Some retailers have shown concern for the toys-to-life game market, with Disney Interactive recently discontinuing Disney Infinity and Warner Bros. concluding its release run on Lego Dimensions. However, Activision is moving forward with an innovative entry in its best-selling Skylanders franchise, which should put those retailers’ minds at ease.
The company has introduced Skylanders Imaginators, a new entry from the originating developers of the series, Toys For Bob. While the series will still rely on bringing toys to life in game, it’ll rely on a new factor: the opportunity for players to customize their own characters.
“Since we launched the very first Skylanders game, we have received countless letters and drawings from kids all over the world sharing their vision for their own Skylanders. No matter how in touch with our ‘inner kids’ we might think we are as adults, nothing comes close to the endless creativity that springs from the mind of an inspired kid,” said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, Inc. “We’ve turned this year’s game into the ultimate blank canvas for kids’ imaginations so they can create and play their own Skylanders.”
Toys ‘R Us has already expressed its excitement for the new project. “Skylanders consistently delivers on innovative gameplay experiences. With customization a dominant trend in the consumer market, the fact that Skylanders Imaginators will allow kids to bring their own creations to life is a game changer and one our customers will enjoy,” said Richard Barry, global chief merchandising officer, Toys ‘R Us, Inc. “We are proud to continue to serve as a marquee Skylanders destination, and look forward to fans’ excitement when the new Skylanders Imaginators game arrives this holiday season.”
In conjunction with the game’s announcement, Activision has also kicked off a new promotion, the Skylanders Art-To-Life Contest, where fans can submit designs for a chance at seeing their characters represented in the game when it launches this fall. Fans are being asked to submit their entries via Instagram or Twitter, with the hashtag “#SkylandersArtContest”.
As far as continuing to lean on the Skylanders franchise in the face of a shake-up in the toys-to-life market, Hirshberg, speaking with Time, detailed its many strengths. “There’s something about this franchise that feels infinite to kids, that feels like there are infinite possibilities. And I think it’s unique when you look at other franchises. I’ve never heard a kid say, ‘There should be an Avenger that does blank.’ I’ve never heard a kid say, ‘There should be a Jedi that does blank.’ Those characters seem somehow set in stone, and set by other narratives, whereas Skylanders has this sense of infinite possibilities. And kids tapped into that very early.”
Hirshberg was quick to note how Skylanders has become the 11th-most successful game franchise after just five years in existence. “I feel like there’s a core mashup of mechanics that could very well stand the test of time—that kids have been playing with toys forever, and kids have been interested in video games forever, and that we had found this very powerful way to bring them both together. Now in any given year, there are going to be forces beyond any single competitor’s control. How much competition there is, what the platform dynamics are, how quickly kids are adopting new consoles, how steep is the drop-off of them buying software for legacy consoles, et cetera. And any snapshot at any moment in time can paint a particular picture. We remain confident that there is something fundamentally appealing here in this genre, and that our best strategy is to try to make the best, most innovative games in that genre.”
Innovation continues to be an important factor to the series, as previous games have introduced things like larger, light-up characters; talking Portals; and, most recently, vehicles and licensed Nintendo heroes like Donkey Kong and Bowser. “One of the things that’s always made us stand out is that, year over year, we always introduce something new,” noted Lou Studdert, production coordinator at Activision, speaking with VentureBeat. “We’re now five years in. Kids now take the idea that they can bring their characters to life in a video game for granted. We’re not going to release the same game every year—we’re constantly innovating, constantly looking at new ways to play and make the game feel magical . . . and now we’ve got something nobody else can do [with Imaginator custom characters] because we control our own IP.”
The game is expected to release this fall with multiple packages including one that has two Sensei toys, a Creation Crystal, a Portal of Power and the game for $74.99, as well as a special Dark Edition with yet-undisclosed items for $99.99.