Activision to break with past, release Skylanders for consoles, tablets

For the first time, the game giant will launch a top-tier console title on a tablet at the same time it's coming out for consoles made by Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Skylanders toys will, of course, join the fray.

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This year's version of Skylanders will work with a tablet, too. Activision

Activision rang up more than $2 billion in sales offering a line of toys that, when placed on a portal, interacts with console video games hooked up to televisions. For its next trick, those toys will work for the same game on a tablet as well.

The video game giant said Tuesday that on October 5, players will be able to download an app to their tablets and play the latest entry in the company's Skylanders franchise called Trap Team. The title will be the same as the versions offered for video game consoles, Activision said, and it will cost the same $74.99 at retail.

Before this year, the game worked with a technology Activision called the "portal of power," a surface that communicates with a video game console. Players placed a Skylanders character figurine on the device, and almost instantly a likeness arrives on the screen as part of the game. The technology became popular among children and helped make Activision the world's largest manufacturer of action figure toys, according to the company's data.

This fall, a new version of the portal will be offered alongside those that work with the video game consoles that will wirelessly communicate with tablets instead. Like in years passed, the portal works with the existing lineup of 175 Skylanders toys, all of which work on a standard video game console as well.

"We want to find our audience wherever they are," said Paul Reiche, head of Toys For Bob, the Activision subsidiary that makes Skylanders. He added all the features of the standard game, from the cartoonish animations to the voice acting to the music, are all contained within the tablet app which gamers will be able to download from their respective app stores for Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX, as well as recently made Apple iPads, or some devices powered by Google's Android.

Activision wanted to do this for a while. The company attempted to make the game work on tablets before, but only recent devices were built with powerful enough circuitry capable of displaying the game in the same quality as through a standard video game console.

"Last year, what we're doing today would not have been impossible," Reiche said.

Activision isn't the only company that wanted to launch one of its biggest titles on a tablet alongside the consoles, but it is the first of its size to do it.

Others have rework older games to work on a tablet with much success. Take-Two Interactive Software is one of the highest profile companies doing this, offering titles like older entries from its Grand Theft Auto franchise, as well as recently announcing it plans to release a mobile edition of its blockbuster Bioshock action adventure title later this year.

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said as tablets become more powerful, and thus capable of handling the complex visuals in a console-level video game, developers will begin to offer more of their console titles for them as well.

"It's another screen," he said. "It's a handy screen too."

But there are still limitations, he notes, particularly regarding a game's size. Currently, a top-tier game for consoles, such as the war simulation game Battlefield 4 from Electronic Arts, contains more than 30 gigabytes of files, about double the amount of storage space offered on an entry-level iPad from Apple.

Skylanders is smaller, with a maximum file size of about 6 gigabytes, the equivalent of a high-definition movie. Activision said gamers will rarely need to download it all, though. Most players will initially download a 1 gigabyte app on their tablet from the app store, then it will automatically pull down more information as they progress through the game or use more toys.

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The retail box for the tablet version of Skylanders touts "no console required." Activision

Activision did make some adjustments for mobile devices. When customers buy the portal and its corresponding starter-toy-set, it will include a controller that wirelessly talks to the tablet, though customers can choose to play by touching the screen. The game works without the portal as well, though player's toy characters and abilities won't be accessible without it. Still, the company said, these functions allow gamers to play while on the move, such as on a bus or in a plane, where a portal and its corresponding toys may not be easy to set up.

Skylanders could represent a landmark moment, when the tablet is elevated to being treated as a standard video game console for a best-selling franchise. But Activision isn't rushing its other top tier franchises to the tablet just yet.

Eric Hirshberg, head of Activision's publishing arm, said there are still some of unknowns, including how the game's fans will respond to this new product. That's part of why his team chose Skylanders, because of its popularity among younger players.

"The tablet is at the moment a highly appealing kid-game platform," he said. "This is a really particular endeavor that's right for Skylanders."

About the author

Ian Sherr is an executive editor for the west coast at CNET News. He writes about social networking and manages coverage of video games, Internet giants, cybersecurity, the sharing economy, e-commerce and wearable tech. Previously, he wrote about Apple, the PC industry and video games at The Wall Street Journal. He's also written for Reuters and the Agence France-Presse, among others. He's a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, though he knows what real weather feels like too.

 

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