3 Octobers ago, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure debuted on consoles and PC. At the time, the “Toys to Life” genre was unheard of. Sure, we 90s kids had such sweet gimmicky “junk to life” toys like the Barcode Battler (I was guilty of owning one of these) but fancy talk of portals and interactive figures were a far way off. Skylanders did a couple things to the face of family gaming: It made Spyro the Dragon relevant again, and it created a gaming juggernaut.
Years down the line, the Skylanders toys amass an army of more than 100 different and unique figures across 4 games. More importantly is the bottom line: Over 2 BILLION dollars in sales, and the Skylanders series has become one of the best selling franchises of all time. Since its debut, Disney Interactive have found success with the Disney Infinity series, and Nintendo has recently launched amiibo, which has been a hot topic in literally every gaming-based conversation I’ve heard at gaming stores since the launch a couple weeks ago. Millions of these little figures across all of the brands have been flying off the shelves. My friend’s 6 year old’s Christmas list this year consisted of Skylanders: Trap Team and nothing else.
So what exactly is the appeal? Is it as simple as “Kids like toys?” Perhaps, but the appeal is with adult audiences too. I own both Disney Infinity games and a few of the characters, but I think that’s more because of my lifelong fandom of the movies than anything. Let’s look at some of the factors that have made these games popular.
We’re all collectors at heart
Pretty well everybody has a collector’s spirit. I’ve been a lifelong on and off sports card collector, and I’ve got a modest video game collection spanning various consoles I’ve owned in my life. One of Pokemon’s biggest draws has always been the continuing quest to “catch em all” and we’ll spend hours chasing all the new Pokemon along with reacquiring all the older ones as every title comes out. That bug crosses over to these, whether you want to collect all the new figures as they come out, or just your favorites. With me, I always have an eye on what’s making its way to Disney Infinity. 3 of my favourite characters (Stitch, Jack Skellington and Agent P) already have figures, and you best believe I’ve got a list of others I’d rush to the store to pick up if they ever come out, even if I wouldn’t get the time to play as them until the next Infinity game came out.
Your figures can cross consoles
When I was a kid, I had a Super Nintendo. My best friend had a Sega Genesis. The closest we ever got to being able to share our wares was the fact that I could plug a Sega Master System controller into his system and play as Tails in Sonic 2. Your kids won’t suffer the same fate if he or she has an Xbox and their friend has a PlayStation. Since the “to life” genre games (with the exception of amiibo which is Nintendo exclusive) all exist on all platforms and use their own portals, they can take their figures to their friend’s house and play there too, no matter which console they have (as long as they have the respective game and portal on their own systems since THOSE don’t cross over.)
The fun of display
One of the biggest hesitations most people have toward going the digital download route is that they’re often paying the same price for it, and don’t have the physical title to show for it in the end. No disc or fancy case to display. You can line your shelves with your Skylanders, Disney Infinity and amiibo figures and make a neat display piece. Check out how one fan displays their Skylanders collection:
It’s something new
We’ve proven that we’re all keen to see and try new things. The “toys to life” concept is something very new to video gaming, and that uniqueness probably has a lot of the appeal to those interested. Most importantly, the concept is showing no signs of burnout and will be difficult to do so too. Small studios won’t have the ability to copy the concept without spending millions of dollars to create and test figure compatibility. I went full on into Rock Band a few years ago, and one of the things that I think really burned players out on it (leading to its ultimate demise) was the fact that there were approximately 7 million different song packs and trivial DLC out there. While Rock Band Network was a great way to put music out there for the lesser known artists, it made things way too diluted. For now, that’s not a danger for these games so long as they all stick within their boundaries.
There’s value to the chase
Generally speaking, most modern day video games (and collector’s editions) can be a poor investment. Unless there’s a major longterm collecting base attached, or the series has broken huge (I’m looking at you people who kept their original copies of the first Halo sealed,) you’re probably on the losing end of your investment. There are certain exceptions, however, and Skylanders is one of them. Yes, the common figures you pick up off the shelf at most retail locations like Best Buy won’t net you anything (even if you keep them sealed) since they’re pretty common. But luck into the odd variant, or exclusive and you’ve potentially got yourself a payday. Though the market’s cooled slightly, some of the rarest sealed Skylanders from the first game can demand up to $2000 Canadian. It’s not just a kids game at that price!
Nintendo’s made some of the amiibo figures harder to find than others already too. Good luck finding Marth, for example. Marth wasn’t even a store exclusive anywhere as far as I know, but appears to have been shorter printed than the Nintendo characters. This COULD hold true for more of the 3rd party, or lesser popular characters in the future, so if you’ve got to have them all, strike early or pay the price.
Just remember – It’s all in good fun. The Toys to Life games are a great gift idea for young and old alike, and you can pick up a big selection of what you need at Best Buy and online at BestBuy.ca