In-app purchasing may be making headlines, but is only part of the issue. Families need cost transparency — particularly in the complex ecosystem of toy-video-game crossovers. Angry Birds Go! doesn’t force players to buy the toys, but in so doing makes understanding value a complex conundrum for moms and dads.
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As the toy-meets-video-game genre expands, and new franchises turn the screw on this potentially profitable revenue stream the balance of power see-saws between virtual and physical purchases. Parents are left scratching their heads.
Offering consumers value for money and “doing the right thing” by the children who play these games is a slippery question that is not easy to answer. In tension with the desire to offer value is the requirement for the franchise to deliver a profit and remain viable in the long term.
Different toy-video-games walk this line in different ways. Eventually though they have to take decisions about what players get for free and what they will need to buy more toys to access. Whether it’s Skylanders locking away “Wow Pow” upgrades for players who buy the new re-released versions of their favorite characters or Disney Infinity requiring additional figures to be purchased before families can enjoy its co-operative Play Set mode, these carrots can at times feel a little tight. (And over the years I’ve asked Studio Head at Toys for Bob and Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg to explain these decisions for Skylanders.)
Look a little closer though and (at least in these two examples) there is more than enough additional value to warrant the purchases. Those Series 2 and Series 3 re-posed Skylanders not only offer that “Wow Pow” but access to switchable upgrade paths and character challenges in both the latest and the previous versions of the game. Buying additional franchise figures for Disney Infinity not only grants the co-op option in its Play Set but opens the door to content in Toy Box and new play options there.
In fact the biggest challenge to these toy-meets-video-game products is not the high ticket price but the inevitable complexity of which toys unlock which features in the game, and which version of the toys work with which version of the game. If you think this isn’t the case get into a conversation with a new-to-gaming parent and start explaining how it all works, you’ll soon be drawing Venn diagram and linking info-graphics.
This scenario is made much more complex in Angry Birds Telepods because you can access characters and vehicles via in-app transactions or physical Angry Bird toy purchases. In what may have been an effort to mitigate against the pressure to buy the toys, a minefield is created for parents looking to find the best value from the experience. Should they buy online or opt for the in store toy packs?
Understanding what you get when purchasing the physical toys as opposed to making a virtual purchase is hard to assess because pricing varies. Furthermore, with discounts often being applied in the app and in certain (bricks and mortar) stores, finding the best value is like hitting a moving target.
Other long-term factors also have a big impact on value, like how well supported old toys will be in newer versions of the video-game. This is something Skylanders has answered by robustly supporting all those old figures going forward and Disney Infinity will need to address in its next iteration (presumably) out later this year.
From my research it seems that the physical toys in Angry Birds Go! still offer good value, not only because you can use them for different users of the Angry Birds Go! app, but also because they usually come packed in collections that reduce the individual price.
That said, you do have to have the physical Angry Birds Go! toy with you every time you want to access the in-game car which can be awkward if playing on the go (or if you are a young child who often misplaces their favorite toys like my children).
Counting against the physical toys is the expectation they set of providing a child access to both the kart and the character in the game — after all the toy clearly presents the two as a set. In practice the toy only grants access to the Kart but not the character sitting in it or the related track — those still have to be won in the game. The virtual in-app transaction makes this a little clearer as you have to tap on a purchase kart button.
It’s complexity like this, the ever more confusing matrix of compatibility and features, that families I talk to find most frustrating. With Apple paying out $32.5 M to parents whose kids accidentally bought things on the app store (as David Thier reported recently) it’s interesting to hear that it is this difficulty of determining the final price of an experience (rather than high individual in-app purchase amounts) that is of concern to some families. “We want to know how much it will costs when we start out, not 10 months down the line when we are still buying more toys for the game” was one of the responses from families I talked to.
Beyond these teething problems though is a genuine desire for the toy-game cross over to be a success and an appreciation of the high level of craft and creativity that go into products like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Angry Birds Telepods. Families want them to work and become part of their valuable play-time, provided the costs and features can be understood at the outset.
In this respect there seems to be appetite for a simpler and more transparent approach to the toy-meets-video-game genre. Perhaps this is an ideal time for a new competitor to enter the arena?