Despite how you might feel about the series, it’s undeniable that Skylanders is incredibly big business. Finally bridging the gap between the worlds of toys and video games, in 2011, Toys For Bob help fulfil the dreams of little children around the globe. Now with its sequel, Skylanders Giants, being released this week, what better time to share out musings with Toys For Bob Executive Producer Jeff Poffenbarger.
Were you surprised by the success of the first Skylanders and what it became?
I think all of us at Toys for Bob were surprised. We all thought we had a special game on our hands. A lot of things had to come together to make it what it was. I mean you’re talking Activision had to move mountains, we had to manufacture toys for the first time as a company, and it all just came from this idea at Toys for Bob. When it came out, I was totally surprised. It started out with the reviews which we thought, since it’s a kid’s game and it’s Activision, we weren’t sure what they would come out as. But then we saw the sevens, the seven-and-a-halves, the eights. Just reading all the positive feedback, even beyond the ‘Hey here’s a good game.’ It was like ‘Hey, I’m playing this with my son now, this is really fun.’
Then the store shelves started to clear off. Then we were realising, and I was going to Target or anything just to see myself and there was not one. I called a Target in Omaha, just a random one, and go “Do you have any Skylanders” and they were like “No.” I called one in Fort Lauderdale, and just the most random places. And when you see that, it’s humbling because it’s great that so many people are buying it. We thought it would be good, but not the level it hit.
What are some of the key features that you changed based on criticisms from the first game?
We don’t take that type of criticism lightly if we start seeing something across different reviews or through kids when we bring them in to play test. One thing was having difficulty levels. We didn’t have that before, so now we have three difficulty levels, plus dynamic difficulty tuning depending on how you’re playing. We’ve added more collecting pieces that we’re not going to talk about, but mainly the collectable experience within the game, and made it more robust. We made a way for you to be able to spend money in the game, because you would just collect and have so much but not know what to do with it.
And we wanted to really, at its core, keep the game similar to the Gauntlet and Diablo-like game. So we wanted to keep the core the same, but at the same time take some of what we learned and then introduce giants and create a gameplay experience around them as well. So that there are only areas you can get to with giants and they do powerful things. But they’re not so powerful that you would never want to play with the Skylanders.
Speaking of giants, why go down that path out of any other?
Because when I say Skylanders Giants to you, it’s so easy for you to visualise. For us it was the same thing. Because last year we were still finishing the original Skylanders, and for us, it was to take the core easy concept – the giant Skylander. So it was like, okay now we now have to figure out how powerful are they. How much more powerful? Then we prototyped it, but for us, it was easy to visual. I mean we had other ideas, but the development time we had wasn’t that super long that we could just start something new completely. So we wanted to do something we understood, but introduce giants.
Talking about difficulty before, if you have a maxed out character from the last game, does Giants curve the difficulty at all?
Yeah. So let’s say you take a toy from 2011 and you put it in Giants. First of all it works. Now you can build up to level 15. But when you’re playing and you come to a certain area, I don’t want to give away how the difficulty tuning works too much, but if you get to a certain area in level ten, the guys are going to be a little harder.
What do you think the next evolution for Skylanders is?
There are so many different ones. You know if I started talking about them, people would probably get mad. It can go in so many different directions. There’s people out there working on what we will be doing next, and we’ve had some ideas but it’s not anything I can really talk about.
How do you aim to separate Skylanders from every other kids game on the market?
Well, first of all, we have toys with brains that remember and can go cross platform. So that eliminates all the other games in the market. You know it’s not in our minds, a competition. Certainly you look at games in the same category, like a LEGO. Obviously, hats off to them, they’re level quality is always really high. I’ve played the Raiders of the Lost Ark and loved it. I think it’s a really cool series.
But for our thing, the number one thing is the toy collection. That’s it. The toy collection first – make that cool, make it fun. That’s our number one concern. The software is the second part. We want to make the toys cool and have the software compliment that. So we work towards complimenting characters and make a fun, cool story. Give enough replay value that somebody can take their new Skylanders and be like ‘alright I already played through, but I’ll do it again.’ So that’s important for us.
In one sentence, why should people go out and buy Skylanders Giants?
People should buy Skylanders Giants because it’s the first time you have toys with brains – they remember all your experience.
Couldn’t you say that about the first game?
Yeah, but if they haven’t bought the first game, then they have the second game. If they bought the first game, you tell them to buy it because now we have giants and all their toys still work. So we’re supporting all their all toys.
Skylanders Giants hits store shelves on October 17 in Australia, October 19 in Europe and October 21 in North America.