Despite rampant skepticism, the Toys to Life genre has continued to flourish for almost half a decade. It all started back in 2011 with the launch of what would soon become one of Activision best-selling franchises, Skylanders. Although clearly targeted at a younger audience, mature gamers couldn’t help but weigh in with the mostly negative thoughts on the series’ debut outing, mainly due to its use of Spyro license.
Reviewers weren’t all that enthusiastic either, knocking the game for its basic platforming action and the way developers had gated off a number of bonus stages. This did little to hamper Skylanders’ ascension, however, with Activision selling more than 30 million figures in just six months. Production on a sequel began right away and, just like that, Skylanders took pride of place next to Call of Duty as one of the publisher’s annualised franchises.
Of course, whether its mechanics, thematic approaches of in-game features, everything in the gaming industry is subject to mimicry. Needless to say, in the past few years Activision’s grasp on the Toys to Life monopoly has started to slip ever so gently as more game publishers attempt to barge their way into the genre.
These other, equally-established companies, have each come to the party with an ace up their sleeve, however. Where Skylanders was a fresh new IP, names like Disney (Infinity), LEGO (Dimensions), and Nintendo (Amiibo) have been with us for decades. As cool and creative as Spyro’s new posse are, they’re no match to legacies of world-beating brands such as Pixar and Super Mario. Still, Skylanders’ initiative in kick-starting the genre has ensured its competitive standing against such an imposing opposition.
Again, all the evidence you need is sales. When not writing for TheSixthAxis, Aran works at a high street retailer that specialises in the sale of entertainment media. He explains that, whenever a fresh batch of Skylanders products arrives in store, they sell out within days.
“Publishers have created something that families can enjoy together, from playing the games to collecting the various figures. As this young generation gets older they’ll go for other toys to life games, like LEGO which will have an even bigger audience than Skylanders.”
“It’s obviously a highly lucrative genre,” Dom agrees, “having a physical toy to play with that you can transfer characters/data to a game has certainly captured the attention of our household.
“Noah [Dom’s son] is four years old and the LEGO games and Disney Infinity titles offer gameplay that he can enjoy. I particularly like the LEGO games as the simple puzzles make him think about solutions, so we’re really looking forward to LEGO Dimensions in our house, though the cost is the biggest problem. Over the last year we’ve accumulated all of the superheroes/villains from Disney Infinity 2.0, more or less just in time for the release of 3.0 (!) and really I hate to think what that costs.
“Now with LEGO Dimensions and its many packs, as well as the Star Wars figures for DI that’s potentially a huge commitment for parents to consider. Obviously you don’t need every character by any stretch, and Disney Infinity is actually very satisfying just with the characters in the box. LEGO Dimensions will hopefully feature similar gameplay to the regular entries in the series which are amongst the best for value for money gameplay. We fortunately haven’t got into Skylanders, and as I understand it you’re looked out of plenty of content if you don’t have the right figures.”
Again, the expansion and profitability is immediately what came to Dave’s mind, explaining how “it’s pretty easy for people to haemorrhage their hard earned cash on NFC enabled toys.”
He also mentioned Nintendo’s range of Amiibo figures which are somewhat of an outlier compared to the other Toys to Life brands. Unlike Skylanders and toys used with Disney Infinity, they have a less practical use, unlocking small perks and bonuses across a variety of Nintendo software titles.
There’s also a certain collectibility to these figures that doesn’t exist quite so much with other brands. Dom confesses that, although most of his purchased toys are for Noah to play with, he keeps a watchful eye over his own personal Amiibo collection.
Despite owning a fair few NFC figures myself, none of them are openly on display apart from my Samus and Bowser Amiibos. Anecdotally, I have housemates who have zero interest in the Toys to Life genre yet our living room is starting to look more like an Amiibo showcase day by day.
So where does this craze end? Eventually, Aran reckons, there will be a momentary break, allowing both game companies and consumers to catch their breath. With so many new products to buy each and every year, fans and parents may simply commit to just one brand or stop buying NFC toys altogether.
As long as there’s money to be made, it’s hard to imagine publishers slowing down any time soon. With such fierce competition in the Toys to Life market, a brief lapse is all it takes for one company to snatch market share away from the others. With its unique position, Dave suggests that Nintendo may be the one to ramp things up.
Earlier this month the Japanese giant rolled out a series of NFC-enabled cards for its newest Animal Crossing game. More convenient and affordable, it will be interesting to see how they shake-up the market. If successful, Dave warns, we could well see a series of 700 or more Pokemon Amiibo cards flood store shelves and send the world into chaos.
Now it’s over to you. How do you feel about the Toys to Life craze in its various forms? Does it hold little interest to you personally, or have you found yourself sucked into it by the constant demands for entertainment of your children?