Toys-to-life war: Skylanders Superchargers

Last year, MCV predicted that Skylanders would struggle in the face of Disney Infinity 2.0.

We were quite critical, but although Disney’s game did outsell Skylanders in the UK, the Activision franchise still performed well overall. In fact, it is still the No.1 toys-to-life game globally.

We’re thrilled to have created a category that is now $4bn,” says Josh Taub, senior VP of Skylanders (below left). We represent north of $3bn of that. We feel we have a responsibility in quality of gameplay and toy that is unmatched.”

Taub is right to draw attention to Skylanders’ overall quality. It consistent performs well amongst critics, particularly compared with Disney Infinity. Yet, even when put alongside triple-A adult fare, Skylanders is a high-scoring series.

Skylanders improves leaps and bounds each time it is like we are taking that generational leap almost yearly,” says Karthik Bala, CEO of developer Vicarious Visions (below right).

That leap is driven each year by Activision introducing something new to the Skylanders universe – from giant and swappable characters to the ability to ‘trap villains’. And this year, it is introducing vehicles.

We have entered an entirely new toy category,” says Taub. The vehicle segment is as big as the action figure segment in the toy world, and we think we are going to take that category by storm.”

"I look forward to today’s 10-year-olds
playing Skylanders with their kids
in 20 years’ time."

Josh Taub, Activision

Vehicles is the big selling-point for Skylanders Superchargers, but there are others. Activision has also teamed up with Nintendo to introduce Bowser and Donkey Kong to the Wii, Wii U and 3DS versions of the game – complete with two accompanying toys that double as Skylanders and Amiibo.

Bowser and Donkey Kong bring recognisable characters to the series, which has been Skylanders biggest weak point.Yet even with these Nintendo icons, the series still lacks the well-known faces found in Disney Infinity and LEGO Dimensions.

A spin-off TV show or movie would help promote the Skylanders brand to those unaware of the game, but Activision has always been resistant to this. ‘The game is the movie,’ has been the stock answer of the past. But it appears Taub’s rhetoric about spin-off media is softening.

We are in this for a 20-year franchise, and you can imagine a lot of different directions where characters can be developed over a long period of time,” he said cryptically.

One of the advantages Skylanders has over its rivals is in terms of platform support. Superchargers is on eight platforms, while its competitors are on just five. Activision continues to invest in Wii, 3DS and, most significantly, iPad, as it counters the drop in kids playing on consoles.

We create content where kids play; our iPad version is the full Skylanders game,” explains Taub. But, as we go from the early stages of a console life-cycle to the mid-cycle, the audience breadth expands; we go from 20m consoles to 40m. That will see consoles start to permeate into families and living rooms and become less of core-gaming devices.”

This would certainly help, not just Skylanders but the entire kids games market in the console space. But the challenge for Activision is to keep Skylanders relevant for the next generation of fans. The 10-year-olds that bought the first Skylanders are now teenagers. But both Bala and Taub say that Skylanders is actually a game for the entire family.

I look forward to today’s 10-year-olds playing Skylanders with their kids in 20 years’ time,” says Taub.

With the introduction of Star Wars to Disney Infinity and the arrival of LEGO Dimension, Skylanders faces a tough challenge this Christmas. It’s unlikely to return to growth this year but, by supporting alternative platforms, introducing vehicles and Nintendo characters, and keeping the quality bar up, it should still perform strongly during the lucrative Q4 period and into 2016.

Why should I stock it?

Historically Skylanders is a high-scoring franchise. The introduction of vehicles opens up a new toy category. Bowser and Donkey Kong brings recognisable characters to the IP. Continued support for alternative platforms: Wii, 3DS and iPad.

What should I be aware of?

It’s an ageing franchise that has declined year-over-year. There’s a lack of character recognition versus its rivals. It’s been historically strong on Wii, but that platform has declined significantly since.

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