Disney Infinity is dead , long live Disney Infinity . I feel bad for the enthusiastic Infinity community, especially since at this point we don’t know what’s going to happen to the game servers. If they’re shut down, most of the features of the Infinity games will become unavailable, leaving fans with nothing to show for their investment but a whole bunch of (admittedly adorable) plastic figurines. Although sudden, this shutdown wasn’t particularly shocking. Disney has been rapidly retreating from game publishing, choosing instead to license out its properties to third parties like EA, which now has the license to develop Star Wars games.
Although the specifics aren’t public, we also know that Disney Infinity hasn’t been living up to the company’s profit expectations lately. According to CEO Bob Iger , Disney Infinity 1.0 did well for the company, 2.0 did “ok,” and now with 3.0, Disney has lost faith in the product’s future. A leaked internal memo notes that Disney is no longer seeing growth in the toys to life market in general, and when Disney notes that a particular kid-friendly trend is on the way out, you should sit up and pay attention. Could it be that not just Disney Infinity , but the entire plastic figurine game genre is dying?
The news from Skylanders , the franchise that started it all, isn’t the greatest. 2013 is the last year during which we saw exuberant headlines about how profitable Skylanders has been for Activision. 2014 saw a troubled year for Activision partly due to a Skylanders sales slump , and 2015 looks like it continued that trend . It’s never a good sign when a company stops announcing sales numbers and instead releases cagey statements that include phrases like, “strong engagement numbers” and “toys-per-player are up.” Basically, that means that the customer base is shrinking, leaving the more hardcore players who naturally are more engaged in the series.
How about Lego Dimensions , the much-hyped newcomer to the market? Trying to find exact sales numbers for the series is about as much fun as stepping on a stray plastic brick, so I’m going to have to connect the dots the best I can on this one. Dimensions started off strong, but that start didn’t seem to last through the entire holiday season. The franchise has already seen a sizeable price drop, and it only launched last October. It’s been dogged by complaints that its packs are overpriced for the amount of gameplay they offer, and stores seem to have quite a surplus of Dimensions packs. WB isn’t doing a lot of talking about Dimensions, leaving us to speculate on just how long it’s going to last. Retailers may not order as much Dimensions merch from here on out, but we’re not likely to hear about it unless WB and TT decide to pull the plug.
The one toys to life franchise I’m not worried about at this point is amiibo. They’re kind of a different ball game, since they work across many Nintendo titles instead of being tied to just one. Nintendo has made some mis-steps with the figures, for sure. First it seriously underproduced the Super Smash Bros. line, leading to an explosion of scalpers and frustrated customers. That mistake was actually good for Nintendo’s bottom line, but then the company overproduced the Animal Crossing amiibo line and neglected to tie those amiibo to a wildly popular game (sorry, amiibo Festival , you kinda suck). Despite these mis-steps, amiibo have overall been a huge success for Nintendo and are likely going to help tide the company over until it releases the NX in 2017. I’m sure that whatever else is happening hardware-wise for Nintendo’s next console, it’s going to read NFC figurines.
My armchair industry analysis says that LEGO Dimensions will be the next toys to life franchise to die an untimely death, followed eventually by Skylanders once Activision has decided it can’t squeeze any more money out of parental pocketbooks. Nintendo’s amiibo are likely to stick around until the company quixotically decides not to make them anymore, as it tends to do with most of its plastic accessories. Though Disney Infinity is no longer with us, I suspect we’ll see a few more years of toys to life releases, though I don’t expect that any new big players are going to enter the market at this point. It’s going to be a slow decline on the trend from here on out. Just a reminder that in the world of entertainment, nothing lasts forever – except maybe all the plastic in the figurines we’ve been buying.