Activision’s ‘Skylanders’: The Collectible Craze

Activision’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures was one of the hottest trends at the end of 2011 and is gearing up for another possible season of success in late 2012 with a sequel called Skylanders: Giants. In the meantime, Activision will be expanding the current release with the addition of new characters, but unlike a lot of video games these days, the new characters aren’t available as downloadable content. They are physical, and they are fueling a buying spree. It’s a new take on the “gotta catch ’em all” fever that Nintendo evoked with its Pokémon franchise.

Essentially, the Skylanders video game is directly connected to an action figure line. These figures are required to play the game. Each figure sits atop a “Portal of Power” connected to the video game console, which then translates the character onto the screen (via RFID chips) in digital playable form. First time buyers of the game can pick up a starter pack that includes a few characters and the portal, enough to beat the game. But Activision and developer Toys for Bob, decided to up the collectible factor by marketing separate toys that people can use in the game in addition to the starter figures.

These additional figures are spread across eight “elemental” themes (32 figures are expected) and are frequently sold out at stores, even months after the holiday buying season. To tide people over, six figures have yet to come out including characters such as “Zook”, “Warnado”, and “Wham-Shell”, which will continue the buying rush for Activision. As the icing on the cake, someone in marketing decided to release chase and variant figures — from a line of “legendary” variants only at Toys R Us to the rarer silver or gold painted characters. New York Toy Fair 2012, where I witnessed Skylanders for the first time, had its own exclusive character, a metallic purple Cynder figure that fetches over $150 on secondary markets. The publicity engine is self-propelled. Children will hear about the various toys and won’t resist trying to collect them. Their parents then have to shell out over and over for newer figures.

Skylanders: Giants is expected in Fall 2012 and will continue the brand with bigger figures and new gameplay as well as twenty new characters. The characters will be double the size of the original toys in the game but that won’t make the old ones obsolete. People can still play with those figures (which gain levels and attributes) or new regular-sized figures. The chase figures strategy will likely also continue, but, of course, as the release is several months off, it waits to be seen.

In the meantime, Nintendo is hoping to recapture some of that “gotta catch ’em all” fever by developing a series of unique and collectible AR (augmented reality) cards for its Kid Icarus: Uprising 3DS game. If you know the Nintendo e-Reader device for the Game Boy, it’s a bit similar, but this time instead of swiping barcodes, you’ll use the 3DS camera’s to import content. Promo cards are already being released from Nintendo even though the game won’t be out for another week or so. Parents should be warned. Expect that some of these cards will be limited, and collectible. If Nintendo succeeds (I would rank action figures a bit higher on the fun scale than cards) kids will have a different collecting diversion until Activision’s Giants lumbers forward.

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