Skylanders seems like an obvious money-maker in retrospect, but at the time, few thought millions of kids would flock to the integrated toy / video game hybrid. Now the little plastic guys are so big that competitor Disney Infinity, the House of Mouse’s own near field communication (NFC) game, has sold 3 million copies worldwide (and that’s not counting the add-on toys). The game was made to feature countless expansions and additions, but why limit the scope to Disney and Pixar characters? It looks like Disney Interactive is ready to keep the Infinity franchise growing, which was the only positive bit of news linked to rumored layoffs at the company. There are potential Marvel and Star Wars sets on the horizon. Could this finally expand the reach of NFC games beyond children?
Just to be clear, I’m not saying adults can’t enjoy games like Disney Infinity or Skylanders. It’s that they can’t really play those games without being mocked by judgemental folks like me. The in-game visuals looks infantile, and most of Infinity’s toys cover franchises like Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean--stuff I feel too old to be interested in. Infinity was clearly made for kids and that's fine with me, because I buy too much junk as it is.
It was all so easy to dismiss, but Marvel and Star Wars sets could change all that. People have been dreaming of Star Wars and Marvel Infinity expansions ever since the game was announced. Disney owns both of those massive properties, making a battle royale between Darth Vader, the Hulk, Donald Duck, and Miss Piggy all too possible. If the rumors are true, then this could introduce the property to a whole new audience beyond its initial kids crowd: the prevalent, money-spending consumer known as the geek.
The Comic-Con attendees out there (myself included) snap up almost any piece of merch featuring their favorite superhero or Jedi. These older fans may scoff at Mickey, but would they do the same to Captain America? For example, there was a time I spent every dollar I had on the tabletop game HeroClix. I was committed to getting a complete set of every iteration of Spider-Man or Green Lantern HeroClix had to offer. I shudder to think of how much more I’d have spent if those figurines unlocked characters in a halfway-decent video game.
Plus, beneath Infinity’s kiddie graphics was a lot of potential that went unfulfilled. You could see a lot of effort had been put into it, but the level creation tool was unwieldy, and the campaign felt bland. Perhaps focusing on Star Wars and Marvel characters could open up the franchise to more refined designs than in the first entry. Then again, maybe these would just be stand alone spin-offs? That would allow the games to have a whole new aesthetic and controls. Then again, that might mean that the figures couldn't crossover with one another, and I don’t think that’d be worth the sacrifice.
And Disney can’t afford to slack off on Infinity in the same year that Nintendo starts taking NFC games seriously. As announced at a recent press event, Nintendo will premiere a new toy / game combo title at E3 2014. If Mario is getting hardcore about NFC, then Infinity needs Marvel and Star Wars to make a big splash, getting gamers hooked before they can get addicted to a competing toy series. Though it could stay kiddie, Disney needs to pull in the kind of devoted fanboys that’ll stand in line all day for a variant Doctor Doom statue, or pay $100 on eBay for a ghostly Anakin Skywalker figure. Jack Sparrow just isn't going to cut it anymore.