Taking influence from card games such as Pokémon, a new trend in children’s games is emerging. By combining physical toys with an enjoyable gaming experience, Skylanders has established itself as a new craze for children, and perhaps even parents.
Each figure unlocks a digital counterpart when placed upon the designated Portal, combining a child’s fascination with physical toys, with today’s digital gaming era.
In concept, the idea is fantastic for children: bringing their favourite toy or character to life on screen. And for the developer, Toys for Bob, it is generating huge sales, selling over 30 million figures in total.
Leveraging the success of Insomniac’s Spyro franchise, Skylanders has created new characters alongside the purple dragon, which have proven popular among fans. The first entry was announced by Activision  as the most popular console and mobile video game of the first half of 2012. With updates including Skylanders Giants, and Swap Force, it seems the sequels are proving just as popular, and profitable.
And it seems this craze is only going to continue, with Disney now getting in on the action. Disney Infinity is a recent release, which takes this same concept, but applies it to the huge number of series and characters belonging to Disney IP.
Disney own the rights to a host of franchises, including obvious ones such as iconic Toy Story characters like Buzz Lightyear and Woody, but also Marvel Comics, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars, meaning Spiderman and Darth Vader could make their way onto the game in the near future.
With such a range of IP, who could resist crossing these universes in one seamless game? Many adults are sure to be tempted into a second childhood with such a concept on offer.
LEGO also seem set on challenging this market. Releasing next summer, LEGO Minifigures Online will make use of a new range of iconic figures which unlock corresponding digital version.
However, it is only set for release on PC and mobile platforms, and not as accessible as the console games that Disney and Skylanders have produced. Nevertheless, the mobile editions could prove interesting, expanding the market even further. The previous LEGO games have been received well, including their Star Wars entries and recently Lord of the Rings, and so it would seem this will help its reputation.
If the success of Skylanders is replicated further, then who knows where it could lead. The games have received positive reviews, with Metacritic scores of 78% for Skylanders, and 74% for Disney Infinity. If the quality is there, then it is hard to argue against this concept. Besides, it brings Spyro back into the limelight, after suffering many average games over the past few years, including the Legend of Spyro series.
The addictive nature of collecting toys combined with children’s love of colourful gaming seems like an opportunity not to be missed. Whether the concept of figures merely unlocking virtual replicas seems silly or not, is up to the public. At the end of the day, if the figurines appeal to children, then the prime audience of these games is happy. And that is what matters. If these games can crack schools the way that Pogs and Yo-Yo’s did, they’ll have a golden ticket on their hands.
It’s looking very likely that parents everywhere will find their wallets a lot lighter this Christmas!