Skylanders

3
Apr 13

Vinylanders

TMFD//4 comments • 500 views

Tree_Rex_Package Tree Rex. Eye Brawl. Scarlet Ninjini. If you’re the parent of a small boy there’s a good chance you know these names well: the ferocious cast of Skylanders, a computer-game-meets-action-figure franchise which has become my son’s first honest-to-goodness playground craze.

“Meets” here really means “versus”, in the way a mash-up is “versus”: the gaming and collectibles elements are fused to a fiendish degree. You play the game by placing a physical figure on a “portal of power” – presto! There he is on the screen, stomping around a pretty standard 3D platformer thing. The more figures you buy, the more characters you can use; the more characters you can use, the more game elements you unlock, and the more money Activision makes. There is very little Skylanders merch – no TV show yet, no comics, none of that paraphernalia – because why should there be? The basic collect-and-play mechanism has plenty of financial life in it.

This physical-digital fusion is the heart of Skylanders’ appeal, and it’s innovative in several ways, not all of them so fun. Playgrounds have always been hothouses where peer pressure and parental income brutally intersect – Skylanders rewards wealth (if not thriftiness) like any collectible fad. No novelty there. But successfully importing this mechanic into a console game is setting a precedent. The virtue of console and PC gaming used to be its completeness: buy a game and you’ve bought the whole game. Not so Skylanders: to my knowledge it’s the first really successful application of the “in-app purchase” model of mobile gaming to the big-ticket console mainstream.