Could Skylanders give birth to an RFID-powered One Direction?

Friday November 30, 2012

By Steve Redmond

ERA has long bemoaned the lack of innovation in entertainment's three key sectors of video, games and music, so it makes a change to be able to highlight a hugely successful innovation which demonstrates dramatically retailers' belief that novelty sells.

The winner of this accolade is Activision Blizzard and its Skylanders franchise which has brought a unique combination of technology, gameplay and collectibles to entertainment stores.

It could yet be the model for an entirely new category of entertainment products.

For the uninitiated - and that must be the bulk of the population over the age of 15 -Skylanders combines a videogame with a "Portal of Power" a small round plastic RFID-chip reader which plugs into your games console. RFID is the technology behind London's Oyster travelcard. Each Skylanders figurine contains an RFID chip which when placed on the "Portal" unlocks various powers and attributes in the game. In other words, to enjoy the full game-playing experience, you have to buy all of the toys.

The first Skylanders game, Spyro's Adventure, appeared late last year. The initial starter packs contained three characters - and there were a further 31 to collect. Within six months Activision Blizzard said it had sold 30m Skylanders toys worldwide.

Dorian Bloch, GFK Chart-Track's game research guru, says Skylanders has redefined success in the games market. "View it purely as a videogame and Spyro's Adventure was a respectable, but not a dramatic success, selling less than 500,000 units," he says. "But consider that each game produced sales of an average eight further toys at £8 or £9 each and it's huge."

The latest Skylanders game, Giants, is so far outperforming the first, says Bloch. "It's a phenomenon." For a walk-through of the game click here.

Giants introduces eight new over-sized characters and for the first time characters which light up when placed on the Portal of Power. All told there are 40 new figurines to collect -potentially a parent's nightmare, but cause for celebration among retailers.

No wonder a number of retailers are featuring special Skylanders areas in the run up to Christmas and many are predicting it to be the hit of the year.

What is fascinating about Skylanders is the way it has introduced innovation into a console market which is currently off the boil ahead of the introduction of next generation platforms, but also how it points the way to a continuing physical games market even after games becomes a digital download market.

The market could easily become over-saturated with character merchandise if it produces too many me-too products, but it is not hard to imagine other iterations of this idea - Star Wars, Pokemon, Super Mario Bros already generate huge merchandise sales. In principle, equipping them with RFID chips to trigger a game would be no great challenge.

To take it further, could there be a One Direction music game - RFID-equipped plastic figures of Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry, and Louis which are capable of unlocking music, video and other content options when placed on a suitable physical interface?

There has been much talk of the need to bridge the gap between physical and digital entertainment.

Skylanders points the way to one possible solution.

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