USA TODAY - Players and retailers may start clearing their shelves to make room for another competitor in the video game toy market.
Disney Infinity - which launched Sunday - combines video games and collectible action figures in a virtual world featuring the media giant's most popular entertainment franchises including Capt. Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
A starter kit ($74.99) includes a copy of the game, a base that connects to a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii or Nintendo Wii U, and three toys. Additional figures will be sold separately.
Figurines placed on the base are transported into the digital world, allowing players to explore with a video game controller. Players will also receive Power Discs compatible with the base that enhance action figures in the game or customize their surroundings.
In addition to characters from Pirates of the Caribbean, others will be available at launch from franchises such as The Incredibles and Cars, with other series such as Toy Story arriving in coming months.
Infinity takes aim at Activision and its pioneering video game-toy mashup Skylanders, which has earned $1.5 billion since hitting stores in October 2011. The series enters its third year in the market with the launch of Skylanders: SWAP Force, which introduces figures with interchangeable top and bottom parts. The franchise has proven huge for Activision, posting a 50% surge in sales compared to last year, according to NPD Group.
"Skylanders was kind of the beachhead," says Baird analyst Colin Sebastian. "Infinity is the next test to see whether this is really the next big phenomenon."
Infinity features a series of playsets themed to a specific Disney or Pixar franchise, and with their own unique style of play. The Incrediblesplaces the heroic foursome in an open city where players can explore and fight crime, while Cars offers a straightforward racing experience.
"We wanted (playsets) to feel completely different," says John Blackburn, vice president and general manager of Infinity studio Avalanche Software. "Part of the reason we chose the properties we did is because they are very different from each other and they bring different gameplay mechanics to the table."
The feature that's generated the most buzz for Infinity is Toy Box, a virtual sandbox where players can openly explore with any combination of characters and build lush Disney-themed worlds. Users with an online Disney account can upload their creations to the cloud for users of any version of Infinity to download.
"Kids are in love with Minecraft and being able to sculpt their own worlds," says Andrew Reiner, executive editor of Game Informer. "Infinity has the potential to do that with the most iconic characters."
Infinity will serve as a fresh gauge of the viability of the video game-toy hybrid category that Activision launched with Skylanders in 2011. As with Infinity, players purchase Skylander action figures that come to life in a video game through a special portal. Activision has sold more than 100 million toys so far.
"It was a head-scratcher for a lot of people," says Activision publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg of the initial skepticism that greeted Skylanders. "But what we knew that others didn't and what emboldened us was the response we were seeing from kids who were exposed to this idea. It was dramatic. "
Industry analysts expect Infinity to find similar success. Unlike Skylanders, which launched with a lineup of unknown characters, Infinity will feature a cast of household names, from Mickey Mouse to Jack Sparrow. "The characters are well-known, so they'll be desirable because people know them," said Wedbush Securities Michael Pachter.
The success of Infinity could also determine whether other players step into the video game toy realm. "It's still relatively new, and there are companies that want to avoid the Guitar Hero syndrome," says Sebastian. "They don't want to invest a lot of money in something that's a fad. If Infinity is successful, then I think that will be the catalyst to see a lot more of this type of game."
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