Husband and I have been playing a good amount of Skylanders, a series of console games where the playable characters are also collectable figures. The urge to play more characters is ever-present, and it is somewhat like having alts in a MMORPG to experience playing different character classes and the associated specific playstyle.
Each Skylander character can be levelled, complete with simple talent trees, and they can be equipped with some rudimentary gear to alter stats and appearance. Unlike in MMORPGs, however, each character is a real money purchase. As I thought of this, I likened it to the idea of needing to buy a character slot to create each and every MMO character.
In actuality this concept exists in the modern, mostly free-to-play, MMO genre. In games that were created as, or converted to lean heavily on, free-to-play monetization – buying characters slots is a thing. The game usually will give you a couple of character slots for free, maybe as many as eight, but after that you need to start buying the slots to make more. In Lord of the Rings Online a character slot costs £4.99 worth of Lotro Points, and in Everquest 2 extra character slots cost 1000 Daybreak Cash, or £8 at current prices.
In both cases those prices aren’t so different from the kinds of prices that you can pay for a new Skylander figure on Ebay (the games are rather old now), though as with any collectable figures rarer ones go for much more. I’ll admit I’ve not bought extra character slots in many MMORPGs over the years, maybe one or two in Everquest 2; but I have wanted to create characters and been stopped by the current account limit.
Skylanders differs in that you are paying for a real object, one that has separate value outside of the game they are linked to, at least if you like collecting figures. The figures are forward compatible, by which I mean that each new game in the series can use the figures from all the previous games. Many characters offer unique or varied ways of approaching in-game challenges: the characters have a lot more variety of abilities than MMORPG classes, although each individual character has pretty basic customisation compared to a MMORPG character. I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to create 50+ characters in any given MMORPG, though I’ve read of some players who do create a warrior of every race/faction or “one of everything”. I usually create one of most available character classes in a MMO that I’ve played more intensively: namely World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online and Everquest 2.
Our renewed interest in collecting Skylanders does feel a bit like a dose of alt-mania. We’ve been hunting bargains online since there are built-in mechanics encouraging collection of at least one of each type of figure (elements, movement abilities, trapmaster elements, etc.). That and we like the look or playstyle of specific figures and hunt those out for the sake of collecting them. The gameplay impact of this drives greater engagement, since each new figure is a new character to level, so more repetition of story levels or the repeatable content like arenas. Just like levelling a new alt of a character class you’ve not yet capped. It all feels rather familiar in the end…