One of the biggest gaming trends of the 2010s was the “toys to life” concept. Best known because of the runaway success of Skylanders and the big-budget attempt to seize the market by Disney with their “Infinity” games, the format allowed players to customize their games by adding new characters, vehicles, devices and settings… not in the tried & true fashion of unlocking pre-coded sections of the game or purchasing sequels, but by making individual add-ons available for sale.
In theory, it was a great mechanism for frugal players. One could get the base game for a song and, if a particular character or setting was desired, only that item need be bought. That’s the theory. In practice, peoples’ collecting habits kicked in. Rather than purchase only the one character they might be most interested in using people tended to attempt to amass all available characters and items. People who were used to paying $60 for a video game liked getting the game for a mere $30, but they quickly noticed they’d purchased a few hundred dollars worth of toy add-ons to use with them.
To be fair, the sculpts of the toys tended to be quite good, and the characters had backstories… in the case of Disney, the characters were known from their movies and television shows; in the case of Skylanders, new histories were concocted for every addition to the game. Also, the games themselves were well designed… challenging but child-friendly platform jumpers for Skylanders and open-world “sandbox” mission-oriented play for Infinity.
In the midst of this, Lego saw an opportunity. They shouldn’t have… Infinity was already collapsing under the weight of constantly upgrading software and Skylanders buyers were growing leery of purchasing twenty new figures every year. But they were riding high on the success of the Lego Movie and they thought they could make a lot of money on the hottest gaming trend around.
By the time Lego entered fully into the market, the format was already on its last legs. But Lego, being a very organized company, had already secured the licenses for a variety of toys for their multi-world game format. Naturally they led with characters from already successful Lego game franchises… Batman, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were among the earliest releases. (Star Wars would seem to be a natural component based on the wildly successful Lego Star Wars games, but that license was exclusive to Disney Infinity.)
It was the other licenses which made Dimensions stand out, for the short time it was on the shelves.
Most of them were youth-oriented. That only makes sense, as the game itself was marketed to pre-teen players. There are a limited amount of licenses out there, though. If the marketing model calls for constant production of new sets, that means new licenses.
They went through Scooby Doo, and The Powerpuff Girls, and The Goonies. By the time they’d expanded into The Wizard of Oz and Midway arcade game characters players might have begun wondering what they were seeing, as they certainly weren’t iconic media items for kids born in the 2000s. The marketing continued to go off the rails as they expanded further. After all, what twelve year old kid born in 2005 wouldn’t be eager to play adventures as the A-Team, Knight Rider or Back to the Future?
The game died before their planned three-year rollout was complete and before they could come out with, I don’t know, Emergency!, Gemini Man and Dragnet sets. But we were left with the only toys-to-life figures that people could assemble themselves, and some game trailers which demonstrate that even one of the best toy companies on Earth can have no idea about what appeals to contemporary kids.
Question of the night: What was your favorite action/adventure television show?