Sports card company Topps is attempting to draw some interest back to the flagging baseball card business by introducing a new line of cards that feature "augmented reality," a technology that displays interactive 3-D images of players through webcams.
The new Topps 3D Live baseball cards will display a three dimensional image of the player on a computer monitor when held in front of a connected webcam; rotate the card, and the figure will follow along, rotating on screen. Collectors can also play "elementary" games of pitching, hitting and catching with the players using their PC keyboard."This is the 'Beam me up, Scotty' version of a baseball card that will get kids to buy more," said Topps Chief Digital Officer Steve Grimes. "We see this baseball season as a redefining moment for us."
Topps needs that boost because the sports trading card business has shrunk dramatically in value, from a peak of $1 billion to roughly $200 million in current annual revenues. Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whose Tornante Company joined with Madison Dearborn Partners to buy Topps in 2007 for $385 million, wants to make baseball cards "relevant again" and hopes augmented reality, from French technology company Total Immersion, will go a long way toward making that happen.
Topps expects to ship 10 million packs of Series 1 cards (12 cards for $2) and Topps Attax cards (five cards for $1) this year. "I see [baseball cards] as a cultural, iconic institution not that different from Disney," Eisner said. "It conjures up an emotional response that has a feel good, Proustian kind of uplift."
Card Trade editor Scott Kelnhofer said the new cards could "strike a chord" if Topps is genuinely committed to them. "This is the boldest technology idea we've seen in sports cards so far," he said. "The key is not to have it be a novelty and then it's on to the next one." But it may also be merely the first step in an escalating technology war with sports card rival Upper Deck, whose vice president for marketing, Louise Curcio, said was working on new cards that "come alive and contain video."
PlayStation 3 owners may already be familiar with the technology by way of The Eye of Judgment, a turn-based CCG that makes use of the PlayStation Eye camera to display virtual combatants "summoned" to fight in the game. The Eye of Judgment debuted in October 2007 and two expansion packs have been released since.