Gamers love to bemoan sequel-itus and voice frustration over the big publishing companies who often appear unwilling or unable to take risks. Recently however Activision took a huge risk, one that I greatly admire, which has has paid off substantially for both the company and for us gamers. This spectacular bet seems to have gone relatively unnoticed so I'd like to provide what little exposure I can and offer a sincere round of applause to both Toys for Bob and Activision Blizzard for having the nerve to create Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure.
My daughter and I enjoy gaming together and you can see her little collection of Skylanders to the right. She is four and a half years old so our software options are somewhat limited. Translation - many of the games that she is able to play bore me to tears. Skylanders is the first game we found that genuinely appealed to both of us simultaneously, and we actually completed it from start to finish together. It's an experience that I will never forget and one that I hope she remembers when she is older as well.
What is Skylanders you ask? Spyro's Adventure is essentially a dungeon crawl game with one heck of a twist. The playable characters available to you are first purchased as figures in the real world and then connected through a USB portal to your game. Each figure spawns in the game world and can now be controlled by you.
But wait, there's more! These figures are equipped with microchips in their base that allow them to store data from gameplay onto the actual model themselves. As you progress through the game your active Skylander levels up and earns new abilities and gear (in the form of hats). This progress can then be shared with friends by simply taking your figure to a buddy's house and placing it on his or her portal.
While playing this over the holiday break with my daughter I couldn't help but ask myself, "Who on earth had the balls to approve the development of this game?" The logistical challenges and financial hurdles of creating not only a new peripheral (the portal) but more importantly all of the microchip-equipped figures is astounding. Furthermore, despite the name and Spyro's presence as a playable character, this title is not a sequel to an existing franchise. The gameplay is dramatically different and Spyro is not featured within the game any more so than all of the other characters are.
This was one risky bet!
And let's talk about the marketing and end cap placement of this thing. Have you been into a Toys R Us in the last 6 months? The figures, disks, and bundle sets alone take up a significant amount of shelf space before you even get to the TV's looping gameplay. How did this ever get approved?
Thanks to Matthew Handrahan, writer for Gamesindustry.biz, I finally understand how it happened.
The summary of the story is this: Take one Lead Character Artist with a passion for hand crafting and painting intricate clay figures, add a programmer who harbors a fascination (and apparently a great talent) for working with electronics, and combine a team of passionate developers and leaders who believed wholeheartedly in their idea, and you have a group of people capable and just crazy enough of pitching this elaborate concept for the first time to Activision with actual working models in hand.
For all of you aspiring developers out there wondering how to make an impact and get into the business, take note of this shining example of how powerful the creation of a working prototype can be.
And to both Toys for Bob and Activision? Thank you for having the nerve to see this through. You've created a fantastic memory for my family.