care of a toy pet quickly became a super popular play pattern and ultimately resulted in an emotional connection to virtual pets that was similar to a real pet.
When Tiger Electronics first tried to launch V-Pets under the brand GigaPets, most retailers could not grasp the new concept easily and quickly passed. It wasn’t until Tamagotchi emerged in Japan to insatiable demand that Tiger Electronics and several other toy companies began making their own versions of digital nurturing toys (not all were pets). Regardless, Tiger had the best team and quickly became the dominant brand in the USA and numerous other countries. They started with pets like dogs and cats and frogs and more, ultimately making 72 different versions, many with licenses for popular Disney and Nickelodeon characters. Tiger sold over 21 million GigaPets and became the #1 brand of virtual pets in the USA. Following this achievement, Furby was successfully introduced as “the GigaPet you could pet.” While Furby was hugely popular, GigaPet remained in its own category that highlighted a unique, nurturing play pattern. It had such an emotional impact on millions of kids that no other toy pet has since replicated.
Fast forward to 2017, with the relaunch of Tamagotchi on its 20th anniversary, a good friend informed me that the GigaPets trademark was available and encouraged me to bring the product back to market. As the original inventors, we jumped at the opportunity and quickly learned that the brand, its play pattern and emotional connection had not been forgotten. We instantly found a large, loyal fanbase on social media that continued to relish their favorite childhood toy and memories of GigaPets so many years ago. We were also lucky to assemble the entire original Tiger Electronics product development team, now with 20 years more experience and an equal amount of passion for making GigaPets better than ever before. We listened to our fans on social media, really the people with the most experience and insight, and created newer versions with play features that our customers wanted without losing the core nurturing elements.
GigaPets is an excellent example of a product that kids of all ages can care about (not just care for). So much so that we are humbled to know they haven’t stopped caring for 25 years. Our mission at Top Secret Toys, in addition to marketing our own inventions, is to carry on this legacy with further improvements and enhancements to the GigaPets play pattern for the next 25 years and that every new GigaPet advances the interactive, nurturing experience to new levels of emotional connection.
The new and improved modern day GigaPets have more and better animations with a higher frame rate, better games, extra games and more complex game play, real pet sound effects and more evolutions during the life of the pet! Last but not least because today’s kids are so busy with so many things we made the pets a little less needy and easier to keep happy and healthy. All things considered, todays GigaPets provide a better play experience than ever before, including the emotional component. Gigapets currently come in six styles, Unicorn, Puppy, T-Rex, Troll, Pixie and the new, and eagerly awaited, 25th Anniversary special 2 in 1 Starcat/CompuKitty will be coming to market in a matter of weeks – much to the delight of all of the 90s kids and fans.
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