Gamers are no strangers to shortages. Most of us learned early on that in order to secure a console at launch, preordering is almost always required. We get it.
Once we have a game at home (and the platform on which to play it), though, we’re used to being ready to play as much of that game as we want. We’re also no strangers to expansions, whether they are available on another disk or as DLC. With rare exception, all we need to do to access those expansions is purchase them digitally and download.
As you know from my review and our lauding of the game on the N4G Podcast, we’re big fans. The game is a very clever action-RPG that, while designed for younger audiences, is quite enjoyable for adults. Any gamer purchasing Skylanders should be aware before checking out that what you get in the box won’t give you access to every area of the game. In order to access all of the elemental areas, you need at least one Skylander figure in each of the eight elements. The starters come with three, leaving you with five to purchase as singles, in three-packs or adventure packs. You don’t need more than the starter pack to complete the game, and if that’s your choice, you’ll still have a great experience. However, if you want a more complete adventure, you’ll have at least eight figures and you are constantly tempted with previews for figures that aren’t in your collection or aren’t out yet. All you need to do is go to your local toy or game store and pick up more figures. Right?
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Currently, Skylanders are sold out in many areas. You can probably still find the starter packs, but if you are looking for figures to round out your elemental needs, you’re probably out of luck for now.
This exposes a major problem with the game’s model. Unlike DLC for games, which is available at nearly all times and in infinite supply, the Skylanders Toy-loadable Content is a bit trickier. The cost is higher, which should be something anyone purchasing the starter is aware of before swiping their credit card. More importantly, though, you need to find an outlet that has figures in stock. While it was a bit tricky to find specific Skylanders through the holiday season, if you were simply looking to fill an elemental slot without regard for the character, you would most likely find something to meet your needs (except for Air, which is scarcer because one of the two available figures is only available at Target).
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Between Christmas and the turning of the new year, something happened to the supply. After calls to many retailers in a few different areas of the country, and reports from readers, figure packs (in any configuration) seem to be completely depleted from store shelves. Sure, demand is most certainly up. Those gamers, both young and old, looking to build a collection after receiving the game for a gift are on the hunt. Unfortunately, this poses an interesting question for those that want to play the game, “Do I play now, leading to backtracking later, or simply wait until I have one character of each element?” Choice about whether to purchase more figures has been removed from the equation, replaced by a far less appealing one.
We’ve reached out to Activision to gain some understanding of what’s going on with the supply and when stores might be restocked and, as of publishing, haven’t received a response. If Skylanders is to be a model for future game development for young audiences, this issue needs to be addressed. Supply must be constant through the product’s life cycle. No one is expecting every retailer to have every figure, or even every element. For every retailer to be completely devoid of stock, though, is unacceptable. If this problem persists, Skylanders will turn from an astounding success to a horrific failure from a long-term development perspective. Those that jumped on the Skylanders bandwagon will, no doubt, remember product shortages when the inevitable Skylanders 2 (or other toy-based game) arrives.
We certainly hope that this is a very short-term problem as we’re big fans of the game and the ability to move characters across platforms. We’ll be sure to keep you posted if we receive further information.
Update (10:55 AM EST) – This was spotted on the official Skylanders Facebook page (and brought to our attention by Dan Amrich/@OneofSwords):
We are working hard to get more Skylanders in stores as fast as possible! Starting in mid-January, you’ll also be seeing Skylanders that haven’t yet been released. We’ve listened to your requests and are pulling together as much info as we can share – check back at Facebook soon.
Update (5:17 pm EST) – I happened to be at a local Toys R Us and noticed two things that bothered me.
First, their stock of figures was fully depleted (there were many starters, though). Second, the chain is price gouging. MSRP on Skylanders figures is $7.99 for a single figure and $19.99 for a three-pack or adventure set. Prices at Toys R Us today are up 25% to $9.99 and $24.99.
Additionally, we strongly suggest you stay away from GameStop for online purchases. The figures are only available as a blind buy (random). They are also gouging with three-packs priced at $25 online.