Just a few days ago, on the 18th of October, another Toys-to-Life (TTL) franchise bit the dust. The short-lived Lego Dimensions series was a critically well-received series, yet its lifespan stood at a pitifully short 2 years. It was a good two years nonetheless.
The death of a TTL franchise is something that cuts deep into me. Having a kid running around at home, the first aisle he would always run to at Toys R’ Us is the TTL section. Although our preferences differ, he much prefers the crummy Skylanders, I always took to the amiibo Section.
It is about time we took a deeper look into the TTL world.
Toys-to-Life Franchises are in a deplorable state. Lego Dimensions was not the first major TTL franchise to be shut down in recent times. The mighty behemoth Disney Infinity was forced to cease production after three solid games and 118 individual figures out in the wild. Its three-year run brought figures from Disney classics, Marvel Studios, and even the Star Wars franchise to the table. If such big named characters could not even save Disney Infinity, Is there any hope for the future of TTL?
Even Skylanders, who had long been the poster child for TTL decided to take a quiet 2017, with no new games announced. After six long years of making TTL figurines, the elder in the house realised that the consumers are starting to feel the fatigue already.
The only franchise standing strong at the moment with new figures still coming out this year is Nintendo’s line of amiibo figures and even they are seeing a dip in sales in recent times.
From a statistical standpoint, it would seem like the TTL franchises is indeed walking the long road to their graves.
Burn Bright But Fizzle Fast
Interest in Toys-to-Life is only natural. Video games are static, digital, and non-physical. Your influence in that world is only as fast as your fingers can move. The novelty that TTL brings to the table is the ability to connect physical toys that you play with, into your video game journey.
With any novelty, it is bound to wear off. From the case study of Lego Dimensions and Disney Infinity, companies should already be aware of this. Your million dollar character does not matter if your product is not innovative. Lego Dimensions crashed into the living room with innovation, but what’s next?
Harking back at Disney Infinity, from the first production figures to the last, they are the same old NFC plastic figures. For the first year or so, it is alright, but after the third game, you start to realise it is the same thing over and over again. People get bored.
Before you know it, sales slump, after all, who would want to pay $60 and up for what is essentially the same thing, and $12.99 for each additional figure. It is too costly and totally not worth it. Stock stays on the shelves and the franchise dies.
Innovation Drives TTL
But you may say Skylanders has been doing this for 6 years already and they’re still around. Unlike Disney Infinity, Skylanders contain subtle innovation that continues to trigger the player’s intrigue in the franchise. By the third year, Activision knew for well that they had to innovate to keep the players, that’s where Swapforce came in, bring mix-and-match into what was a static figure. With new and more permutations to play, gamers were kept satisfied and wanting for more.
Nintendo likewise understood that innovation was key. Though amiibo took largely familiar outlooks, they were always looking into how to better make their figures. No other TTL manufacturers will think of using yarns for their figures, neither would they think that a squishy character in the game should be just as squishy in real life. Nintendo’s amiibo figures innovate through their build.
Nintendo’s amiibo figures also innovate through gameplay. Every amiibo behave differently in different games. While most unlock some sort of skin or items, they have shown capability to innovate whenever possible. For example, in Animal Crossing amiibo Festival, which other game would actually make you race to tap your amiibo card onto the NFC reader to answer quiz questions. The ability for amiibo to behave differently in different games open it to innovation unlike any other.
Innovation is the recipe for success in the TTL market.
Despite the doom and gloom, there is still a bit of confidence left in the TTL market. As I have mentioned earlier, the key to winning in a TTL market is innovation and we have seen quite a bit of it.
Just recently, TTL newcomer Lightseekers burst into the market with innovative new features, blurring the line between physical and digital. The bluetooth figures interact with the game even without a base and can even tell when was the last time you have played with it.
Even Ubisoft is giving the TTL market a try with Starlink: Battle for Atlas, due next year. The game will allow players to build their own modular spacecraft and customise it on the go as they needed.
Such innovation will pique consumer interest, and continue to bolster the TTL market. At the same time, it would also mean that the giants currently dominating the arena will have to innovate as well. If Skylanders return from its hiatus with just another Skylanders game, it would more or less spell the end for it as consumers are no longer impressed by it.
Likewise, if Nintendo showed that their amiibo can no longer innovate and contribute to their game play experience, even their million dollar IP cannot help it succeed. There’s a reason why their animal crossing amiibo range did not do as well as the others after all, on top of the lack of functionality, it lacks innovation.
Hopefully, Toys to Life manufacturers can squeeze their creative juices and bring about greater gameplay experience for all of us. As consumers, we don’t mind gimmicks. Even the best of us will pay for it, but we want a new gimmick each time.