Toys for Bob and Vicarious Visions on keeping annual Skylanders 'magic' alive

Bags Hooper
B. Hooper|02.06.13

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Toys for Bob and Vicarious Visions on keeping annual Skylanders 'magic' alive
Since first launching in 2011, Activision has turned its toy-powered gaming franchise Skylanders into an annual release. The third game in the series, Skylanders: Swap Force, is set to arrive this fall and will allow players to mix-and-match parts of 16 new toys for over 250 in game character combinations.

Despite the franchise's success, solidifying it as an annual title in Activision's portfolio, it may not be immune to its new schedule. Activision has walked this road before, with the once-popular Guitar Hero franchise buckling under its own weight of too many releases in too short a time period. But Paul Reiche, Studio President at Toys for Bob [above, left], believes that innovation is the key to growing the franchise; innovation that will keep the "magic" alive for children.

"The way that we're going to succeed is by ensuring that every year we have a meaningful innovation both in the toys and in the software as well," Reiche told Joystiq. Though Toys for Bob first developed Skylanders and launched its successor, Skylanders Giants, in 2012, developer Vicarious Visions has taken over to help the third entry in the series – a studio that developed ports and iOS games in the Skylanders universe and, at one time, helped Activision port the Guitar Hero franchise to mobile and Nintendo platforms.

Going forward, both Toys for Bob and Vicarious Visions will lead the charge for Activision's Skylanders series. The two developers first collaborated in 2003, before Vicarious Visions became a part of Activision, on Disney Extreme Skate Adventure. Although Toys for Bob isn't heading development, they are still providing daily input on the toy design, character images and level feedback.

Skylanders Trying to stay ahead of the curve as an annual franchise
The two studios are fully invested in the Skylanders project and don't have any other projects in the works. "This is our entire focus," Guha Bala, co-head of Vicarious Visions [top, right], told Joystiq. "Between the two studios, that's all we're working on," Reiche added.

While Vicarious Visions takes the lead on Swap Force, Reiche has been exploring ways to innovate on the line. Last week was the first time he visited Skylanders' toy manufacturing facility in Shenzhen, China. Reiche wants to be more aware of the manufacturing process so that he can hone his craft and come up with new ideas for the toy line. He admitted that seeing the workers hand paint the Jet Vac's yellow talons was a joy.

As for next gen, Bala doesn't see technology, platform or rendering features as a driving force for the franchise. For Skylanders, his goal is to find play patterns that are enriching for kids and bring those concepts to life. The Swap Force concept hearkens back to the days when children broke apart their GI Joe toys and mixed and matched the tops and bottoms of their action figures. Bala hopes to stay ahead of the technology curve, by looking to simple ideas that make you think in new ways. "The fundamental experience will be about the magic of the toys."

Of course innovation isn't without a cost. Swap Force will only be available as a starter pack, as the franchise's original portals – where players place their figures to transport them into the game – will not be able to read new swap figures. The new Starter pack, which is expected to retail for $74.99, will include the new base as well as two Swap Force characters and one 'Core' character, a standard Skylander.

Activision has long-term ambitions for its successful franchise. "We have goals of making this a 10 to 20 year franchise that becomes a staple for kids," Joshua Taub, Vice President of Skylanders Business told Joystiq. The Giants franchise alone took in 195 million during Q4, while the entire franchise topped 500 million in sales. Toy sales continue to be "strong" across both lines.

Bags Hooper is a writer based out of Brooklyn, New York. He has contributed to multiple outlets, including BuzzFocus, USA Network, Showtime's Pop Tudors, Monsters & Critics and FHM. You can follow him on Twitter at @BagsHooper.
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