For Skylanders Swap Force, new lead developer Vicarious Visions came up with a unique toy and gameplay mechanic — swappable figures — that has the potential to bring the phenomenally successful franchise to ever greater heights when Swap Force launches this fall.
It will be the third annual main Skylanders game, and although the Swap Force characters are an impressive, novel concept, you may begin to wonder how long Activision and its Skylanders development teams can continue their yearly pace of innovation in the series.
"[There are] a lot of really hard problems that were solved in bringing this innovation to the franchise," said Vicarious Visions' David Nathanielsz, senior executive producer of Swap Force, during a demo of the game in late January. "We solved those hard problems, but it's not easy to innovate like this."
Activision, however, isn't worried about running out of ideas anytime soon.
Josh Taub, vice president of product management at Activision, told Polygon that there's no end to the possibilities being conceived by the company's Skylanders teams, and that the publisher is optimistic about the brand's staying power for the foreseeable future.
"There are more ideas, and more creativity and more excitement around the different options that you can do with [Skylanders], than we have time to make over the next five to seven years," said Taub. "We have no doubt that we can continue to bring innovation on an annual basis to this franchise that will continue to excite kids, provide a fun experience and provide a new experience."
"Over the next five to seven years ... we have no doubt that we can continue to bring innovation on an annual basis to this franchise"
Taub also noted that to this point, Activision is one of the only companies building high-quality games geared toward kids.
"Developing AAA gameplay on a kids' franchise — which is something that isn't seen, necessarily, throughout the industry — is something that we've done as a company over the long haul, and we're going to continue to do around this franchise."
This year, Activision will have a major competitor in Disney. With its sandbox title, Disney Infinity, the company is entering the "toys-to-life" market that Activision essentially created in 2011 with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, and bringing to bear its massive family of brands and characters. That includes Pixar franchises like Toy Story and Monsters Inc.; live-action series such as Pirates of the Caribbean; and classic cartoons like Aladdin and Cinderella.
John Coyne, Activision's vice president of consumer marketing, said upon the announcement of Disney Infinity that Activision was "flattered" to see Disney joining the toys-to-life category. At the time, he also said Activision was "well positioned to continue leading the category," and he reaffirmed those sentiments to us.
"You only have to look at the success of Skylanders — not only the game, but also the licensing program — to realize that this now is a franchise that has won the hearts and minds of our audience," said Coyne. He added that with Activision's "continued innovation," the company hopes to retain that audience.
"That's something that we intend to do, and as Josh said, we've got plenty of ideas."
"Skylanders has won the hearts and minds of our audience"
Coyne also believes that the connection Activision has cultivated between Skylanders and its fans is strong enough to keep them interested, as long as the company continues to bring something new each year. We asked if he's worried about children being a fickle audience, always eager to move on to the next big thing, but Coyne said, "Kids are also very loyal to things that they love. ... If something's working for them, they can stick with it."
Plus, Coyne pointed out, Skylanders fandom isn't relegated to kids alone.
"Fun is not necessarily age-gated," he said.
Check out our preview of Skylanders Swap Force for more details on what's new this year.
Update: We've changed the headline of this article for clarity.