Have you noticed how much store space is given over to Skylanders Giants at the moment? Retailers have welcomed the franchise with open arms and for good reason: they have a build in role in the game unlike other purely digital offerings. All those toys and sharer packs give people a reason to head into town on rainy weekends and spend their money.
Perhaps it is no great surprise then that Disney today recently announced their own toy-meets-video-game brand. Disney Infinity has its own mini-figs and peripheral to use them in its cross-platform video game -- launching for 360, PS3, Wii and WiiU. The similarities are striking even if you don't know much about the Skylanders craze.
The game builds on Avalanche Software's technology used in its recent Toy Story: The Video-game title. This combines an action adventure with fetch quests, fighting, shooting and puzzles in a collection of Play Sets that are unlocked in the game by special hexagonal chips you place on the Infinity Base USB peripheral. Characters are purchased in the same fashion as Skylanders. A starter pack offering three of them, the game and the Infinity Base peripheral. Additional figures can be purchased separately from a total collection of around 30.
Beyond these pre-created adventures there is also a Toy Box mode where players can create their own experiences. In a similar way to LittleBigPlanet this provides what are essentially developer tools to the gaming public, wrapped up in simple and fun interactions.
Look past these differences and you find broader issues here. Activision's move with Skylanders into the toy market was new territory for them. The toy sales are welcomed additional revenue from a new market. Disney however are already in the toy business, and there is the potential that wins for Disney Infinity may steal purchases for other merchandise. Perhaps the aim here is to step the flood of toy transactions heading Activision's way?
A big part of Skylanders success was buy-in at retail. Talking to Eric Hershberg at the announcement of Skylanders Giants I was struck by his focus on retail partners. Toys R Us joined Activision with substantial investment in terms of store real estate. It will be interesting to see how accommodating they are to Disney Infinity, also whether they place it with other Disney toys or in their Video-game isles alongside Skylanders.
I'm also interested to see differences between the games themselves. For instance whereas you were forced to swap Skylanders to gain upgrades and power-ups, Disney Infinity uses a system of plastic discs. Again this is interesting for retailers as they will be sold in foil packs that hide the particular upgrade you will get before purchase.
Either way, Video-game stores will be happy to see another gaming product that can't be simply downloaded on a console. With talk of a full (initial) range of 30 figures along with the potential for special and limited editions it will be another balancing act interns of offering families value for the investment they make.