Activision is taking a big step toward mass customization today with the announcement that players will be able to design their own characters in the Skylanders Imaginators video game and then order a custom 3D-printed rendition of their own toy character. You will also be able to upload these to other sites, like YouTube and 3D-printing community Shapeways, and throw them on trading cards and T-shirts.
If you’re thinking, “Kaching!” you’re not alone. It’s a series of brilliant ideas from Toys For Bob, the game studio that launched Skylanders in 2011 and has generated more than $3 billion in sales over five years. The Activision-owned studio hopes to stay ahead in the toys-to-life market — which has slowed down, as evidenced by Disney’s decision to shut its rival Infinity toy-game hybrid — through product innovation. Consumers have purchased 250 million Skylanders toys to date.
Players will still be able to play with several hundred Skylanders characters designed by Activision’s developers and printed out as injection-molded toys. The quality of the custom 3D-printed characters is not likely to match the pre-fabricated designs that will still be sold in stores.
Toys For Bob cofounder Paul Reiche III said in an interview with GamesBeat that he believes that we’ll soon have more than a million Skylanders characters.
“We’ve worked hard to make 200 Skylanders here,” Reiche said. “But a couple of days after the game comes out [on October 11], there will be a million Skylanders. We may not have made the best one. Someone out there—like Steampumpkin. I didn’t make that guy. He’s great. He’s a great character, on that T-shirt. I wouldn’t mind having that T-shirt. I can’t wait to see what people do. They’ll take their characters and put them up on Instagram and Facebook. I want to make sure we get a chance to show those to everyone.”
I visited Toys for Bob in Novato, California, and got some hands-on time with Imaginators. I created a Skylander, as you can see in the video at the bottom. Toys for Bob is betting that this kind of customization is the innovation that fans have been waiting for and will get the whole market growing again.
I figured something like this was coming when Reiche hinted that custom toys might make sense in our earlier interview. But the planning and vision for this project is truly impressive. Reiche said that Shapeways, an established printer of 3D objects, will manufacture the toys that fans design.
Starting today, fans will be able to use the Skylanders Creator free mobile app to create their own Imaginator characters while on the go. It will be available on iOS and Android mobile devices. And once the video game comes out, players will be able to transfer their characters from the video game to their mobile device using a novel audio technology.
“They’re fully playable, like any other Skylanders. Everything you do with your character will be represented here,” Reiche said. “We’ve worked with Shapeways to make sure they’re ready to go and playable as toys to life. This is this first time ever—you can go from the digital to the physical and have a fully playable character.”
The game will issue a series of audio beeps that will describe the character in a digital language. The mobile phone records those beeps and interprets them, reproducing the design on the smartphone. Players will then be able to share that design on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. They can also send text messages, e-mails and photos from their camera roll of their newly created Skylanders.
Meanwhile, the Netflix Original series Skylanders Academy will debut on October 28. That’s what you call a marketing bonanza, and it will keep rivals such as Warner Bros.’ Lego Dimensions under a lot of pressure.
The custom-3D-printed toy will be available in full color, posed on a base, and enclosed in a clear protective dome. The figure is fully playable in the Skylanders Imaginators console game. Quantities are limited for the 3D figures, so it’s not clear yet how many of them you can make and order.
On top of that, players can order their own Skylanders Imaginator Card. This physical trading card will be emblazoned with a full color image of their creation and fully playable in Skylanders Imaginators. Players simply place the card on the Portal of Power and watch their creations come to life in the video game.
And players can also buy an Imaginator T-shirt, with full color and a custom image. It will say the character’s Battle Class, element, and name.
The Skylanders Creator app will feature Timed Imaginite Chests that give users new creation parts for their Imaginators at certain times during the day, daily Sensei Chests featuring special parts unique to that Skylander, a collection menu where players can access all of their created Imaginators, called My Imaginators’ Creation Gallery, and the ability to share created characters with fans around the world. The availability of the Skylanders Creator app features vary by region.
Reiche said that ever since Skylanders came out in 2011, fans have been sending letters asking to create their own characters, with pictures and a full description of their powers. Activision will hold a contest for who can create the best 3D character, starting on October 24.
The battle classes for the Skylanders include character types, such as Quick Shot or Ninja. I created my own Swashbuckler character. You can choose body types, colors, facial features, weapons, and clothing. For instance, you can go into battle with colorful spandex if you wish. Over time, you collect more options, so you can go back and revise your character over time. You can even change the character’s voice and the catch phrase it’ll repeat often. Somewhere along the way, I chose a snake-like body for my character, and, no surprise, it turned out to be particularly slow at moving.
In the background story, the evil Kaos supervillain has figured out how the ancients created the original Skylanders. Using this mind magic, he tries to unlock this power just for himself, but he accidentally gives the magic to Portal Masters (players) everywhere. Kaos tries to create a perfect villain — himself. He manages to do so, but the clone then tries to fight Kaos for control. So now, you can play as Kaos the character (his clone, really) for the first time. The only way to beat Kaos and his “Doomlanders” is to create brand-new characters.
Asked if he was worried about the slowdown in toys-to-life games, Reiche responded, “I believe w-e create our own destiny. If we make exciting games that inspire people’s imaginations, that make them think, “Wow, that’s magical”–we can get as much success as we earn, as we deserve. But that only happens if you push the work you’re doing and surprise people. This year, all good things are coinciding in October. We’re releasing our game. We’re releasing the creator app. The TV show comes out on [October 28]. It all looks good. We’re hopeful that we have—we’re going to create a little phenomenon. Maybe a big one? Since our first game came out, I haven’t been more anxious and excited to see what happens.”
Developed by Toys For Bob, Skylanders Imaginators supports all 300-plus Skylanders from previous games. The Skylanders Imaginators Starter Pack will be available for the suggested retail price of $75. The 3D-printed figures will sell for $50 in North America, including free shipping. Imaginator T-Shirts will be sold for $25 each with availability and shipping costs varying. Lastly, fans can get their hands on Imaginator Cards for $15, including free shipping. These items will be available using the Skylanders Creator app, which is a free mobile download, subject to availability by territory.
Here’s our video of creating a Skylander, along with some gameplay.