The Toy-Game Interface: It’s A Trend.

OK, it’s a trend.

Yes, after weeks of me ranting about what’s going on in gaming, what it means for your career, and why I’m still confused half the time, there is a trend I distinctly want to call out.

Merchandise-game integration.  Let’s call it MGI so we have a cool acronym.

Awhile ago at NerdCaliber I called out that we were on a cusp of a trend where games were integrated heavily with merchandise. and marketing.  My example was Disney Infinity, which was pretty much “Skylanders” with Jack Sparrow and a sandbox mode.*  I felt this was one to watch because I could see a lot of properties done MGI style, and transcending some of the previous attempts out there.

(Disney is so confident, they don’t mind a delay – that may mean selling more)

Ironically, of the many properties I discussed where heavy MGI possibilities lay, I missed one, and of course some smart guys and girls ended up creating the most obvious MGI I could have seen, only I didn’t see it.

Pokemon.  Yes, I officially was a dumbass** to miss that.

So the skinny is that there’s a Pokémon Rumble U coming out from the Wii, which is apparently an arena brawler where what you play depends on the figures you put on a special Pokémon Rumble U gizmo.  Skylanders, but more of beating your friends to a pulp.

Now it’s not said that this will release in the US, but pretty much the answer is “Duh, yes it will” because between the popularity of Pokémon and the Wii U’s non-performance it’s perfect.  It’s money.  It’s 700 freaking potential plug-in action figures, because who hasn’t longed to play as a Bidoof?***

With this announcement, I officially call this a trend – companies trying to toyify games and gamily toys in a specific manner.  I expect it to grow because of who is on the bandwagon.

Of course it makes sense for any number of reasons:

  • It’s a method of control.  The game requires physical merch to play, specific hardware, and even a specific console.  It’s a way to rope people in and keep them there as you have to have their stuff to play.
  • It ties into regular “merchandising mentality” of selling stuff.  You know there are people in product design who are deliriously happy over what stuff like this can mean.
  • It ties into unsurety about consoles.  Console makers who aren’t sure (OK, anyone but Microsoft) have a chance to get a system that makes their console valuable – you need it to make the cool toys work.
  • It’s great for Holidays.  Trust me, I remember having to explain Skylanders to some poor woman I ran into at  a GameStop, and I realized how her holiday quest showed how this would move stock.
  • It builds on existing properties.  Disney and Nintendo can exploit the hell out of something like this.
  • It builds on common ideas.  We all remember non-electronic toys we played with – this just expands that.  It’s easy to explain to people, and of course it makes it easier for someone to buy it for you or get into it.

So now I expect we have a trend and the big thing is seeing who does something like this next – and if any of this crashes and burns and derails the possibilities.

Career-wise, if you work in gaming, retail, electronics, marketing, and media, this is a trend to follow to see if it affects you, your company, and your job.  It’s going to need people who can analyze market potential, design electronics, code for a specific system/setup, and good knowledge of hardware/software interfacing.

Now to be brutally honest, this trend makes me a bit uncomfortable.  I can see it being used to lock people in, move lousy merch, and frankly be misused.  It’s essentially a sealed system (though when things get hacked, as they will, watch out), and that always makes me uncomfortable.

But, I think it’s part of our future.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at

* Jack Sparrow and The Sandbox Mode is a good band name.
** I get a certificate and everything.
*** 3 people last count.  Globally.