In today’s digital market, incentives for buying retail or physical products have diminished due to the accessibility of buying games online. But one of the advantages of physical products is the collectible aspect of owning actual goods as opposed to digital content.
For today’s post, we’re going to examine one of the fastest growing genres and how it’s leveraging collect-ability to make sales.
Toys to Life:
“Toys to Life” refers to a series that makes use of actual physical figures to integrate into a game as a form of content. The first example and creator of this new genre would be the Spyro Skylanders series created by Toys for Bob.
The technology requires two parts — a physical figure and the base or portal that the figure goes in. The base itself is connected to the game console or computer while figures can be placed on top to interact. Each figure comes with a RFID chip that stores data related to progression and updates that character’s stats. Activating the figure is done by placing it on the portal and where the game will be able to send and receive data to the chip.
“Attempts to revive broad-audience mascot franchises haven’t seen predictable success in the game industry. Just creating a new Spyro game after the traditional fashion was unlikely to work and reinventing the character as a “really gritty, strange otherworldly Spyro” didn’t seem like a promising idea.” — Paul Reiche III, CEO of Toys for Bob
For Skylanders, your in-game character is whatever figure that is on the base during play with figures based on different elements which determine what they can do in game. Figures can be swapped at anytime and two figures can be put on at once to play the game co-op. Buying the game comes with the portal and three characters allowing someone to play through the game without any additional purchases.
However to find everything in the game, you’ll need multiple characters making up each of the elements of the world to completely access everything. And the only way to get said characters is to buy the figures sold separately from any number of retailers.
The hook of the Skylanders series beyond just the gameplay, are the figures themselves and how Toys For Bob created an effective marketing strategy.
Collecting them All:
Playing through a Skylanders game is only half the experience, the other part is collecting the figures. As mentioned, in the original Skylanders game there were eight elements or categories of figures to collect with 32 figures total. Some figures could be bought separately while others were part of a two or three pack.
Adding more to the game, many of the bigger packs contained figures of items that can be used on your portal to unlock new items or areas in the game. And as with any collectible genre, there were unique or “legendary” figures available. These figures looked different compared to the regular version and may glow in the dark and would have a different art style in game.
The figures themselves are also high quality which made them attractive to collectors’ as much as younger fans that play the game. An effective strategy was to tie certain figures to specific store promotions which meant that you could only buy these characters from whatever store they were being promoted from.
In this way, the value of the figures extends beyond the game and there were many consumers who bought and sold figures for big money due to the rarity of some of them. Another smart move by Toys for Bob was on compatibility of the figures to keep them relevant as the series progressed.
The original figures or series one can be used with any game on the Skylanders series, however newer figures or series two and on only work with the newer games due to the new base technology and design. And the figures themselves regardless of series are not locked to a platform, only the base itself which was part of the original purchase.
The Skylanders series as of February 2014 has made over two billion dollars in sales and is one of the most profitable franchises of all time. A fact not lost on Nintendo who are preparing their Amiibo line to be made use of on the new 3DS and Nintendo Wii U. But to show how much this genre has taken off, we can turn to a new player and how it’s set to become even bigger.
To Infinity and Beyond:
Disney Infinity developed by Avalanche Software follows a similar model as the Skylanders series. Buying the main set gets you the game, a portal/base and of course the figures. The key marketing strategy for the Infinity series are all about the figures who are from the numerous IPs that make up the Disney brand — Monsters Inc, Frozen, Mickey Mouse and more with special limited edition versions of characters as well.
Buying figures either separate or in packs can also net you power discs which are Infinity’s versions of items that upgrade characters or unlock content in the game. The major difference between Skylanders and Infinity is in the form of the gameplay. While each Skylanders game is about exploring a world developed by the designers, Infinity is about giving people a wide range of activities.
The content in the game is split between play set mode and toy box mode. Play set takes place in the specific world of the characters and is the most structured of the content available. While toy box mode lets you use any of the items, characters and environments you unlocked to create whatever you want.
What’s going to be fascinating to watch is how Disney and Avalanche are going to leverage the Disney catalog of IPs in Infinity to create cross IP promotions. After Frozen became a hit, figures were added to Infinity and they have recently begun to integrate the Marvel IP into Infinity with version 2.0. This leaves many people wondering if Star Wars will appear in Infinity at some point as Disney now owns Lucasarts and the IP.
The toys to life market has become a big opportunity for developers and marketing strategies. While there is more work and development due to the figures and technology, a success can mean huge profits for the developers and a viable brand for years to come.