Activision still committed to toys-to-life

Eric Hirshberg says genre remains "fundamentally appealing" as company announces fall release of Skylanders: Imaginators

With Disney calling it quits and Nintendo planning a quiet remainder of 2016, the toys-to-life genre is expected to be significantly smaller this holiday season. However, the series that started it all will return, as Activision today announced Skylanders: Imaginators for an October 16 launch.

Speaking with Time, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg said the company wasn't about to abandon toys-to-life after a couple bad years.

"[W]e've said publicly that some of our more recent games haven't met our expectations, and yet we're still here making games, so we obviously still believe in the potential," Hirshberg said. "We created the category, and Skylanders is now the 11th most successful game franchise of all time after just five years.

"I feel like there's a core mashup of mechanics that could very well stand the test of time-that kids have been playing with toys forever, and kids have been interested in video games forever, and that we had found this very powerful way to bring them both together. Now in any given year, there are going to be forces beyond any single competitor's control. How much competition there is, what the platform dynamics are, how quickly kids are adopting new consoles, how steep is the drop-off of them buying software for legacy consoles, et cetera. And any snapshot at any moment in time can paint a particular picture. We remain confident that there is something fundamentally appealing here in this genre, and that our best strategy is to try to make the best, most innovative games in that genre."

Hirshberg also noted that Activision has been pushing Skylanders as a franchise with potential well beyond console games. A TV show based on the series is set to debut later this year, and the company continues to experiment with bringing Skylanders to mobile devices. However, he acknowledged that previous attempts to port console-accurate versions of the games to mobile devices didn't sell as well as hoped, and won't be repeated.

"[W]hen you look at the top 100 games on that platform, I think 99 of them are free-to-play games with a game design that's indigenous to that platform, that works on glass, that has all the properties of a great mobile game," Hirshberg said. "And that's very different from what makes a great console game or a great PC game. So the bottom line is I think we did something innovative and high quality, and maybe it was ahead of its time. But at least at the moment, there hasn't been a big market for it."

An example of the new approach to mobile can be seen in the just-launched Skylanders: Battlecast, a card game where players can collect new cards digitally or physically, using their mobile devices' cameras to scan them into the game as an augmented reality feature.

Back on the console front, Imaginators will attempt to freshen up the series formula by allowing players to create their own Skylanders, mixing and matching parts from a variety of other characters. While those custom characters may not have their own toys, Activision will sell "Creation Crystals" that players can use to store their characters and bring them to other systems.

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