Typically when gamers are asked to recall the original Playstation era, the same names are regularly referenced with rabid nostalgia. Crash, Spyro, Snake and Sir Daniel Fortescue all made their claim to fame utilising the ground breaking graphics and innovative controls methods (Analogue sticks!) the platform offered. Unfortunately like so many past generation success stories, Spyro failed to adapt and as such subsequent games became progressively worse. These quality issues were compounded by a lack of direction which can best be attributed to a constant change of ownership; the character has appeared in games created by no less than 5 different publishers and 13 different developers, to say Spyro has been around would be an understatement. After successive failures under the tutorage of Sierra, the popular purple icon fell into the ownership of behemoth Activision as part of an $18 billion merger with Vivendi in 2008. For two years the character remained a dormant asset of the monolith with little to no coverage on the future of the franchise; that is until February 2011.
On February 11th 2011 Activision announced the return of Spyro the Dragon under a new moniker, Skylanders. This fresh direction was designed to completely reboot the franchise providing the popular icon with a new aesthetic, new friends and an innovative new platform. In conjunction to the redesign the company introduced the portal of power and associated figures. These new accessories enabled gamers to play as each figure’s digital counterpart in game using the ‘magical’ toys as instigators when combined with the portal.
While not exactly a ground breaking concept this was the first attempt by a software based company to move into software toy figures. With massive liquid assets Activision had the resources and marketing power to make such a product a success and with a clear product proposition the company had discovered a massive gap in the market. The series has since proven to be a smash hit across the globe becoming a key player in Activision’s software portfolio and the highest selling kids video game franchise ever, breaking the $1billion revenue barrier in just 15 months!
After two smash hits the franchise has moved from strength to strength gradually increasing its character portfolio and scale of environments. To keep things fresh and maintain active progress in the series Activision has announced Skylander’s Swap Force, this title will allow players to completely customise their avatars and figures collaboratively. Each character for this series is designed specifically to break into re-attachable pieces, offering over 250 combinations, with so much diversity on offer this move can only increase the value of the figures attributed by parents and kids alike. By allowing children to mix and match they provide an opportunity for each to have their own personalised character.
Innovation keeps a series fresh and Activision has maintained enough variation within the games so far to maintain significant progression. This evolution has been an integral component to the continual growth of the franchise. This year it will be essential for the company to redefine their product offering once again, Activision needs to be able to differentiate Skylanders from those competitors who are making an attempt to steal market share and get their foot in the door by deploying their own diamond grade IP’s. Both Nintendo and Disney have released their competing products with Pokemon Rumble and Disney Infinity.
What makes Nintendo and Disney such a prominent threat is the IP with which they have to utilise, of the trio Skylanders remains the weakest of the three, but with the 2 year head start Activision has a solid foundation to build upon and has already garnered a strong user base that trust the product. Whether the newbies can muscle in on the market will be interesting to see.