Is Toys-To-Life Another Trend on the Wane?
By now, most gamers know that Disney has cancelled its toys-to-life series Disney Infinity and even its in-house game creation. That’s okay, right? We still have Skylanders, Lego Dimensions, and Nintendo’s Amiibo. Those aren’t going anywhere.
The Basic Problem
For those who don’t know, toys-to-life games incorporate figurines or cards which enable playability or add certain bonuses to certain video games.
You’ve probably guessed the first problem: you have to buy a toy on top of the game, at $5-15 per character, vehicle, etc., or more for collections. True, there are bundles and discounts, but this is not a cheap genre.
Now one might say “It’s just like Downloadable Content (DLC),” and you’re right, but there’s the problem. Only a fraction of people are gamers, and only a fraction of them will buy a specific game, and only a fraction of that will buy DLC. You’re getting into really niche markets here. Plus, new toys come out constantly, and they all take up shelf space. Sometimes, you can’t take your old stuff with you when a new game comes out. That means more money spent.
Yet, this trend has flourished…for now.
The Disney Bomb
Disney’s Infinity series sounded like a dream. Play with all the Disney and Pixar characters together? And now Marvel? And now Star Wars? AWESOME! And it was. In fact, Disney Infinity climbed to the top of the toys-to-life genre in early 2016.
Then on May 10th of the same year, Disney cancelled Disney Infinity.
Disney had the best sales in the market and yet they dropped out of the game. That’s the truly disturbing part. Granted, Disney had some unique woes, from licensing troubles to poor sales estimates. Making all those toys was costly and gamers weren’t exactly able to cough up all the dough.
Still, the question remains: if the king can fall, what about the rest of them?
Let’s talk about the good first. Skylanders is less complicated than Infinity. It releases new games, but they generally allow you to play with your old toy sets. Amiibo toys act more like bonuses than requirements (i.e. you can still play Super Smash Bros. without them). Plus, Lego Dimensions got a serious boost thanks to the already-existing Lego games and The Lego Movie which showed what a Lego multiverse could be.
However, the future of toys-to-life games still looks grim. Sales in this genre have stalled and even dropped recently. At some point, you look at your overweight toy shelf and think, “Do I really need another?”
Could Disney Infinity fans move on to another franchise and keep the genre going? Well, they could, but imagine spending dozens or hundreds of dollars on a toys-to-life franchise, then watching it tank. Would you really be eager to jump on another? Plus, just because they liked Disney doesn’t mean they’ll like Spyro the Dragon.
Toys-to-life doesn’t seem to have that much staying power. Analyst Steve Bailey believes the genre isn’t doing much innovation, instead just adding more to what already exists – which is fine for a time, but can’t last forever. Remember music games like Guitar Hero?
Of course, pressure to change often creates some awesome results. Remember the reboot of Tomb Raider? Or evolutions like Metroid Prime and Final Fantasy VII? Those took old models and carried them into the future of gaming.
Creativity comes from strange places. All the toys-to-life market needs is for the right talent to step up and show us all what the genre can do. Otherwise, GameStop is going to have a lot more shelf space.
Do you think the toys-to-life genre will stay? Do you think it’s doomed? What do you think the genre should do?
Yeah, it’s a shame. I was actually part of the Disney Infinity team during the fall– it wasn’t very pretty. Honestly, I can see Toys to Life games prospering if they can budget correctly and learn from their losses. Part of me wishes that Disney Infinity had had one more chance to prove its worth. It stinks, but oh well! Awesome post.
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