Monday, 30th October 2017

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A start-up loved by children

Making children around the globe STEM fortified is the Bangalore-based company PlayShifu

  • Published 17.02.20, 12:07 AM
  • Updated 17.02.20, 12:07 AM
  • 4 mins read
A child tries out PlayShifu Tacto AR at CES in Las Vegas in January.

We utilised the funds (that were raised in 2019) for tech innovation, continued research on unique phygital (physical+digital) interactions, and new product developments…. The US and other countries have swiftly adopted our tech and various products,” says Vivek Goyal, co-founder of PlayShifu. The Bangalore-based company has been on a mission to popularise STEM learning while taking advantage of augmented reality. In the process, it has become a start-up loved by children not only in India but in 15 countries. Tech magazine Wired has, in fact, listed the company’s latest — PlayShifu Tacto AR — in its favourites from this year’s CES, which was held last month in Las Vegas. What makes the company successful? t2oS asked Vivek.

The experience of showcasing at the world’s biggest electronics show — CES

We saw tremendous enthusiasm among all kinds of visitors, from the US right up to Korea. They were simply wowed by our three innovative platforms with 21 different toys, each having unique phygital interaction. The geographic reach and localisation was also a winning point for us — 15 different countries and multiple languages supported by the products. Everyone loved the fact that we picked up areas which children love and made innovative play concepts with it to enhance STEM learning and beyond.

There is a lot of buzz around Tacto

Picking up what we mentioned earlier, we give widely used themes/concepts an altogether new dimension to kindle the love and engage children with technology. All of us at PlayShifu have always loved to play board games, as kids and as adults (older kids). We thought if we could reinvent board games to make them even cooler, that’d be something. That was how Tacto was born. Tacto combines the fun of classic board games with a new layer of mesmerising animated content on each move that a player makes. The experience enables a live connection between figurines and the digital gameplay. We brought some nostalgic and educational games onto the platform to play with real figurines and give each figurine kick-ass digital interaction. Strategy, knowledge, learning all combined to make a unique platform that has already received a lot of love and awe.

Plugo is the other big game, targeted towards the four to 10 age group

We had two insights from AR experiences worldwide — how do we eliminate dominant screen touches, and how do we include true tactile play. We did multiple iterations on the base or gamepad that could hold the device at one end, and the front camera of the device could “see” every movement in front of it. There were even more iterations on the gaming consoles, and with continued R&D, Shifu Plugo was born. We only had the love and nostalgia of our childhood video games in mind, and we wanted to make modern phygital play that gave even more learning value to children than video games did. Shifu Plugo is all about the tactile play that drives the digital gameplay without touching the screen. Plugo comes with a gamepad and an app that works with six gaming kits. Each gaming kit offers age-adaptive educational games for four- to 10-year-olds and builds STEAM (STEM plus the arts) skills like math, analytical thinking, music, language recognition, creativity and more through story-based challenges.

PlayShifu co-founders Vivek Goyal (left) and Dinesh Advani at CES 2020
PlayShifu co-founders Vivek Goyal (left) and Dinesh Advani at CES 2020

Future of AR in gaming

While AR and its applications are at a nascent stage, there is a surge in the acceptance of AR toys and apps in Indian homes. We believe that AR apps on handheld devices would see a prominent push in the next three to five years in India, with most households having dedicated devices for children. Along with the penetration of devices, a plethora of content-rich AR apps will be available, giving abundant choices from which parents can choose. We don’t plan to foray in VR products since our core belief is to build foundational skills in early childhood.

Reaction to PlayShifu in the US

The US and other countries have swiftly adopted our tech and various products. When we were developing our products, we focussed on essential skills that kids build in early formative years of life. These skills are irrespective of region or language. The appeal also reflects through the purchase patterns across 15 countries we sell in, and the product engagement through the app. Kids love every game that we built, and parents are happy about the playtime, screen time, and learning combined all into one. We also won various prestigious awards in the US — seal of approval for STEM from Purdue University, gold award by Mom’s Choice awards, and seal of approval by National Parenting Center.

Popularity of STEM-related toys

Kids love these toys and games. Our toys boast of a 30-days retention rate of 46 per cent, which is five times higher than the best of the best apps out there. We reached two times more Indian homes in 2019 than in 2018. It is not just the metropolitans that adopted tech toys, tier-II and III cities saw a 60 per cent increase. Parents love the fact that their little ones are learning in the background while playing and using designated screen time of the day. It is a win-win situation. PlayShifu is now available in 15 countries, including India, the US, Canada, the UK, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, Australia and the UAE. Through retail and online channels, we have a strong user base of 250,000 children and counting. Not just retail and online channels, our presence in educational institutions is also working wonders. More than 600 schools in India, the US, the UK, and Canada are interacting with our products on a daily and weekly basis.

Pictures: PlayShifu

Tacto foursome

Shifu Tacto turns any tablet into an interactive board game. The platform will launch with one playboard, three gaming sets and one companion app. Available in June-July, each gaming set is priced Rs 3,499.


  • Unravel the mysteries of chemistry, hands-on
  • Learn about different elements of the periodic table and create compounds with two or more elements
  • Ages 7-12
  • Skills: chemical bonds, structural formulas, cause and effect


  • Design a path to reflect, split and dodge lasers to accomplish each mission
  • Solve 50+ challenges with physics concepts of reflection and refraction
  • Ages 7-12
  • Skills: spatial reasoning, analytical thinking, creativity


  • Gear up to go on a quest that requires attention to detail and problem-solving skills
  • Each figurine corresponds to a special power that will help at every step to uncover hidden gems in the forests of Shazu
  • Ages 4-12
  • Skills: analytical thinking, logical reasoning, problem-solving

Snakes & Ladders

  • Much-loved worldwide classic comes alive with magical digital interactions
  • Helped by ladders, hindered by snakes, reach the end before the opponent takes it away
  • Navigate your game piece according to the dice rolls, from the start to finish
  • Ages 4-12
  • Skills: counting