Skylanders is the best selling video game this year, so perhaps it was inevitable that a kids giant like Disney would try to take a cut of the market.
MCV asks Skylanders business unit VP Joshua Taub and VP of marketing John Coyne what they are doing in response. And with big rivals and next gen consoles heading to market, can it keep hold of that all-important retail support.
Skylanders has attracted some competition in Disney Infinity this year. Are you looking to increase you marketing as a result?
Joshua Taub, Skylanders VP: We have marketed the game year-after-year with tremendous reach and frequency amongst our target audience, which has built this brand into the No.1 video game in the market place. We anticipate in the back end of the year we will have that same level of campaign or greater. We have just had our first Happy Meal with McDonalds in the US. We have had more TV media and more communication with our consumer base in the first six months of the year than we have had at any other point in time. And we will continue to focus on the marketing efforts.
John Coyne, VP of marketing: We will have a sizeable marketing campaign again. In terms of the competition, we are focused on our own innovation. The way to win in this marketplace, and with our target audience, is to keep delivering innovation and freshness. Because that’s what maintains interest and loyalty. And we are focused on that.
Skylanders marketing boss John Coyne (above left) and head of business unit Joshua Taub (above right)
Are you concerned about the impact Disney Infinity might have on Skylanders?
Taub: We are just focused on delivering the best game we can. When you have something as successful as this, you are not going to have lots of people cheering you on. They are going to be producing games and trying to get in on that market. The truth is we have to make the best game we can.
Coyne: The internal challenge is besting our own innovation every year. In Swap Force, with the new dimension of being able to combine characters, now we have to beat that in order to keep our players excited about the Skylanders franchise. That is what we are focused on, our own game.
"When you have something as successful as this, you are not going to have lots of people cheering you on. They are going to be producing games and trying to get in on that market."
- Josh Taub, Skylanders
Do you see a kids giant like Disney trying to muscle in on your market as a benchmark as to how far Skylanders has come?
Taub: Honestly, for us it is more important that the kids have been engaged with Skylanders in the way they have. That’s the real prize for us.
Does Skylanders have a finite shelf life?
Coyne: We definitely believe it has a long life. I worked a long time in the toy industry and there are a lot of franchises that have endured over time. The key again is innovation. Keeping things exciting and not letting it get stale. As long as we keep challenging ourselves there and keep delivering the best game that we can, and really continuing to push the quality and the gameplay, as well as the excitement and innovation around the toy, we have every reason to believe it will endure.
Do you need to find new ways to engage consumers between games? What about other media, like TV?
Coyne: The way the toys are released into the marketplace are an engagement of sort. When kids see the new toys, it is a new form of content. My own son, when he gets a new Giant, he naturally wants to go and play levels he has already played, but with a new character to see what it can do. That is engagement. In terms of a TV show or a movie, no there are not any plans. We believe the game is the entertainment. You talk to kids who are real fans of the franchise, and they will be able to tell you Gill Grunt’s powers, backstory, what his friends are, what’s going on in the world of Skylanders. The same sort of things that they are able to articulate around a show or a movie. We do think we have a powerful entertainment franchise.
In that case, are you considering upping your release cycle? Releasing more games?
Taub: We are trying to make sure we are continually engaging consumers, and this year we do that with an increased variety of toys. We will have twice as many new core characters and 16 new Swap Force characters. Kids are using these toys as a physical manifestation of downloadable content. It is how they remain engaged. Adding more content into that, with semi-annual releases, is almost against the grain of how we are developing Skylanders.
Coyne: I would say we have an incredibly innovative release schedule. The amount of new toys we are putting into the market every year is quite an undertaking. 16 new Swap Force characters, that can deliver 256 different combinations, and the complexities of delivering that in the game. And then delivering that experience at retail. There’s a lot to this franchise.
"I don’t see a world today where we have a standalone game without the toys and potentially without the portal."
Josh Taub, Skylanders
Your current retail experience lets consumers put a character (in its packet) on a demo portal unit and see it appear on screen. But Swap Force allows users to mix and match parts of characters. How are you going to demonstrate that in stores?
Coyne: It’s going to be interesting, isn’t it? It’s going to be a challenge, but no more of a challenge in how we brought a toy to life in store for the first game. Again, as a company this is something we really want to invest in. Key to the experience is being able to pick up a physical toy, put it on a portal and see it come to life at retail. Early in the development of Spyro’s Adventure, people were saying “I don’t think you’re going to be able to do this.” But we found a way. With Swap Force, sure there are challenges with the physical changing of the toy, but we are working to deliver that magic at retail again.
Is there a shelf space concern for Skylanders this year? Particularly with Disney Infinity coming and new consoles. Do you see a battle for space?
Taub: When you have something that is working as well as this franchise is, retailers are looking to support it in any way they can. We have excellent retail partnerships around the world, and we are not seeing space as a challenge. It is something retailers want to be in to because it is working, and they tend to understand when things work you don’t push against them.
Is it time to sell the game separately and not just part of the starter pack? Surely Skylanders fans should have the option not to buy another portal of power?
Taub: With every starter pack you get a brand new video game, you get a set of three toys and you get a whole new portal. And the portal is part of the magic, and for Swap Force it is a whole new portal. I don’t see a world today where we have a standalone game without the toys and potentially without the portal.
Next-gen is upon us, and traditionally pricey new consoles aren’t particularly attractive to kids and their parents. Does the arrival of next gen consoles pose a challenge for Skylanders?
Taub: There are kids playing in every generation of console. There are existing consoles that will get passed down through families, to younger brothers and sisters, and there will always be this audience that continues to play games. And we will develop on the platforms where the kids are. I don’t foresee kids stopping playing video games.