iKids Gamers: Here comes the Amiibos!

With the release of the Amiibo figurines, Nintendo is entering into the lucrative toys-to-life category pioneered by Activision’s Skylanders and emulated by Disney Infinity. Today, Nintendo fans will be able to get their hands on their favorite characters. Mario, Link, Kirby, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong are among the first toys to be released.

The toys are designed to use with the Wii U and allows characters to come alive and enhance the capabilities of their characters in video games like Super Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart 8.

Activision was the first company to create a way for plastic molded figures to become action characters in a video game. In the Skylanders system, gamers take a plastic toy figure, like Spyro, and place it on a portal that connects to a game system like the PlayStation, the Xbox, or the Wii U. Once the figure is put on the portal, the character appears on the screen (think of Star Trek when Captain Kirk is beamed from the spaceship Enterprise to a planet).   Now the gamer uses his or her character to defeat enemies in the Skylanders video game. How successful has this been? Skylanders has generated more than $2 billion since the fall of 2011 and sold more than 175 million toys.

Disney Infinity, which was launched in 2013, has used the same technology to bring classic Disney characters alive to the tune of over $500 million in sales and just recently released Disney Infinity 2.0 featuring characters from Marvel.

Gamers, both children and adults alike, have made this new category of toys a lucrative part of the toy merchandizing scene. Companies like Toy “R” Us, Wall-Mart, and Target feature huge displays that seek to inspire sales. This Christmas season will be sure to capture even more gamers as Nintendo enters this emerging market.

Why is the toy-to-life strategy so successful?

  1. People are looking for the real.   In a digital age where images are transitory, being able to hold in your hands a carefully crafted figure that represents the essence of the character makes the video game seem more significant.
  2. People long for meaning. Video games are not simply games; they are immersive stories of heroism, good vs. bad, and spiritual attainment. Holding a character in your hand and then playing as that character in a game intensifies the lessons learned in the gaming experience. Nintendo’s tag line for the Amiibo says it all, “Discover the power inside.”
  3. People desire icons of significance. Since time immortal, humans have crafted physical icons that represent their values, beliefs, and deepest longings. Being able to place Mario, Link, Princes Elsa, Mickey Mouse, Spider-man, or Spryo next to your beside takes the video game experience with you and becomes a frame of reference as you battle your own personal villains and seek to overcome life’s obstacles.

Disney Infinity 2.0 Reveals Its Strategy for Reaching iKids

Today’s release of Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheros is a watershed event for Disney. For years they have tried to figure out how to crack the billion dollar gaming market. With last year’s successful launch of the Disney Infinity video game, they finally found a winner.

If you are not familiar with Disney Infinity, it is at the forefront of the toy-to-life format, where gamers buy toy characters that come to life in a video game. Skylanders by Activison was the first to pioneer this concept which has generated over 2 billion dollars in sales for the company.

What gets iKids excited about the Disney Infinity video games is the ability to collect their favorite Disney toy characters (which sell between $12 to $15 dollars each) and to then play them in the game. Characters like Violet from the Incredibles, Mater from Cars, and Elsa from Frozen became popular choices to add to the original game.

But in Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheros, we see the culmination of a strategy Disney has focused on over the last ten years. After their successful collaboration with Pixar movies like Toy Story, Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, they discovered what sells in today’s marketplace are the characters and their stories.

So in 2004 they bought the Muppets. In 2006 they bought the full rights to Pixar. In 2009 they purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Then in 2012 they bought Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Just last year they continued their buying spree as they obtained the rights to Indiana Jones.

Disney’s goal to own all the characters and stories of our pop culture is readily seen in Disney Infinity 2. Rather then staring characters from Disney movies or Pixar, it includes Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow from Marvel in the starter set who play in an Avengers themed game.

But this is just the start. What makes Disney Infinity 2.0 unique is the Toy Box mode in which you can mix and match your characters and create your own games, sets, and designs – think Minecraft combined with Angry Birds. In the new version characters get their own stories in the Toy Box Mode and they get to play with characters from all of the Disney owned franchises.

So what is our take-away:

  1. Disney through its old and new franchises is the most influential company in the lives of iKids. Besides the Disney Channel, it also owns ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, and DisneyXD. Along with its movies and theme parks it has the capability to make its products wildly popular among children (think Frozen).
  2. Disney has always understood the power of story. In today’s culture, stories and strong characters impart wisdom and meaning.
  3. Disney’s ability to think long-term it now paying off. Its strategy of buying up the pop culture has positioned it to have even more influence than before.
  4. By purchasing properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, they are able to rekindle the love adults had for these movies when they first came out. As a result, their goal is to create experiences that children, teens, and their parents can enjoy together.
  5. The Disney Infinity Video Game franchise has the opportunity to fully exploit its strategy. No one would be surprised to see Disney Infinity 3.0 based on Star Wars next fall, just before the next movie of the series is released.