Toys-to-life video games are a unique market. On the one hand, Skylanders is a massive success. On the other hand, Disney Infinity—despite a cast of characters that included the Marvel superheroes, the Star Wars universe, Mickey Mouse and the rest of the Disney brand—couldn't even make it three years. The market may have been oversaturated, but that just means that future endeavors into that space have to be especially creative to fly.
That's the challenge—and the opportunity—that PlayFusion, whose Lightseekers launched on Kickstarter this week, are facing with their game, which is the first to combine not just toys-to-life video gaming, but also elements of trading card games like Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering into a game that can be played (and played with) in a variety of ways at the same time.
The platform for Lightseekers is fully connected. In partnership with toy manufacturer Tomy, the launch of the game involves collectible cards for a tabletop gaming experience, action figures for imaginative play, and a video game that uses Bluetooth to identify when the toys are nearby to allow for the game—playable on tablets—and the toys to interact in an immersive way. The process seems extremely satisfying—placing a weapon in the hands of an action figure while playing the game puts the same weapon in the hands of the on-screen character, for example—and PlayFusion says that toys and cards are just the beginning, too.
"The game, cards, and figures all work together, but we've actually built a platform that has the ability to connect much, much more," says Playfusion CEO Mark Gerhard who, prior to co-founding the company, served as chief executive officer and chief technical officer at Jagex, makers of the popular MMORPG series Runescape. "That means comics, packaging, in-store signage, and video—pretty much any brand interaction—can connect with our platform, extending the gameplay experience, offering in-game rewards, and unlocking additional content."
That connection is the most intriguing part of the product. You can play Lightseekers as an offline tabletop card game, but the two interact, as well. The video game can scan the physical cards to unlock in-game effects, and offer a one-time bonus to video gameplay. In that way, the elements of the game do double duty for people who want to be immersed in the Lightseekers world. The card game launches with 385 cards—expandable in the future in the way that other TCGs are—and it's not hard to imagine players chasing rare cards for both their potency when playing at the kitchen table and their effects on the tablet. There are other properties that exist as both video games and trading card games—Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering exist in both worlds, at least in some form—but blending the two so that the same cards work in each world is something we haven't really seen before. Combine that with the toys, and you can see what Lightseekers is going for.
"Because our game includes figures, it's natural to compare us to Skylanders, and because our game has cards, many will line us up against Pokémon or Magic," Gerhard acknowledges. "We feel we've created something different, something breakthrough, something bigger. We set out to create a game that will have broad appeal across age, gender, and experience. An 8-year-old should be able to pick up our game, our figures, and our cards, and have a great time. However, his or her parents will also be able to appreciate the strategy, personalization, and challenging gameplay that will make Lightseekers great fun to play."
PlayFusion is already pretty far along on the process—the partnership with Tomy has already been announced, and they'll be manufacturing both the toys and the cards—but they're also launching via Kickstarter. The campaign opened on October 5th, and within 24 hours, it raised over $44,000—nearly a quarter of its final goal—with the intention of using Kickstarter to better understand who's playing Lightseekers, and what they actually want from the game.
"Our campaign is scheduled to end just as our figure and card production is scheduled to begin," Gerhard explains. "That allows us to better manage risk, as well as better capitalize on a runaway success. In addition, at the end of our campaign, we'll have a better idea of potential geographies for distribution, character assortment breakdown, and the relative interest between cards, figures, accessories, and digital-only players. We'll also better understand the questions that we still need to answer that will help us optimize our consumer marketing prior to our full commercial launch."
All of that is a challenge that any game or manufacturer faces at launch, but Lightseekers also has a challenge that most don't: because of the scope of the product, and its immersive nature, Lightseekers can't be a half-hearted attempt at worldbuilding. The universe of a trading card game can be fudged; the world of a video game can be fuzzy if the gameplay itself is fun; toys don't have to make a ton of sense if they're cool-looking; but if you put all of that together, it better add up to something.
For Lightseekers, the plot is built around a planet called "Tantos," where an ancient race called the "Colossi" disappeared generations ago, and players seek the artifacts of their civilization in order to combat villains known as the "Umbron." That'll play out in the various media of Lightseekers, but it's enough to set up an immersive, open-world RPG (with no in-app purchases—the revenue model involves selling toys, cards, and seeking other licensing opportunities in the future) and to give players a world to get hooked into as it continues to develop.
"We have big plans for the Lightseekers universe," Gerhard says. "We've already set out a 10-year content roadmap for the world. Out of the gate, we'll have hundreds of hours of gameplay available. We plan to update the game regularly and hope to eventually expand to thousands of hours of available gameplay. Based on what our community enjoys, we will expand the game accordingly, delivering more of what the people want to see, and realizing more and more of our vision along the way. At launch, we'll have two playable characters available. If our Kickstarter campaign is successful, we'll be able to expand the storytelling through more playable characters. We have gone to great lengths to give the world of Lightseekers a deep coherent backstory from the perspective of all its many races and more will be revealed as the game evolves."