If you want to see what the future of toys and collectibles will look like, then you better feast your eyes on the Skylanders franchise.
Initially released in 2011, it’s hard to say if anyone knew just how successful Skylanders would be almost five years later. The multimedia series has surpassed $3 billion in sales, thanks to over 250 million toys sold and being ranked as one of the best selling video game brands of all time. In fact, Skylanders has been so successful that Disney, Nintendo, and Lego have each produced their own take on Skylanders’ formula of combining toys and video games. That may seem like nothing unusual, but it’s a startling amount of competition from massive entertainment corporations considering the franchise has yet to reach its fifth anniversary. Whether you love Skylanders or not, its clear that its impact on collectibles is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
So what exactly did Skylanders do that changed the world so rapidly? Let’s break it down, piece by piece.
Skylanders is what’s called a “toys-to-life” video game, which is a video game that is capable of interacting with real-life toys and action figures in some fashion. Believe it or not, Skylanders isn’t even the first toys-to-life game ever made! That honor would go to Mattel’s U.B. Funkey series from 2007, which ironically wound up discontinued the year of Skylander‘s release. Skylanders’ claim to fame, however, wasn’t merely being a video game franchise that launched alongside a toyline; rather, Skylanders integrates with the toys in ways that actually make them feel alive. By using a Power Portal that comes packaged with the game, players place their toys atop it and watch their figurines become playable in-game, complete with special effects from the portal to enhance the illusion that real magic is taking place. What’s more, players can also level up and strengthen their characters in unique ways, which is all saved to the figure itself to be carried over to different games in the franchise or as your own saved avatar to use when playing on a friend’s copy of the game. In other words, that little figure becomes more than just a toy; it becomes a hero specially built by the person who owns it.
Until Skylanders’ release, there was nothing quite like it on the market. Mixing games and toys in such a way was a huge gamble, especially considering the gamer and collector demographics do not always overlap. However, Skylanders did its best to incorporate the best of both worlds, and the risk paid off handsomely. Published by video game giant Activision, developer Toys-For-Bob had the resources to make a true “AAA” video game that could hold its own against the biggest releases of the year. While the game itself is targeted towards children, clever gameplay gimmicks and pop culture references help the series appeal to older audiences who find themselves invested once they see what their kids are playing. The toys themselves are also meticulously made, with recent figures featuring interchangeable parts and even companion vehicles to make them easier to play with outside the context of the game. The art and design of the figures can be appreciated by any collector, and for kids who are getting into the series, this may well be their first foray into the world of collectibles.
What does this all mean for collectors? Well, if you’re already invested in Funko Pops or other preexisting collectibles, then you shouldn’t worry about your favorite brands ceasing production. However, as we hinted at the top, Disney Infinity, Lego Dimensions, and even Amiibo are all clearly cut from the same cloth as Skylanders, which means the desire for toys-to-life video games is continuing to grow. Some may argue that Amiibo are functionally different in concept, but that only means the genre of game and toy combos has multiple ways it can be put to use. Even beyond the world of video games, the prevalence of technology like tablets and smart phones lends itself to affect the way toys are made today. Whether figures come with companion apps that impact how they’re used, or a certain toy just happens to have any kind of digital component, its clear that this is the future of toys and collectibles. We’ve yet to see if toys-to-life will be remembered as just another fad, but many people in the 90s called Pokemon a fad unaware of the press its 20th anniversary would receive this year.
Either way, whether you love or reject what Skylanders represents, its shock to both the gaming industry and the toy industry has been extremely positive. Those who don’t often play video games have been intrigued by the innovation in Skylanders, and people who’ve ignored the toy industry are suddenly more aware of the joys of collecting. We know that change can oftentimes be scary, but for these reasons, its safe to say Skylanders’ influence has been a change for the better.
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