Experience Radar: Cosy Gaming Trend Gathers Speed And AI Toys Are On The Rise

At The WXO, we want to connect the dots across the Experience Economy and across the globe. Each week, we bring you our round-up of the experiential stories that we think reveal something interesting, relevant or transferrable about the Experience Economy.

Welcome to your latest Experience Radar, where we’re sipping cocktails on the world’s largest cruise ship, combining fitness and fine art at BLOKspace in Leyton, and road testing some of the newest cosy games on the market.  

1. Largest Water Park At Sea To Set Sail Next Year

Headline and above image; BlokSpace, Leyton, London; Icon of the Seas, Global

With competition for leisure spend at an all-time high, cruise ships are going to ever-greater lengths to lure travellers on board. Hoping to make waves next year is Icon of the Seas; the world’s largest cruise ship. As reported by BlooLoop, the mammoth vessel has just completed its first round of sea trials in Turku, Finland, and sailed the open ocean for the first time. Chartered by Royal Caribbean International, the 1,200-foot-long ship will make its maiden voyage from Miami in January 2024 following a second round of sea trials later this year. Currently under construction, the boat will have capacity for 5,610 guests.

Ticket holders can make the most of a plethora of entertainment options, including the largest water park at sea. Dubbed Category Six, the park boasts six water slides including the tallest drop slide at sea and the cruise industry‘s first open free-fall slide. Those keen on more sedentary pursuits can hop on a stool at the ship’s swim-up bar after taking a dip in the first suspended infinity pool at sea. Keen to ramp up the experiential side of cruising, the ship is home to eight distinct zones: Aquadome, Central Park, Chill Island, Royal Promenade, Surfside, Suite Neighbourhood, The Hideaway and Thrill Island.

2. Immersive Fitness And Art Space Opens In London

BlokSpace, Leyton, London

Gyms are taking a more holistic view of health and wellbeing, making the launch of BLOKspace in London’s Leyton timely. As reported by Health Club Management, boutique fitness operator Blok has launched a new studio concept that mixes curated fitness classes with art and design. According to its creators, BLOKspace has been designed to bring together resident artists, spatial design and Blok’s signature classes to create an “immersive and transformative experience”. Design studio Anotherform has worked with Blok to create a landscape that “stimulates physical and mental wellbeing”.

In addition to fitness classes focusing on core strength, cardio, yoga and pilates, BLOKspace will host a rotating art exhibition by Fluxprojects inspired by choreography. Anotherform has added a purpose-built structure within the space positioned at an angle to create a sense of disconnection from the existing architecture to enable gym-goers to fully engage with their surroundings. “Our aim is to create a space where the mind and the body can be challenged and stimulated. We hope that this will be the first of a series of spaces that are more fluid and creative,” said creative director, Max Oppenheim.

3. Cosy Gaming Trend Gathers Speed

Disney’s Dreamlight Valley, Global

Forget shoot ‘em-ups and action games, a gentler genre is proving the biggest hit of 2023 – welcome to the era of cosy gaming. As reported by the Evening Standard, games that make you feel warm inside are all the rage right now, perhaps due to being a much-needed antidote to our tumultuous times. Exemplified by the likes of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Stardew Valley and Disney’s Dreamlight Valley, these bucolic worlds offer gamers a chance to escape the harsh realities of the real world into a slow-paced, low-stakes land where the pressure is off to hit certain targets to progress to the next level.

Proving that there’s space within the gaming industry to embrace all genres, the trend for cosy gaming has spurred a number of makers to develop new titles due for release this year, such as Way to the Woods. According to ES, a defining feature is making the player feel warm, comforted and safe. At their heart they are relaxing to play, and tend to focus on relationship building and the natural world, with players tasked with taking care of their neighbours or their environment. Farming, fishing and foraging all feature in cosy games, which, with few time limits, allow players to progress at their own pace.

