What Pokemon and Beanie Babies Have that Skylanders Doesn't: Narrative

So, usually Wednesday is devoted to the series “Would you rather” which I am postponing until tomorrow. Today, I would rather look at Skylander’s: Spyros Adventures and the way it combines collecting and gaming.

Clearly, the Pokemon video games were some of the first video games that integrated an aspect of both collecting and gameplay.


This was a highly successful model because it enabled the game to be more social by necessitating player interaction if they wanted to obtain all of the pokemon, while also featuring normal gameplay for those that didn’t give a damn about catching em’ all. This has clearly been a popular model with games like Digimon and Fossil Fighters and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker presenting variations on the original Pokemon model.

Skylander’s: Spyro’s Adventures is on more game that follow suit, however, Skylanders are not collected in game, but must be collected in the form of figurines.

As you can see from the picture, there is a portal that comes with each copy of Skylanders. A player must put a skylander figure on the portal to introduce the character to the game. This has been a savvy business model as the release of the skylanders figurines has been staggered in waves, inflating the value of some figures. In addition to the normal figures, there are special editions of each of these characters. There are legendary skylanders which have better stats than the normal versions, and there are gold and silver versions (very rare) of some characters. The figures are important to the game, but have also triggered a secondary market in collectors who just want to own all of the various skylanders figures in all their iterations. In this way, Skylanders  taps into the same market that Beanie Babies exploited in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Image

For those of you who don’t quite remember, the Beanie Baby craze hit the United states driving prices of hard to get beanie babies upwards of thousands of dollars. They sold books on the projected pricing of beanie babies, and at my school beanie babies were banned from the playground because of high incidences of theft. Skylanders figures taps into this collector’s market, which has also seen the prices of certain figures skyrocket exponentially. A few weeks back, the Skylander figure Camo sold for almost 40 dollars, typically an individual skylander retails for 9.99. As supply finally caught up to demand, the price returned to normal, but now certain other figures prices are up as they become hard to find.

Considering the upcoming realease of Skylanders: Giants clearly this model has worked out very well for Activision. While Skylanders  initially relied on ties to the Spyro franchise to sell copies, the game is doing well enough on its own currently to warrant a sequel and the addition of new skylanders figures. However, there is one thing that I think that Skylanders has missed in its appeal to children as collectors.

For those of you who have played Pokemon, you will remember that each time you catch a new type of pokemon for the first time, the pokedex entry (a brief sentence or two of flavor text) pops up to tell you about the nature of whatever pokemon you just caught. For example, catching a Zubat (yes I hate them too) would tell you that “It has no eyes. Instead, it relies on its ultrasonic cries for echo location to flit about in darkness” a brief entry that tells you a bit more about the nature of Zubat. For Beanie babies, each came with a four line poem. Continuing with my apparenty obsession with bats, Batty the bat’s poem reads:

Bats may make some people jitter

Please don’t be scared of this critter

If you’re lonely or have nothing to do

This Beanie Baby would love to hug you!

Both Pokemon and Beanie babies provide a small back story on each character. When you are purchasing a skylander character, they do not come equipped with a story of any sort. You receive the figurines, an online code, and a card of the skylander, but there is nothing that comes in the packaging to make the characters relatable.


Online, the official skylanders website provides some background information on each character, but the failure to attach these stories to the skylanders in the packaging, I feel, is a failure to engage Skylanders younger audience, and to get children to relate and play with the skylanders figures in and out of the game. Clearly I don’t want to underestimate children’s imaginations, but I think that adding a line of backstory for each character would enrich the gameworld, and also make the characters more engaging for the intended audience. Again, considering how successful the sales have been so far, I don’t think Activsion will consider changing any aspects for the release of Skylanders: Giants. However, I think if Activision had studied its market a bit more beyond just recognizing that “Omg, people like to collect things in video games” it would have made Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure a more enriching game narratively, and the figures more interesting to a younger audience.


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