This week has been a rough week for me – it kicked off a cycle of toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals. In the last cycle Adventure Time toys were the clear winner, but I am suddenly at a loss as I sit in the drive-thru line as to what kind of Happy Meal I should purchase: boy or girl?
Throwing fandom out the window makes this a difficult decision, so in my traditional fashion, let’s break down the pros and cons of ponies and monsters.
Who Would Win in a Fight?
This is not an easy question. If you have ever watched My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic then you know that Twilight Sparkle and Co. are quite adept at both going on the offensive, and digging themselves out of rough situations. That said, Skylanders are made to fight. Their entire purpose is to secure the realm from evil – plus half of these guys are armed.
Could the Ponies successfully defend themselves against the Skylanders? Yes, they could probably save their land from an outright attack. Would the Ponies use physical force to win? Probably not. In a “fair” one-on-one fight, I regretfully think that the Skylanders would win. Most of them have offensive weapons, and Eruptor is freaking made out of lava. LAVA.
So, in this instance I’m going to have to give the win to Skylanders Swap Force figures. While My Little Pony will always win in my heart, I do think that Skylanders could serve them a beat-down.
Who Has the Best Personality?
This should be extremely clear to you considering this post. I love Skylanders, I really do, but they lack a narrative that makes me want to love them. I think they’re adorable, and if I were a child I would play with them for hours and concoct a needlessly complicated origin story for each of them, but I’m 27 years old and I just don’t have time for that anymore.
Except for SonicBoom. He’s a griffin from a land where griffin’s are the sole monarchs. Sonic Boom is actually second in line to the Griffin throne, but he accidentally got swept up in a tornado Dorothy style and landed in my house in Oklahoma through the chimney.
ANYWAY. I’m not very familiar with the majority of the Skylanders Swap Force characters, so I haven’t had time to create stories for them yet. All the My Little Pony toys already have a story built in if you’ve seen an episode or two of the show. Twilight Spark is a nerd, Pinky Pie is a ditz, Fluttershy is a nervous hippy, and Rainbow Dash is a thrill-seeking tomboy. And they’re all much more than that.
Warning: this video is *slightly* explicit.
When people can make multiple full-length music videos using My Little Pony characters, I think that says a lot for pony personalities. Maybe if Activision were to make a Skylanders cartoon the Skylanders Swap Force kids might have a chance. But they don’t, so the ponies score this point.
Which Toys are Likely to Sell More?
So for this last category (which took me awhile to think of) we’ll let fandom enter the equation. First off, let’s look at the Skylanders accomplishments.
Skylanders Giants was one of the highest grossing games of 2013. As of July 31, 2013 it was the best-selling console and hand-held game in terms of dollars. Activision has already made 1.5 billion dollars and counting on the Skylanders game, making this an enormous and lucrative franchise. There have been three Skylanders Games, Skylanders: Spyros Adventure, Skylanders Giants, and Skylanders Swap Force each new game coming with new figures.
While the franchise has been monetarily successful, I don’t often hear much about Skylanders in terms of Fandom. Sure, there is Skylanders cosplay, but there is cosplay of everything imaginable. That said, when I searched for Skylanders on deviantART I got over 20,000 search results. Apparently people other than me enjoy thinking about the life Skylanders lead in their down-time.I even discovered over 100 Skylanders fan-fiction stories. I’m hoping at this point that all of them are PG. I can’t erase some of the images in that some Jurassic Park fanfiction scorched into my brain.
All of that to say that there is a larger Skylander’s fan following online than I realized.
Despite the fact that Skylander’s actually does have fans (surprise surprise) there is no way that it has more fans than My Little Pony. Bronies (adult male pony lovers) are a strong force to be reckoned with, and that’s before you add in all of the show’s target demographic: young girls.
Does Skylanders have a Wikipedia page about its fandom? Of course not. But My Little Pony does. There are also two documentaries, and more pony pictures on Tumblr than I’d like to count. All of that in addition to the TV Show, Comic Book Series, and Pony Plushies, figurines, and other merchandise.
Let’s face it, My Little Pony fans could theoretically take down almost any other fandom in the world – that’s how prevalent they are. Which is why the My Little Pony Happy Meal will sell more than the Skylanders Swap Force Happy meal.
Will I ever be able to get the numbers to prove it? Probably not. I might actually have to talk to McDonalds to get those, and they’re unlikely to share data with a random blogger (even though I have a Master’s degree in Popular Culture).
Let’s face it, the ponies will be able to attract a much larger demographic than the Skylanders.
Happy Meal toys are broken down into “girl” toys and “boy toys”. Considering the fandom of My Little Pony tends to generate interest from both sexes while the Skylanders Swap Force figures seem to be geared more towards boys (There are cute Skylanders characters, just not in these happy meals), My Little Pony wins.
Here’s my prize:
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.
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.