A clever fusion of toys and video games has been an enormous success for publisher Activision and a nightmare for parents trying to track down scarce expansion packs for desperate children.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure is the first successful product to combine video games and toys.
According to Activision, the publisher best known for its Call of Duty games, Skylanders was the most successful new children's gaming property last year and the number one best-selling kids' franchise worldwide in 2011.
In Australia, over 110,000 Skylanders Starter Packs sold in less than six months (most priced at $99.95 each) making it the 11th best selling game in terms of revenue in 2011.
Activision has also sold over 300,000 Skylanders toys since October and an astonishing 20 million figures worldwide.
The game lets kids "bring their toys to life" by collecting the action figures and then teleporting them into the game by placing them on the "Portal of Power".
Starter kits come with only three of the 37 different figures playable in the game. Skylanders can be enjoyed with just three characters, but the game is full of references to features unlocked by the other figures in what has proved to be very successful in-game advertising for selling additional toys.
The extra toys retail for $14.95 each in Australia or $29.95 for a pack of three. But the figures have been desperately hard to find on retail stores worldwide since well before Christmas, frustrating consumers, retailers and Activision like.
Many exasperated parents have turned to eBay auctions where prices for toy packs have been extraordinarily high. Rare figures have recently sold on eBay for over $700 each.
Activision says stock of Skylanders figures is finally expected to be back in supply and available in-stores across Australia in early April.
Activision VP of marketing John Coyne recently told Kotaku that the publisher is making the toys as fast as they can, but demand keeps growing.
"We are doing our best to keep up with the consumer demand for Skylanders and to keep product on the shelves," says Mr Coyne.
"Skylanders was one of the most popular gifts (last) holiday season and demand for toys has continued to rise week after week without any signs of slowing down. We’re shipping Skylanders toys out as soon as they come off the production lines and will get them to stores as quickly as we can.”
Activision has also announced a sequel is in development called Skylanders Giants. It introduces over 20 new figures, including super-sized giants and characters that light up when they are placed on the Portal.
Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg expects Giants to continue the success of the original game.
"Skylanders Spyro's Adventure's success validated an exciting idea-that with the right technology, and the creative minds to support it with engaging characters and story, we could define a new model for children's play," Mr Hirshberg says.
"Skylanders Giants marks the evolution of this core concept. We've got super-sized figures, remarkably cool new characters that light up, as if by magic, and more ways to play and explore Skylands than ever before."
Retailers also expect the game's strong sales to continue.
“The success of Skylanders was no surprise to Big W," says retail buyer Ben De Vries. "We knew as soon as we saw it that our customers were going to love this exciting and innovative new product.”
Other toy manufacturers would be watching the success of Skylanders with great interest.
At yesterday's 2012 Australian Toy, Hobby and Nursery Fair in Melbourne, many exhibitors demonstrated new toys based on popular video game properties or using video game technology such as augmented reality.
Angry Birds toys were everywhere, while Moose Enterprise also had toys based on other App Store success stories like Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope.
Hasbro demonstrated new board games like Monopoly and The Game of Life which use iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone screens to augment the action.
Hasbro also demonstrated new Lazer Tag guns which utilise iPod Touch or iPhone screens, while Gadget King has a growing range of augmented reality toys including guns and a new fishing rod controller.
Meanwhile, local success story Goldie Marketing, which was established just a few years ago in a suburban garage and now has offices in five countries and over 100 staff, looks set to sell its 20 millionth Nintendo figurine this year.
Goldie has now expanded into remote controlled toys featuring the likes of Mario and Yoshi, and a large Mario Kart remote controlled racing car was the best selling toy on the Target online store in the US last year after just 10 weeks on sale.
Game-related merchandise now represents over 40 per cent of Ikon Collectables business in Australia, and continues to grow.
Ikon's range includes figurines, toys and clothing for games as diverse as Minecraft, Halo, Assassin's Creed, BioShock, Gears of War, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid, Street Fighter, Portal, World of Warcraft, Mortal Kombat, Sonic and Starcraft. Ikon even sells a reproduction Mass Effect weapon for $700.
Following the success of their Halo range of toys, Mega Bloks has new Halo 4 sets scheduled for release before Christmas to coincide with the release of the new Xbox 360 blockbuster. It also has construction toys based on World of Warcraft coming soon.
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