This past Tuesday started out innocently enough. We were monitoring the news out of Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) when the announcement broke: As part of an agreement between Disney Interactive, Lucasfilm, and Sony, this fall will see the arrival of a special version of the upcoming Disney Infinity 3.0. The limited-edition Star Wars Saga Starter Pack will offer fans the chance to play as Boba Fett, the popular bounty hunter from the Star Wars movies. It will also allow players access to a much-anticipated Disney Infinity Play Set one month before it arrives on shelves, and even more importantly—at least, for the purposes of this commentary—the deal is only available for Sony’s PlayStation system.
My knee-jerk reaction was to say, “Shoot. That’s too bad if you own a different console than the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 3. Like, for example, the Nintendo Wii U.” And wouldn’t you know it, just a short time later, news broke about a different video game industry deal, this one involving Nintendo and Activision. The end result is popular Nintendo characters Donkey Kong and Bowser crossing over to the Skylanders franchise; specifically, the impending Skylanders SuperChargers. Gamers will be able to purchase Donkey Kong or Bowser amiibo, and bring them to life in Skylanders SuperChargers on three different Nintendo consoles, the emphasis being “Nintendo.” This deal actually trumps the Star Wars Saga Starter Pack as far as exclusivity, since the toys will only work on Nintendo’s Wii U, Wii, and 3DS.
Now if you were me, this was about the time you started to shake the cobwebs out of your head. “Are these two console-specific exclusives just a coincidence, or the kick-off of a holiday trend?” I wondered. I decided to enlist the services of an industry expert, who wished to remain anonymous, though I will refer to him by the initials, “TRE” (for toy retailer employee). Basically, TRE told me that based on his own observations, the core audience for Star Wars video games tends to be 30-something dads who want a game they can play with their kids.
“But I’m not sure of the exact age range that’s playing Skylanders,” said TRE, “or if they’re necessarily competing with Disney Infinity for the same group of gamers.”
“Well, they’re not competing for me,” I replied. “Although I might consider it, now that I can bring in Donkey Kong.”
And that’s when it hit me: They ARE competing for consumers like me, or at least, they will be.
It makes sense for Nintendo and Activision to have entered into their partnership, as it seems almost perfectly symbiotic. I happen to be a 30-something adult who plays video games. I know others who do so as well, and while Skylanders may be a huge global franchise, for us it’s long been the equivalent of watching a dog play the piano: Sure, we’re in awe of what we’re seeing, but no way can we wrap our minds around it. There’s an entire mythology of protagonists and powers that we have to learn. However, people like me remain intensely aware of the intellectual properties (IP) of our youth, including Nintendo’s stable of characters. As such, if Activision is looking to grow its audience a little older (and grayer), they could not have found a better partner than the owner of Donkey Kong, Bowser, Yoshi, Starfox, etc.
Similarly, while Disney can feature Star Wars in its games outright, bringing the property into the Disney Infinity universe this year not only takes advantage of the new movie coming out, but potentially broadens the game’s audience. Don’t get me wrong; personally, I think Disney Infinity is a great idea, but up until now, it’s been a little too beat-em-up-centric for me, without the benefit of nostalgic IP.
Back to Nintendo’s perspective, the deal with Activision potentially helps sell consoles, which is what the former is in the business of doing. Ultimately, all this positioning for the months leading up to the holiday season is, in my opinion, less about Skylanders versus Star Wars, and more about Nintendo versus Sony. After all, if you’re Activision or Disney Interactive, you’re already spread across the market, so it doesn’t matter which console winds up in first, second, or third place.
But if you’re Nintendo or Sony, there is an opportunity to double-down on a key gamer demographic (e.g., older gamers), and through those aforementioned alliances, sway undecided and prospective console buyers. Those who like the idea of a Donkey Kong amiibo that works with Skylanders might be okay waiting an extra month to own the Star Wars Saga Starter Pack, even if they also like Star Wars. On the other hand, one shouldn’t underestimate the power of fandom: I’m sure there will be people camped out to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens days before it opens. These are the folks who would equate one month’s wait to a century’s.
It’s much too early to predict success, but each company is wielding some pretty appealing IP. Perhaps it will all come down to how much market saturation each console already enjoys, how willing the target market is to own multiple consoles, and whether consumers can be patient enough to wait out the exclusivity period of some of the aforementioned products.
But any way you look at it, it’s gearing up to be an interesting holiday season for video games.
Most recently updated on June 19 at 9:32 a.m.
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!