It might seem like physical media is on its last legs. Between digital distribution, downloadable content, and the proliferation of online platforms like Valve's Steam and EA's Origin, the gaming industry seems to be inching closer and closer to virtual reality every day.
Then there's Skylanders.
Skylanders sold resoundingly well last year, landing in the 2011 top-10 despite its reliance on a gaming mainstay that publishers are trying to abolish — physical objects. To play Skylanders, you take one of the game's action figures and put it on your Portal of Power, a plastic device that connects to your game console. The system recognizes the data in your figure and transports that character to the screen, where you can use it to hack and slash virtual enemies.
In a world where everybody wants to save money by going digital, this might seem like an odd step backwards, but Toys For Bob studio head and Skylanders creative lead Paul Reiche says physical media is precisely what makes the series so successful. And he doesn't think it's going away.
"The attachment with a physical object is incomparable," Reiche told me at an event in Manhattan this week. "I've got my D&D characters, I still have my character sheets. They matter to me. I don't know exactly what they've been doing but I could probably give you a sense.
"I also have toys from childhood. I have Hot Wheels... I care about those things. And in fact, I will go on eBay and make sure that I can— there are some accessories I never got around to getting as a kid. They have them now because they deserve them. That relationship cannot be matched."
"The attachment with a physical object is incomparable."
Even in a world where discs and cartridges are growing obsolete, Reiche says the potential for toys-as-games is broadening. Last year, Reiche spoke to Kotaku about his vision for a future of "bringing toys to life." Since then, he's only grown more optimistic.