Tough Times for Toys-to-Life Titles

The shutdown of Lego Dimensions is the latest bad news for the “toys-to-life” segment of the toy and interactive gaming industries. The sector, which got its mainstream start with Activision’s Skylanders in 2011, represented one of the top trends in the toy business in its not-long-ago heyday.

Warner Bros. Interactive, TT Games, and Lego announced last week that they would no longer produce new expansion packs for Lego Dimensions, although they will continue to sell and support already-on-the-market packs. The partners launched the game in 2015 and originally had plans to continue issuing new expansion packs for three years. Licensed Doctor Who and Minecraft packs are reportedly among the products that were anticipated but now will not go forward.

The Lego Dimensions news follows the final demise of Disney Infinity in March 2017. Disney had announced the discontinuation in May 2016 and had been phasing out the game since then. Fans can still use the product, but without group connectivity or any new content. Disney Infinity premiered in 2013 and was supplemented with subsequent versions focusing on Marvel and Star Wars themes and characters.

Meanwhile, Activision said in February that it would not release a new Skylanders game this year, after lower-than-expected sales for the last couple of editions. This marks the first time there has been no new annual game since the advent of the product, which became a phenomenon upon its launch. Skylanders generated more than $1 billion in retail sales of toys, game accessories, and other licensed products in just its first two years. By 2015, the franchise had exceeded $3 billion in retail sales.

Activision has released new toys and digital content in 2017 for existing editions of the game, and its Skylanders licensing program continues, albeit at far less than peak levels. A Netflix TV series, Skylanders Academy, premiered in fall 2016 and has been renewed for a third season.

The newest entrant into the toys-to-life market, Nintendo’s Amiibo, remains in play. Amiibo, which was introduced in 2014, is different from the other examples in that it crosses Nintendo’s various gaming franchises (as well as some third-party franchises), rather than being a dedicated game. A number of Nintendo titles for different platforms are Amiibo-enabled, and the physical figures (the amiibo) integrate with each game uniquely. In addition, collectability, rather than play, is thought to drive purchases of the physical figures; Amiibo’s fans likely skew older than adherents of the other toys-to-life brands.

Theories about the decline of the toys-to-life segment overall range from market saturation and declining consumer interest to difficult economics, with these types of games being expensive to produce. In addition, connectivity has become a given across all products in the toy industry, to various degrees, meaning that the toys-to-life genre does not stand out from the competition as much as it once did.

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