It is a myth that the market for kids' video games is declining.
Tie-ins for the latest Cartoon Network IP or Disney movie may not be selling in the same numbers as they were ten years ago. But video games have long outgrown its role as another piece of SpongeBob SquarePants or Toy Story merchandise.
Up until recently, only Pokmon, Mario and Sonic have managed to break out and become more than just video game brands. But today things have changed.
Lately, in the UK, kids IP such as Moshi Monsters and Angry Birds have flooded retail with toys and accessories, while across Europe you'll find extensive licensing programmes for Ubisoft's Rabbids and Sony's Invizimals.
The latest to join the list of video game-cum-kids phenomenon is Activision's Skylanders. A toy/game hybrid that has dominated retail this year. By combining the sales of the game with its toy accessories, it's actually made more money than any other game this year. More than Borderlands 2. More than FIFA 13.
ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
The second stage of Skylanders' bid to become a $1bn kids sensation began last week with the arrival of Skylanders Giants.
The new game was joined by a range of new toys (super-sized ones plus ‘Lightcore' models that light-up), while a range of Skylanders merchandise is poised to swamp the High Street. Stores will soon be filled with Skylanders plush toys, accessories, apparel, trading cards, stickers, books, backpacks, annuals, skateboards and scooters.
Currently we have almost 100 licensees outside of the United States,” says international licensing director Andrea Green.
Our largest base is here in Europe, with their largest in the UK. Licensing has already become a major part of the entire Skylanders experience.
A wealth of products are already on shelves and this will only continue to increase as we head into 2013.”
She added:?Our licensees are best in class. We are only looking to work with those companies committed to triple-A quality. We expect the same passion and execution that we bring to our game.
Some of our most passionate licensees came to us as their children play Skylanders. It makes for a very strong motivated partnership.”
Licensing is only one part of Activision's plans for global domination with Skylanders. The publisher is spending millions on marketing Giants, and in the UK that includes advertising around The X Factor final, The Simpsons and via partnerships with Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network.
Activision's European marketing director Ian McClellan adds: This Christmas is going to be giant. In Skylanders Giants, we have an incredible innovation that brings together the world of video games and the world of action figures. This means that we not only have campaign elements that showcase the quality of the video game, but we also have elements that showcase the amazing new line-up of characters.
Our focus of the campaign is bringing the Skylanders to life. And so expect to see new and creative ways of highlighting all the great innovation and fun of Skylanders on TV, in the digital and social spaces, as well as in retail.
It is very exciting to see the level of excitement across the industry.”
SKY'S THE LIMIT
What separates Skylanders from Moshi Monsters and Angry Birds is that retail is absolutely central to the franchise.
Sure, there are digital elements to Skylanders. There's an iOS title for one thing, not to mention the browser virtual world Skylanders Universe. But it's the retail game and the toy add-ons that are critical to the experience. And even the digital parts of Skylanders rely on the toy range.
Traditional games retailers – Tesco, GAME, HMV and the like – all feature Skylanders. GAME in particularly opened early to celebrate the launch of Giants last week. But Activision's major global partner for the brand is Toys R Us.
All our stores dedicate a large amount of space to this great concept,” says Mike Coogan, the director of marketing and E-commerce at the toy chain.
The toys and games are complemented by an interactive display in every store. The display showcases the strengths and powers of each Skylanders figure on a television display, simply by the customer placing the packaged figure on the portal of power.
Toys R Us and Activision have a very close working relationship throughout the world and work on a business plan together to promote, advertise and maximise sales of Skylanders. We have a formidable plan for Giants for the launch and for throughout the rest of 2012 and into 2013, in order to continue to be a crucial destination forall Skylanders Giants and accompanying licensed products.
This includes great in-store and online merchandising, communication and advertising together with superb promotions, deals, prices and exclusive product.”
McClellan adds: We have had incredible support from all our retail partners this year on Skylanders. This support is absolutely pivotal to the franchise, and we are very excited to see Skylanders coming to life in store.”
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
For all the talk about the level of violent content on show at E3 – plus this year's big shooters such as Resident Evil, Hitman, Call of Duty and Halo – Christmas 2012 is a family friendly one.
Dominating the charts over the next few weeks will be Skylanders, Moshi Monsters, Angry Birds, Mario, Pokmon, Wonderbook, Sonic and so on. Brands that are as big with retailers as the core shooters that steal all the headlines.
And there's not a toy tie-in, movie licence of cartoon adaptation in sight.
It just goes to show that today, games companies like Activision are as likely as Nickeloden or Hasbro to develop the next mass media children's phenomenon.
Video games for kids really have never been bigger.