Open Forum: Will The Toys To Life Genre Continue To Grow?

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.”

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“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.

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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?

 

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6 Comments

  1. I think this ‘Toys to life’ genre is the digital and modern day equivalent to the Panini football stickers many of us used to collect when we were much, much younger. In a similar way they too were released every year a short time after the football season started.

    Will the ‘Toys to life’ genre grow? Possibly. Though the rate at which digital and franchise fads come and go nowadays I would say that possibly this ‘Toys to life’ genre may be replaced with another collectibles genre in a few years. Anyone remember the online and latterly collectable toys phenomenon Moshi Monsters? That exploded and died off pretty quick.

  2. My Nephew was obsessed with Disney Cars when he was younger and he received new cars for Birthdays, Christmas etc. from everyone. He has hundreds of them now and they cost £5-6 a pop. For a toy car that probably costs 20p to make in China. So it doesn’t surprise me that these things sell so well.

    Parents will always buy overpriced toys for their kids if it’s something they really want and enjoy. It was the same when I was a kid with Power Rangers and Furbys and it will probably be the same in 10 years with the latest craze. Toy companies know this which is why you have regular McQueen, McQueen with muddy tyres, McQueen with rubber tyres, McQueen with a cone on his head, McQueen with a bush on his head, McQueen with metallic paint. Plus about 40 other versions of McQueen. And that’s just one character. I don’t see this ‘Toys to Life’ craze being any different.

  3. With the launch of Dimensions and new Infinity stuff, I’d say there is about 12-24 months left before the bubble bursts. There was always room for a couple of big franchises to compete with Skylanders, but it’s not a genre I can see lasting for the long term. Everything is disposable these days. Nothing sticks around for too long before it gets replaced.

  4. The biggest problem I think is compatability, and lack of play options for some of the characters. For example my 4yo neice loves Frozen and has a number of the Infinity 1 Frozen characters, but she can only play as them in the toy box – there is no playset where she can do actual gaming. Not that she cares, she’ll play with them as toys outside the game anyway… but it strikes me as a total cash grab.

    Likewise we’ve (ahem, I mean Santa has) just picked up Infinity 3 and a Star Wars playset for them for xmas, so although they’ll be able to use their Infinity 1 characters in the toy box, the game doesn’t come with support for the playsets. Would it really have been that difficult to include all the 1 & 2 playsets on the 3 disc so they can all be played from one game? It’s horribly fragmenting, and makes working out what you can use with which version a nightmare.

    It’ll be that if nothing else that kills it off.

    • That’s interesting and disappointing, but as far as I’m aware, that’s a problem for Disney Infinity alone. Skylanders SuperChargers is, I believe, compatible with every model that came out in previous games, outside of a few minor exceptions, perhaps.

      Lego Dimensions is then set for two years of support with new figures and level packs coming out over that time, rather than yearly game releases, but you’d hope that these can all be brought forward to any sequel, given that the gameplay is based off the standard Lego game formula.

      Shame that DI is fragmented in such a fashion.

  5. They’re obviously selling well, I wonder how many actually get used in the game though and how many are bought by collectors. I read that Microsoft are preparing their own range.

    It’ll probably go like the guitar hero games in that so many get put out so quickly that in the end people stop buying. The more they make, the less valuable they are.

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