No New Skylanders Console Game in 2017 – What Does This Mean for the Franchise?
Activision have held a conference call to discuss their earnings from the final quarter of 2016, where they’ve shed a bit of light on the future of the Skylanders franchise. As previously rumoured, there will be no new Skylanders game released for consoles this year, just a port ofSkylanders Imaginators for the Nintendo Switch. Seasons 2 and 3 of the Netflix Original series Skylanders Academy are still on track, and a Skylanders game for mobile devices is currently in development.
So is this good news? Bad news? Unfortunately it’s still a bit too early to say, which is no doubt even more frustrating for fans than knowing one way or the other if the series is dead. Activision did boast that Skylanders is the 11th largest console franchise of all time, and has sold more than 300 million toys in its lifetime. They also used Skylanders Academy as an example of how they can expand the reach of their brands. So they didn’t totally throw the franchise under the bus, and in fact didn’t bring up any inherently negative news. Compare that to the way they spoke about the last Call of Duty game, which they believe “didn’t resonate” with their audience, which has prompted them to use the next game to bring the franchise back to its roots. If things were looking dreadful for the Skylanders franchise there are many ways in which they could have indicated they were moving away from it in a way that still looks good to investors.
Activision also confirmed that there’ll be new content hitting Skylanders Imaginators this year – new Adventure Packs, characters, and digital content. We already knew of one new level pack being added to the game that seems to have been developed outside of the game’s initial development, and now we have confirmation that it won’t be the only one releasing this year. Given that Imaginators will be a Nintendo Switch launch title, there’s potentially a big new audience that this content can cater to in addition to those who already own the game. If people want something other than Zelda on their Switch at launch, then Skylanders is easily one of the more appealing launch games. Combine this with a TV show and mobile game, it’s possible that interest in the series can be rejuvenated while whoever’s developing the next game can take some time to evaluate what caused lacklustre performance of the last few games, and problems within the Toys to Life genre as a whole. Then they can make a comeback next year with a quality game that has an audience waiting for it.
We’ve seen the positive effect Pokemon GO appears to have had on sales of Sun & Moon, and I’m sure Fire Emblem Heroes will also benefit sales of Fire Emblem Echoes. Of course, Skylanders doesn’t have the same pull that Nintendo’s franchises do but a well-made and marketed mobile game still has potential. And let’s be real- it’s definitely going to be free, so people won’t have anything to lose from at least trying it out.
But… let me take off my optimist hat and replace it with a more negative one, and assess another possibility of this situation. A mobile game could be an indicator of the Skylanders series moving towards low effort mobile games that make their money from microtransactions. F2P games can be incredibly lucrative, and this would mean that nobody has to fund production of toys every year. And even if that’s not the direction they’re heading, let’s not forget how quickly they abandoned the last mobile Skylanders game, Battlecast. It had effort put into its development, but upon its release it’s like Activision almost immediately forgot it existed. If the future of the franchise is dependent on a mobile game, they’ll need to approach it much better than they have previously.
There’s also the question of where these new levels for Imaginators came from. Will they be given the same level of attention that the existing ones got? Or will they be thrown together from existing assets and cut content in a last-ditch effort to make back some more money from Imaginators before the series goes on the out? Could it even be content from a scrapped Skylanders game set to release this year? If development of a game had already been started and funded then Activision might have decided it was worth releasing what was done to try and cover costs. These packs also allow them to make more money of Senseis that would have retailed at the price of a single figure rather than a full Adventure Pack, especially given that these packs don’t include a level piece toy like Adventure Packs normally do. Between that and the fact there was no evidence of them in the game before their reveal, there’s definitely something about them that feels a bit off to me. But I’d like to remain hopeful about Activision’s intentions with these new packs until there’s definitive evidence of anything suss.
There’s another factor to consider here about the franchise’s future – the general state of the Toys to Life industry. Disney Infinity has been cancelled, and next year will be the last in the original three year plan of LEGO Dimensions. While Dimensions could have new content or a sequel greenlit, it’s entirely possible that it too will exit the TTL genre. With two big players exiting the scene and worrying rumours circling the Skylanders franchise it’s possible that even if there is a new game, people will consider it too risky an investment. A whole new game and set of figures will be a hard sell to an audience who’s expecting your game to go under, and a lot of people will just feel disillusioned with these sorts of games altogether. A lot of people offloaded their Infinity collections when the game was confirmed to be cancelled despite the fact all their games and toys will still work, and just about any mainstream article on Toys to Life will bring up Infinity’s demise – there’s a negative stigma surrounding the genre now, and it could be that it’s too far gone to recover.
It’s hard to tell whether the state of the Skylanders franchise is any better or worse off after this conference than how we suspected it was beforehand, but it would seem that Activision haven’t totally given up on it. Fans can only hope that the performance of Skylanders toys and media over the next year pleases Activision enough for the series to continue. It would be a shame to see a pioneer of the Toys to Life genre have to bow out.