It’s an interesting time for the toys-to-life genre. While #Skylanders, from all accounts, continues to thrive and expand (recently announcing a mobile RPG to accompany their console offerings) and remains a tentpole of Activision’s yearly release schedule, Disney’s #Infinity series was abruptly shuttered last year amidst flagging sales.
Adding a physical component to your digital game is an ambitious and expensive prospect, and thus one generally tackled only by the sort of huge companies (Disney, Activision, Nintendo with their Amiibo initiative) that can afford a big upfront investment and eat any potential losses without bankrupting themselves. Which is one of the things that makes Lightseekers such a fascinating prospect.
The product of a successful $227,000 Kickstarter, Lightseekers in some ways exceeds the ambitions of any of the previous toy to life enterprises despite being built without the resources of a major publisher. The creators at #PlayFusion are combining a traditional digital game experience with not just smart figurines but also cards, comics, posters, and other media. It’s an approach that echoes the transmedia launches that were trending heavily five or ten years ago, but that’s unique in the way it makes every spoke of its campaign interact with the core game experience.
Instead of, say, a tie-in novel or comic mini-series that dives into the lore or explore some background characters or elements that don’t feature heavily in the game itself, Lightseekers additional media promise to all directly contribute to the in-game experience. Take, for instance the Lightseekers trading card game, which is a fully playable, standalone physical game. But scan the cards in your collection in the core digital game, and you’ll unlock new features like spells, pets, or items for your hero to equip.
At the heart of the modular Lightseekers experience is a piece of proprietary technology the PlayFusion team calls the FusionCore. It’s a tiny computer that slots into the back of your Lightseekers models and allows them to communicate with each other and with the game without the use of an NFC platform. This means that the figures themselves don’t individually need to contain the expensive electronics that make collecting figures in other toys to life games so expensive, allowing Lightseekers to keep the costs of their models lower and players to collect a broader range of models without breaking the bank. The FusionCore can also be wirelessly updated, allowing the designers to patch in new functionality as they develop it. It’s a fascinating alternative to the clunky base-and-model system of other toys to life games, and means, in theory, both greater flexibility for the creators and lower costs for the players.
The FusionCore also comes equipped with a contact point to match the two on each figure’s hands, allowing new weapons and items to be attached and then instantly appear in the game. Weapons and equipment can be swapped on the fly, and the idea that the gear you carry in the game will also be physically represented on the figures is an interesting and novel one, a concept that will feel instantly familiar to tabletop miniature players of games like Warhammer and Warmachine. It’s a step towards making the action figures themselves more interesting to equip and display, an important detail if you want your figurines to feel more like functional toys than static collectibles.
The Lightseekers system also puts a priority on social and multiplayer interactions, not just in the game, but in the real world as well. Crossing paths with another player will trigger interactions between your characters, and PlayFusion promises an exchange of items and stories, and assistance in idle activities like harvesting and leveling. It’s a promising ecosystem with a ton of potential, and I can’t wait to see how PlayFusion develops and evolves it in the months to come.