Six-year-old Jericho Rodriguez sprinted into Toys R Us like a cheetah chasing its prey.
“Mommy, Skylanders! Skylanders!” he yelled as he ran through a crowd gathered around the biggest display in the store, larger even than ones for Legos and Marvel superheroes such as Iron Man.
Jericho and other young boys were gathered at the Los Angeles store early Sunday morning for the new video game “Skylanders: Giants” and dozens of action figures associated with it.
“Giants” is the hottest release of the fall for boys ages 6-12.
The first “Skylanders” game, last year’s “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure,” has been the No. 1 game franchise so far this year in the U.S., generating $286 million in sales, according to research firm NPD Group Inc. That’s particularly noteworthy in a year during which overall game sales have plunged 25 percent.
To play, users buy a $70 game, outfitted with a port where they plug in one of 32 “Skylanders” characters, priced at $8 or more each. Real enthusiasts buy more than one character. Some collect the entire set. “Skylander” publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. has sold more than 30 million toys.
Activision Publishing Chief Executive Eric Hirshberg said “Skylanders” can become the Santa Monica, Calif., company’s next “billion-dollar franchise,” joining such blockbuster brands as “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft.”
Among fans, “Skylanders” has created the kind of obsession that marketing executives crave. On eBay, complete sets of hard-to-find limited-edition toys cost as much as $2,499.
But “Skylanders” didn’t result from a conscious effort to create collector madness. Activision’s Toys for Bob studio was asked to revive the purple dragon character Spyro, who had starred in more than a dozen games from 1998 to 2008.
Designers struggled to come up with a concept until they recalled an earlier idea to allow physical toys to appear in a game when placed on a special interface.
Unlike so many Wii and Xbox games that encourage staring at a screen in isolation, the multiple characters and storage ability of “Skylanders” gave it a different play pattern.
“Sometimes I play with them in the game, and sometimes I play with them as toys,” Jericho said. “When my friends come over, we pick the Skylanders we want (in the game) for our group.”
The game’s spin-off potential is substantial too. Already, there are books, backpacks, pajamas and Halloween costumes.
As they surveyed the new action figures with names such as “Crusher” and “Swarm” at the Los Angeles Toys R Us, it dawned on parents just how costly the world of “Skylanders” could be.
“It’s financially punishing,” said Jason Renfro, shopping with his 10-year-old son Danner. “But as someone who collected ‘Star Wars’ action figures as a kid, I understand.”