Games aren’t just games anymore. The advent of downloadable content has turned many games into entire micro-transaction ecosystems. Parents who have children who play Massively-Multiplayer games like Wizards 101 and Super Hero Squad Online have been dealing with this for a while. But, in recent years we have started to see a new genre of games launch of that involve the purchase of real, tangible “stuff” in order for the game to play. The games involve the purchase of a lot of accessories after the initial game is taken home. Some industry professionals have begun to refer to these games as “investment games” because purchasing the base game opens up opportunities to buy more content later on in bite sized chunks.
The massive success of Activision’s Skylanders series has strained a lot of parents’ wallets in the last few years. The series crossed the $500 million mark in retail sales back in January and with the newest installment, Skylanders Swap Force, set to launch in fall 2013 all signs are pointing towards even more success. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Activision is using the B-word next spring.)
You can’t be that successful with a children’s product for long before you get competition. The first to step up to the plate is Disney. They plan to launch their entry into the genre with Disney Infinity this summer on all major consoles. The game works similarly to Skylanders in that players purchase a base set that includes the main game, three of the figures (Captain Jack Sparrow, Mr. Incredible, and Sully), and a “portal” base that allows each toy to interface with the game.
With Activision and Disney in the mix it is really just a matter of time before Nintendo throws their hat into the ring with Pokemon. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they announce it at this year’s E3 event.
All of these options will be great, but they can get expensive very fast. This is especially true if your kids get the better of you and convince you to buy all of them! Here are some tips to help control the long term costs of the games themselves.
- Play the games with your kids.
This might sound like it shouldn’t matter, but it’s a big deal. Kids are predictable (especially young ones) and they will want everything. By playing the game you can actually have informed decisions about the value of a product. You’ll know for certain whether or not your kid really “needs” that Water element Skylander to complete their collection or if they just want it. Being informed will help you waste less money. Also, kids love to talk about their games with other people and being able to have a conversation with you about it will make their day. Trust me on this one. (You might even enjoy yourself!)
- Do your price comparisons
Skylanders figures were sold everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE). Seriously. You can buy them at Walgreens right now. This is worth noting because prices aren’t fixed. Some places are just more expensive. You’ll want to keep that in mind because if you are intending to buy all of the figures for the game an extra $2-$3 adds up over the course of 25-30 figures. I recommend sticking with dedicated retailers like GameStop, ToysRUs, Walmart, and Target for the most reliable prices. You won’t often see better deals at grocery stores or pharmacies. Even if you don’t remember how much the figures cost you can just keep that advice in the back of your mind.
- Amazon is not necessarily your friend
A lot of us are used to Amazon being the be-all-end-all of price savings. This is generally true, but that goes out the window when dealing with toys that can have limited availability. Amazon’s pricing model is based on being able to leverage volume. If there are a ton of units to sell, then they can keep the prices low. Some of these figures may be in very short supply so the prices might inflate significantly over the MSRP.
I know there are parents out there who buy these games for their kids (how else would they reach $500 Million). Share your advice and experiences in the comments section!