Last year, falling out of the clouds was Skylanders, a game which uses the concept of bringing toys to life, hit the market with immense success. The innovative game allows players to add new characters by buying figures from an ever-expanding range, 37 toys across 8 disciplines, and placing them on a portal which hooks to the console. At the start of this year, Activision had announced that it had sold over 20 million skylanders toys, making it apparent just how well the game was doing around the world. But what exactly makes Skylanders so successful?
Gamestudio Toys for Bob's Alex Ness, founder behind the concept clearly remembers his first encounter with Spyro the Dragon. Whilst he was working on 102 Dalmations for the playstation, Spyro the dragon had just set a new milestone, showing a beautiful demonstration of Sony's new debut console. His admiration for the purple dragon led him to create something special, but it was until 2009 that ideas started to form.
"It was going to be for an older audience, a darker take on it for the next-gen systems," he says. "We worked on some concepts there, but we wanted to go in a different direction and do something more for a younger audience that really rebooted the franchise."
Nintendo's success with their attractive innovation on the market surged Toys for Bob to find something equally interesting; a new way to play. Hence, they had to address a younger audience, but easier said than done. If they wanted to bring something as successful as Nintendo it was not by just putting in moody lighting and loveable characters...
''We had a lot of different ideas, and some of them were pretty crazy - one of them involved hats," Ness recalls with a grin. "But the one that we gravitated towards the most was the one that involved toys... The emotional connection that we have to toys and the representation of our childhoods - it just seemed like the perfect fit."
How great the concept sounded! But was Activision going to open the gates for Toys for Bob? It was understandable that they could be a little sceptical with the new idea. At the time, as of now, Activision was gaming industry's biggest publisher, and had arguably a big reputation they had to keep up. Activision had already experimented with plastic a couple of times, with little success to say the least. Let's think of the Tony Hawk's: RIDE skateboards for example. A great concept, but absolutely no success.
Luckily, because of Toys for Bob's clear targets, a comittment to quality and a demonstration of some figures and the portal, the ideas were approved in Activision's boardroom. Skylanders was definitely unique for Activision, for it would require support of retail partners from the very early stages of its development.
Starting from that point, things went skyrocketing. Toys for Bob worked longer than any project (12 months) in its 23 year life-cycle testing and optimizing the game. Kids and parents were invited to their studio to give feedback and new ideas to improve. Meanwhile toys were produced in masses in Activision's command and sold in retail toy stores.
"Innovation is incredibly important no matter where it comes from, to keep things healthy and moving along," he says. "One thing that's great about Skylanders is that it's getting people back into stores on a regular basis, to look for new figures if nothing else. Driving that retail traffic is important for the whole industry."
Jon Coyne, Activision's vice president of marketing stresses.
"When you're successful in something it tends to catch people's attention. Fortunately, at Activision we don't like to rest on our laurels either. We plan things out years down the line. Sometimes plans have to change depending on the various levels of success, but fortunately, and I think fortunately for the industry, this one has worked out."
To come back, the phenomena of skylanders I'm talking about is the fact that Activision has managed to reach a special and indirect audience, and make skylanders the next big thing. I believe innovation is extremely important, especially at these times. People will have to come with new ideas if they want to be ahead of the competition. This is exactly the case for Apple, and mainly the reason why its still big today. We are looking for innovation within the gaming industry, its the only way it will keep games going, and gamers interested.