The mystical magical fountain of youth was a place where if you drank the waters – the old would become young again. While we are still searching for these waters for us mere humans – certain entertainment properties have unlocked the source: adaptation, modernization and transmediation.
Adaptations to modern worlds have long been a means for modernizing classic stories for young audiences. Converting Romeo and Juliet into a zombie flick in 2012 earned Warm Bodies a very healthy box office return and fans that may have never even heard of Shakespeare. The low budget and very transmedia Lizzie Bennet Diaries has not only earned its creators a nice return and a huge audience, it has set a precedent – and provided funding and an eager audience - for a transmedia series around another Jane Austin classic Emma. Reviving IP, games and characters with transmedia strategies is also a tool for existing game and toy companies. Using these techniques, game and toy companies can explore their vaults of IP and come out with already proven, nostalgia-valued, new content, designed for new and dynamically oriented young audiences. And Spyro, the Dragon and Sklanders prove that transmedia techniques do indeed work for toys and games – and can be incredibly profitable.
Spyro the Dragon was born in 1998. Even then, he was an impressive gaming dragon and was included as one of the “Top 10 Ten Dragons in Video Games” list. (Yes, there is such a thing.) While Spyro was a modest hit and had a new game developed around him ever year since his birth, he really came into the big league when he was shrunk down and literally miniaturized for hand-held gaming. Things really exploded when he went on his first Skylanders Adventure. Today Skylanders and Spyro – not even two years after their 2011 launch – have earned Activision over $1 billion dollars as of January 2013.
Is there a formula for this type of revival success?
There was, of course, an element of the known and a nostalgia for a loved character, and yet – the magic of Spyro’s monetization wasn’t just about bringing him back at the right time and in the right form; The spectacular success of Spyro and Skylanders lies in all of this – plus adding in the modern element of transmedia engagement and connected toys.
Between 2007 and 2011 - Spyro underwent a massive expansion into multiple platforms created by various development houses so that when it released it would be available for PS3, X-box 360, 3DS, Wii, iPhone, iPad, web and PC versions. In addition to this greater expanded and cross platform deployment, Spyro now had collectible cards and toys and a wider universe of friends and enemies – 32 in all in the new Skylanders storyworld. All of this successfully aimed Spryo at a younger target market that was itching for a hero and a fully fledged storyworld for single player, co-op multi-player and competitive player versus player modes.
The full deployment of Spyro was a risk and may have been a challenge for any one company to assume, but in this case, several developers assumed responsibility for their platforms and joined together in the venture. And while multiple platforms, multiple modes of play and an expanded storyworld all helped build the fortunes of Spyro – now for Activision – it was the addition of real world – connected – goods that made Spyro a billion dollar baby.
Connecting the toys to the action of the game and allowing the toys to retain the “save state” of the game play turned even hard-core gamers into collectors of toys.
In a Gamezone review and confession, hard-core game guy Mike Splechta expounds the value of the connected toy:
“The best thing about the Skylanders figures is that not only will they adorn your shelf in all their plastic-y glory, but you can take them down and actually use them in the game. What's more is that leveling and items are all stored into each figure. This is great for two things. First off, it's a quick and easy way for you to bring your character over to a friend's house and continue using the character you built up. Everything you then do in your friend's game will again be stored in your figure so you can take all that progress back to your game. Another way these "save states" can be used is for trading! I can already see someone saying "I'll trade you my level 16 undead knight Chop Chop for your level 15 electric dragon Zap!" It makes for a great mechanic for those who have played some characters to death and won't mind parting with them in exchange for someone else's leveled up character.”
The addition of connected toys expanded competition and game play. With real world “save states” in the toys themselves, it aided retention, repeat usage and affinity. And via the expanded world and character base – the connected toys dramatically increased monetization, ARPU and the total lifetime value of the players.
Whether you are a digital game developer or a traditional toy maker, there’s a lesson in the life of this little dragon: You can make what’s old new again – if you adapt, modernize – and connect the worlds in which your audience now plays.
Follow Beth @brogoz or @transmediasf