Codenamed Gepetto for the motion technology inside the dolls, the Actimates toys were Microsoft's attempt to get into the toy market. The first of these dolls, modeled after Barney, was first sold in 1997, becoming a success that holiday season. Dolls based on Arthur, his sister D.W., and the Teletubbies (all four of them) were made, but none of them could achieve the same fame that the Barney doll did. The dolls were discontinued in 2000 and Microsoft lost the patent rights to the toys not too long afterwards
While Barney can be used as a stand alone toy, the main feature is the ActiMates doll's interactivity with the PC and television.
To get the ActiMates to interact with the TV show or the videos, a hockey-puck-shaped transmitter device called a TV Pack must be purchased separately and connected to the video-out connector of the TV set, while to have the ActiMates interact with the specialized computer software (developed by 7th Level and published by Microsoft), another hockey-puck-shaped transmitter device called a PC Pack must be purchased separately and be connected to the MIDI/game port connector of the PC.
With Barney alone, he could do various activities with the kids. Squeezing either of Barney's middle toes would make him sing one of twenty songs, while pressing both would have him sing each one of the songs in order, finishing with I Love You. If one squeezes one of Barney's hands, he would play a game. Covering Barney's eyes, which have light sensors, and uncovering them would let him play peek-a-boo with the user. Squeezing both of Barney's hands has him sing Clean Up. To turn him off, either leave him alone for about 30 seconds or squeeze Barney's hand and foot at the same time.
Using the PC Pack, Barney could interact with special PC titles developed by 7th Level and Microsoft. The software makes use of a special programming library called "ToyAPI", which communicated with the ActiMates via the PC Pack. Actimates Barney is required for the pack-in title, "Fun on Imagination Island," but was optional for the other titles. When not using the toy, Barney would appear on screen in his place in most of the titles. Actimates Barney could also help the user in the various PC games. Like in stand alone mode, Barney can play Peekaboo with the characters in the PC game.
By using the TV Pack, ActiMates Barney becomes a viewing buddy and interacts with special encoded tapes and broadcasts of Barney & Friends (even if they were taped off of TV). Squeezing his hand would make him say a phrase like "I like watching TV with you." Barney would also sing along to the songs and comment on various events in the episodes and videos.
- Due to the difference in functions between the PC Pack and TV Pack, the ActiMates will not interact with episodes of Barney & Friends nor Barney videos if they are being watched on a computer monitor using a tuner card with the PC Pack plugged in. Likewise, it will not interact with a TV that is connected to a computer and has a TV Pack is plugged into the TV.