Activision’s “Skylanders” franchise has become one of the hottest children’s entertainment products of the past few years. Of course, it wasn’t long before the battle for kids’ hearts, minds and parents’ money brought out an imitator – in this case, Disney Interactive’s “Disney Infinity.”
It seems mimicry is the sincerest form of profitability, as “Disney Infinity” managed to move three million starter packs (which include a game and three plastic figures) in 2013, outselling this year’s Skylanders game, “Skylanders: Swap Force,” according to The New York Times.
Both games are based on a simple concept – one that was pioneered in 1987’s Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, if you want to get technical. “Skylanders” is a video game that can only be played by placing specially designed toys on a “portal” connected to your game console. Whichever toy is in place becomes the character the player controls onscreen.
In “Skylanders,” the characters are all original designs (with the exception of Spyro, a purple dragon that had his own gaming franchise on the original PlayStation, and was used to backdoor the first Skylanders game into public consciousness). In “Disney Infinity,” the characters (and thus the figures) are based on Disney franchises, including characters from Pirates of the Caribbean, Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles.
We can surmise that “Infinity” outsold “Swap Force” as the former was one of the top 10 bestselling games of the year, while the latter was not. However, that doesn’t take into account that “Skylanders” currently has three iterations on the market, and three generations worth of figures to account for. Across all merchandise, it’s possible that “Skylanders” still beat out its fledgling competitor. We know for a fact that Activision’s franchise pulled in over $1.5 billion earlier last year, so it’s clearly still doing well.
Regarding what this means for Disney Interactive, you can probably expect another iteration of “Infinity” later this year. There are already plans to expand on the line of figures to include characters form Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Tangled. That’s probably because the “Infinity” brand alone helped double the company’s (that is to say Disney Interactive, not Disney itself) fourth quarter earnings.
Personally, I enjoy the idea of original character designs more than a gaggle of unrelated, established IPs loosely bound together by a boxy art style. The children of America seem to disagree with me, for now. We’ll likely find out at the next end-of-year sales announcement if that’s due to the cult of the new, or if “Infinity” will keep going forever.