Toying with my emotions

Kids these days…oy. Back in my day we used to have toys. Star Wars toys, LEGO toys, Ninja Turtles toys, dolls. Wait, did I say dolls? I meant G.I. Joes! Kids these days have… well, they have videogames. Star Wars videogames, LEGO videogames, Ninja Turtles videogames. Something’s changed, but at the same time, something hasn’t…
Paul Reiche, a long-time videogame designer, has been tasked with remaking a classic game from the original Playstation era, Spyro the Dragon. What sets this game apart from others is the way it integrates special figurines called Skylanders. Sold in meatspace toy stores, the Skylanders figurines interface with a podium peripheral that comes with the Skylanders videogame. Depending on the figure being used, different actions or skills are made available to the player, therefore granting access to new in-game content. Reiche’s motivation is that kids are getting away from the use of toys as in the days of yore. He knows that videogames are taking the place that had previously been held by Monopoly and Operation, but he feels there is a way to integrate videogames and toys of the more traditional sense.
Since the rise of videogames, they have progressively been assuming the role previously held by toys. The Sims is like a dollhouse. Wrestling games replace action figures of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Ultimate Warrior. Baseball video games replace trading cards. LEGO Universe, a free-to-play videogame based off of its namesake property built a name for itself starting in 2010. Based on the same basic principles of construction and morally simplistic combat, Minecraft, released later that same year, quickly became the favorite, reaching four million copies sold as of earlier this week, twice that of LEGO Universe. All this while Minecraft is still in beta. For those of you not so tech savvy, that means the game has yet to officially launch–an almost unheard-of feat. LEGO Universe is now scheduled to close its servers early in 2012. Just as videogames had been doing to established toy properties for decades, Minecraft bullied LEGO out of the multiplayer gaming space. It’s hard to blame Minecraft alone for this, but it’s plain to see that the two games occupy an overwhelmingly similar niche.
As time and technology progress, it’s no surprise that videogames have started phasing out more traditional toys. It’s refreshing to my inner child to see developers integrating conventional play with contemporary play. Minecraft shows that the videogame market is a very different world than what traditional toy companies are used to playing in. The question is: will the Skylanders toys be able to mount a formal invasion from the virtual into the physical?