What the Wii U Could Learn From the Skylanders Business Model

When I first heard about it, I couldn’t help but think of the Skylanders business model as being anything other than disastrous; a peripheral that works with only one game, a game sold at retail price, and collectible figurines that are a separate purchase outside of the starter pack and unlock certain areas to the game you previously couldn’t access? How could that possibly succeed with consumers, let alone even leave the Activision headquarters meeting where it was initially pitched?

Well, it’s been almost a year since its release, and I’m definitely eating my words.

The Skylanders franchise has become a runaway hit with the younger crowd of gamers, coupling a neat and well-developed game with the idea of using their toys to transport into their experience. Plus, it’s collectible, and anyone who was ever a kid knows that collectible toys are like crack; you’ve got to get all of them, get the ones your friends don’t have, and definitely get the new ones before anyone else.

With the next batch of Skylanders due out soon and the idea of scanning figurines for use in gameplay slowly catching on with the industry, there’s surprisingly a lot of potential here that could eventually be unlocked.

And who could better explore this than Nintendo with the all-new Wii U?

It’s true they’ve had a lackluster hype campaign going for the new console, with all the shortcomings and conferences that did nothing more than leave questions unanswered. But truly, the real question to be asked of the Wii U’s game pad is this; what can’t it do? We’ve only seen a bit of the new tech’s capabilities, but rest assured, we haven’t even scratched the surface with what the game pad can do or bring to gaming experiences.

So, why not begin to consider using a Skylanders-like model to bring to the industry?

We saw this teased a bit with the Rayman Legends trailer that debuted at E3. Not only did we see players use the game pad to change gameplay, but there was an entire section at the end dedicated to the use of physical figurines to transport characters into the game. We saw this when a Rabbid (I know, I know…) figurine was placed on the screen, then appeared in the game with Rayman. Now, whether or not the game plans to incorporate this for sure we don’t know. But we do know that the potential is there, and that there is a lot of ground to cover here, should this idea take off.

The real masters of this would, of course, be Pokemon. With over 600 monsters in their universe now, the franchise could become an absolute powerhouse within the market if they use this same sort of transporting idea alongside a new Pokemon arena-type game. Imagine having the opportunity to collect even just half of the monsters featured in the franchise. It’s staggering! And even if it wasn’t necessarily painted figurines you’re using to transport your collection into the game, what if there was some type of card integration that could be used for the game as well? Then not only would Pokemon be able to use this, but other card-based games such as Magic: The Gathering could jump in and start capitalizing on this as well.

Of course, I’m not necessarily crazy about the idea of being surrounded by stuff to play my games, but I am fascinated to see whether or not this is a feasible idea that could be adopted to fit in with other game franchises in an effort to mix things up. There’s other potential here, too…imagine games like Super Smash Bros. or even the Mario sports games with figurines or other peripherals that could be used to transport characters in and out of the game seamlessly. It feels like a strong possibility and an interesting and innovative move that Nintendo would make to further their unique business model that always seems to test our comfort zones with gaming in a positive way. There’s also potential for DLC and pre-order bonuses to be unlocked by way of using outside items to bring into the game experience itself that might prove to be an interesting and useful move on the company’s part.

Either way, I never thought I’d say it, but we can all take note of the success of Skylanders. It might just be something we see more of in the very near future.