4. Harry Potter Art Experience Comes To Europe

Harry Potter: Visions of Magic, Europe

Just when you thought all Harry Potter avenues had been explored, global entertainment giant NEON comes along and partners with Warner Bros. Discovery Global Themed Entertainment on Harry Potter: Visions of Magic, an interactive art experience inspired by the Wizarding World that will start its European tour this year, followed by a global rollout. As reported by BlooLoop, the collaboration will celebrate both the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films, offering visitors a glimpse into the evocative settings based on locations in the magical world, from the Ministry of Magic to Newt’s Menagerie.

The interactive experience promises to take Potter fans deep into multi-sensory works created by responsive video content, striking architecture and unique soundscapes, while interactive technology will enable visitors to illuminate the invisible, exposing visions of magic that bring the experience to life. “Art and technology have been masterfully harnessed and brought together with the Wizarding World to create a truly magical experience that puts the franchise on display like never before,” Peter van Roden, senior vice president of Warner Bros. Discovery Global Themed Entertainment, told BlooLoop.

5. Hip-Hop Experience Heads To New York

Hip Hop Til Infinity at Hall des Lumières, New York City

If you know your De La Soul from your Run-DMC then this hip-hop experience in the Big Apple might be for you. As reported by Artnet, a new immersive exhibition will take over the Hall des Lumières in New York City in August to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop culture via never-before-seen and archival footage of the genre’s most prominent figures. Called Hip Hop Til Infinity, the experience was created by Mass Appeal with graphics from Superbien Studio and an original score by DJ Clark Kent, and seeks to recontextualise how people look at hip-hop by highlighting the genre’s development in a novel way.

Running until 2 September, the show, which focuses on the birth of hip-hop in the US in the early ‘70s, will include unreleased images by photographers like Joe Conzo and unseen footage from Sony’s archives. According to Jon Colclough, vice president of creative strategy at Mass Appeal, the “choose your own adventure” experience serves as a visual tribute to the genre that’s both educational to newbies and filled with easter eggs for fans. “We wanted to raise the profile around the culture and to house it in Hall des Lumières showcases how far hip-hop has come in 50 years,” Colclough told Artnet.

6. Are You Ready For AI Teddies?

Teddy Bear by Sandy Millar

Much ink has been spilled over the delights and dangers of ChatGPT. And now it seems that the popular AI chatbot is set to make waves in the toy industry. As reported by USA Today, ChatGPT-powered smart toys are on the horizon and parents should be clued up as to what they’re getting into if they buy one. Early models of so-called smart toys like Teddy Ruxpin and Furbys were innocent enough, but in today’s era of personalisation, your child’s favourite cuddly toy could have the ability to tell bespoke bedtime stories tailored to their owners’ interests and what keeps them entertained.

VTech CEO and toymaker Allan Wong is betting the company’s future on a line of AI teddy bears to help give frazzled parents nights off from bedtime story duty. These AI-powered bears will use chatbot-style technology to create customised tales for their tot owners, and will have the power to not only inform and entertain, but to help calm kids down from temper tantrums. While the idea of your nippers forming bonds with these bears might sound endearing, the clever creatures may also be able to collect sensitive data about the adults in the household, along with school and home location details. At the very least, the info gleaned will likely be used for marketing purposes.

7. Camp Retail Experience Lands In Chicago

Doodles x Camp experience, Chicago

Hot on the heels of its successful Little Mermaid experience, experiential toy store Camp is heading to the Midwest in August to open its latest store in Chicago. As reported by BlooLoop, the 7,500-square-foot venue bills itself as “part toy store, part party venue, part immersive theatre space” and will include Camp’s signature magic door leading to interactive family experiences including an immersive adventure masterminded in collaboration with multimedia brand Doodles. Dubbed ‘Doodles x Camp’, the limited-run experience will see visitors crawl through tunnels into glowing caves.

The brightly coloured land will boast a rainbow slide set within pink cosmic clouds, and an arts and crafts space under 12-foot-tall daisies in a flower forest. Visitors will also be able to make sweet music on interactive synth noisemakers, play alien arcade games in the mothership, and create their own characters in rainbow valley. On the way out they can pick up some exclusive Doodles x Camp merch, while adults-only Doodles events will run in the evenings. The store itself will house a permanent slime creation station, splatter room, party rooms and events space. Launched in 2018 Camp operates eight US venues.