Activision took a big risk on a semi-reboot of the now-classic 3D platformer Spyro the Dragon. Tasking little-known game developer Toys for Bob with the game in question, Activision expected a gritty, more “mature” tone for Spyro; Toys for Bob, on the other hand, felt it was best to move the series in the opposite direction making it more child-friendly as well as more appealing to the family dynamic. Toys for Bob wanted to bridge the gap between toys and video games and came up with the idea of real-life figures that could be summoned into a game. In a move that surprised nearly everyone, Activision—with their reputation for avoiding risky endeavors—signed off on the idea and the rest is history. 2011’s Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure was met with both critical and financial success, as was its 2012 sequel, Skylanders: Giants. Raking in billions of dollars for the publishing giant, Skylanders has proved to be a risk that has clearly paid off. With the third entry in the series, Skylanders: Swap Force, having been released just this past weekend I expect Activision will continue to see their profit margins grow.
However, profits aren’t the only thing to grow with each iteration of the innovative series. As the sheer number of Skylanders figures rises, many children and adults alike have begun collecting the figures not only for use in the games, but for the simple joy of expanding their collections. However, as any collector of these specialty figures will tell you, collecting Skylanders figures is not as simple as running out to the store and buying the ones you are missing, but is an arduous task that requires a big commitment and an even bigger wallet.
Each game in the Skylanders series comes with a starter pack that includes the game, the “Portal of Power”, which is the medium through which figures “enter” the game, three Skylanders figures, and various other items such as stickers and trading cards. Apart from the starter pack, there are also single packs that include only a single figure (duh) and triple packs that contain three. Right about now you are probably thinking something along the lines of “well, this doesn’t seem that confusing”, and you’d be right until you take into account that not all figures work with each game. Figures that were meant to be used with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure will work with all future titles such as Skylanders: Giants. Characters that were available in previous titles that received a new figure from a later title can also be used with the previous title they were in. For example, if a character is available in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure and you have that character’s figure from Skylanders: Giants you can use it with either game; however, characters that were introduced in Skylanders: Giants cannot be used in Spyro’s Adventure.
Confused yet? No? Well how about this: figures are released by Activision in “waves”. Think of the way McDonald’s toys become available, and then crank the confusion dial to 11. You see, each game has a set number of different figures that are slated to be released at different times throughout the lifecycle of the game; this keeps the game fresh for longer as it consistently provides players with new content if they are willing to fork over the money for new figures. Certain character’s figures are only released in certain waves and once that wave is over, that specific figure is no longer produced essentially making the figure an instant collectable. Furthermore, Activision never announces when they are releasing a specific wave: they just randomly ship to a retailer and whatever that store happens to receive, that’s what they sell.
Activision also likes to sneak variants of figures in with some waves just to make things even more confusing. Variants are usually just specialty colors of previous figures and there can be several variants of a single figure as well as certain variants made specifically for tradeshows and other events. As such, tracking down one of these variants will most likely cost you a great deal of time as well as a great deal of cash—some variants have sold for upwards of $900, though most tend to sell around the $200 mark. In fact, some of these variants have become so sought after and valuable that counterfeits have even shown up with the perpetrator simply buying the original figure and painting it to look like its rare variant. The economics surrounding the buying and selling of Skylanders figures is also completely unstable, with some figures doubling or tripling in value almost overnight, while other figures can lose their value just as quickly.
There’s also another glaring issue that makes the collecting of Skylanders figures confusing: nobody, outside of Activision at least, knows exactly how many figures there are. The best number I could come up with is 213 and this only includes the ones I could actually count from the massive list on SkylandersCharacters.com; who knows how many variants exist that have yet to be brought to light. And just to top off this confusion sundae, we now have the 16 new characters added to the lot with the release of Skylanders: Swap Force that allow you to swap the top and bottom halves of the figures to create new characters, which, doing the math, leads to a whopping 256 combinations of these new swappable figures! Confused yet? I sure as hell am.