With Skylanders Giants released and Wave 2 and Wave 3 figures approaching retail there has been something of a lull in Skylanders news of late. What better time and talk to Paul Reiche Studio Head of Toys for Bob and find out what’s in stall for the franchise. During the 20-minute conversation we hear about Skylanders toy technology as diverse as Lasers, Voice, Photo-sensors and GPS tracking as well as a likely return for Boomer.
First though we asked how well Activision was set up to cope with demand this year. Reiche reassured us that there is plenty more stock in the retail channel than there was this time last year. “It would take an awful lot of people to buy us out this year. My hope is that there is stock there for everybody.” It should be noted that the game didn’t really take off until after Christmas the first time round so it will be interesting to see how well they managed to keep shelves stocked this yuletide. My advice is still to buy early if there’s a figure you really want, particularly limited editions.
Reiche said that it is the Giants figures that are selling fastest, and that they “weren’t sure how well a larger more expensive toy would sell, but they are going very well.” This was interesting to hear after a recent Skylanders unboxing test I did with my kids saw them choosing normal figures over Giants. He also mentioned some of the characters, like Boomer, who were absent this year and hinted that they may return in future games — which will be welcome news to some players. “He’s got to come back!” said Reiche.
Responding to criticisms over the first games difficulty Reiche talked about how this year’s game was being developed on 360, Wii and PS3 in house. This enables them to avoid the difficulty spikes from the 360/PS3 versions of the first game. It was refreshing to hear a developer being open about mistakes made as Reiche reassured us that things were better balanced this year.
He also attributed the game’s improved average review score to the inclusion of the additional difficulty modes that offer more longevity to hard core gamers. “Nightmare” difficulty is unlocked once you finish the game on any of the standard settings and represents a considerable challenge.
Attention of Skylanders Giants players is now focused on the different waves of figures. Reiche confirmed that Toys R Us had some Wave 2 figures at launch, something that even he didn’t know about until seeing them at retail. These Wave 2 figures are now rolling out in a more general release before things move on to the Wave 3 figures. This reflects a change of strategy from Activison, getting a wider range of toys out much sooner than for Skylanders Spyros Adventure where they only trickled into retail.
We then moved on to talk about Cloud Patrol, Lost Islands and Battlegrounds on the iOS platforms which provide a range of Skylanders experiences. The last of which supports the bluetooth Portal so you can more easily get your figures into the game. Reiche made it clear that the tablet and handheld platforms is a key area. “That’s where you’ll see some innovation about how we do the interaction without a portal. We always want to create the experience where the toys immediately remember what is happening.”
“In the future you’ll see a much more tight involvement so that having the toys at your side will benefit you quite a bit.” Reiche wasn’t explicit but certainly pointed to the introduction of new technology to enable players to bring their Skylanders figures into a mobile game in a more persistent way. Maybe a key-chain Portal or a Pocket sized version? It will be interesting to see how this develops. Certainly the idea of being able to play Skylanders on the go is a strong one.
This led us into talking about how the toys themselves might develop in the future and some interesting facts about technology they had already tried out. One of these was the ability to include a Laser in the toy, which apparently the portal was able to power but wasn’t safe for consumers. I suggested that sound might be a nice innovation in future Skylanders toys and Reiche seemed to agree, while adding his own suggestions of GPS, motion and light sensitivity to figures that asked players to take them to certain locations or to shake them in a certain direction to unlock secrets. Each of these are fascinating ideas that may well shed a little light on what is next for the franchise. How about Skylanders Shake, Skylanders Hunt or Skylanders Voice figures?
Finally, I asked if I was right to expect another big announcement about Skylanders at New York Toy Fair 2013. This is the event that Activision used to announce the original game in 2011 and Giants in 2012. Reiche’s response was diplomatic while hinting at the possibility. “Logic would indicate that a pattern is emerging, and that you might hear something from us at Toy Fair 2013. I can neither confirm or deny that fact.”
Sounds like I’ll be seeing New York in the Spring again next year.