Skylanders Toys Show Marketing Genius


Shortly after Christmas, I picked up my son from playing at a friend’s house and immediately noticed a frenzied spark in his eyes.

“I know what I want to spend my Christmas money on!” he exuberantly stated. “Kyle got a Skylanders game for Wii and it’s SO cool!”

Key elements of Skylanders

© 2011 Activision Publishing, Inc

Ok, I’ll bite, I thought. I asked him what the game involved and why it was so fun. What followed was what I perceived to be the most calculated marketing genius since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here’s the low-down:

  1. It’s a video game. Available for all of the major gaming systems (Wii, Playstation, Xbox), it uses the tried-and-true game formula of first-person adventure that children to adults are familiar with.
  2. The game has special gear. In order to get started with the game, you need to purchase the required accessories, namely a starter pack that has several plastic action figures and a special platform on which to place them. The platform informs the game system which character has been selected by the player.
  3. There are collectible characters. The characters, available in additional single packs for $7.99, have different powers and skills associated with them. Essentially, they’re 3D equivalents of collectible Pokemon or Yugioh cards—which my son started collecting when he was about 5 years old. To advance in the game, players will need to collect additional characters from those purchased in the initial starter pack.

Here’s a brief description of the game from its creators, Activision®:

In Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure, characters are ‘brought to life’ in a boldly innovative adventure game where children can collect real-world toys and teleport them directly into the game using a mystical Portal of Power™.

Propelled by a story-driven adventure, penned by Academy Award-nominated Toy Story feature film writers, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, children take on the role of a powerful Portal Master, who can control over 30 different characters, including the beloved fire-breathing dragon Spyro. Together with their Skylanders, players will embark on a fantastical journey into an amazing world, where they will explore mysterious, mythical lands, battle menacing outlandish creatures, collect gold and treasures, and solve interesting puzzles while on a quest to save their world from Kaos, an evil Portal Master.

So, if you’re following me so far, Skylanders has managed to take what is typically a $20–$40 video game and up the initial cost to $70. Not only that, but they’ve successfully combined two popular children’s activities—first-person game adventures and score-based collectibles—to create one incredibly compelling children’s game.

The particular evil genius of this game was yet to come, though, as I discovered last Saturday when my son asked if he could use his allowance to purchase another Skylanders figure, preferably a “fire-type” character. Four Target stores, one GameStop and a Best Buy later, we discovered that there was not a single Skylander figure to be found. Apparently, like-minded children who’d received the game for Christmas had raided the stores in droves looking for more characters to advance in their games. Unable to purchase them in stores, children (and their parents) are going online to find them. A current listing for the popular “fire type” Skylander figure on eBay is listing for $35.00!

OK, so they’re popular. So what? Well, here’s where the plot thickens. The fella at GameStop let us know that while they could let us know when more Skylanders figures came in, the only information they’d be able to give us was how many single packs they had available, not the specific characters they carry. So now imagine: a child with money to burn goes to a GameStop (or other outlet) looking for a specific Skylander figure, doesn’t find it, then quells his desire for instant gratification by purchasing a different Skylander figure. The cycle repeats until said child finally finds and purchases the figure he initially wanted.

So what are the marketing take-home messages in this example? Activision smartly researched and evaluated their audience’s interests and buying habits and created a new experience that combines several proven marketing strategies. And, I suspect that they are also creating a demand for some of their characters in the spirit of the Beanie Babies franchise from the 1990s by releasing characters in limited quantities. How can you capitalize on this idea?

  • Know your audience’s interests and buying habits well
  • Create a package or product that combines multiple successful products or services into one
  • Allow audiences to customize their package or product with additional add-on features
  • Create demand for additional features by releasing them slowly and in limited quantities




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4 Responses to “Skylanders Toys Show Marketing Genius”

  1. D.M.C. says:

    Thank you for posting this inciteful article. Now I know what I originally suspected, at 48 years old, I was suckered into a marketing ploy….but not for my kids (I have none) but my own gaming interests….I find the game enjoyable…a great mindless distraction from every day issues. I fear I will never learn and I am just a typical American Male that just refuses to grow up. Part of the enjoyment is in fact building teh collection, even if you can only get certain characters at special stores. Now only time will tell how quickly stocks can be replenished and the momentium continues – or will it just be a quick fad.

  2. Mix Creative says:

    Thanks for your comment! While I suspect you’re not the primary target market, it certainly speaks highly of the game that serious gamers such as yourself are enjoying it as well. As for the collectibles, I seem to recall parents and yes, child-free adults, fueling the Beanie Baby collection craze of the 90s!

  3. David says:

    I wanted to find out about Skylanders and googled Skylanders + marketing genius and came to this page.

    It is true genius! Its costing me a fortune to keep my kid happy, and I guess this is just the start of it. One day all video games will do this!

  4. Matt says:

    Yep I can’t believe the genius behind Skylanders. You need the toys for the game to work, making it pirate proof. Plus it enables kids who can only afford 1 or 2 Skylanders to participate, while milking hundreds of dollars out of the wealthier kids (i.e. parents) for the same game.

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