Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but don't expect Disney (DIS 0.21%) and Activision Blizzard (ATVI) to bask in the puffery. Lego is rolling out Lego Dimensions next weekend, and with it comes a model that is surprisingly similar to the Disney Infinity and Activision Blizzard's Skylanders franchises.
Fans will be shelling out big money -- $99.99 -- for a video console-specific starter pack that combines action figures with virtual video game worlds. Lego's kit comes with Gandalf, Batman, and The Lego Movie's Wyldstyle, but additional characters and vehicles can be purchased for $29.99 apiece.
It's a model that works, at least initially. Activision Blizzard's Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure hit the market in late 2011, and it was the gaming industry's biggest seller during the first half of 2012. Activision Blizzard went to roll out expansion packs, including the larger-sized Skylanders: Giants line in late 2012, but gamers were moving on by 2013.
Disney Infinity rolled out in late 2013, and it also had a strong rookie year. The platform that lets gamers snap up popular Disney characters with RFID chips that when placed on a platform enter the gaming experience proved popular. However, Disney's been posting weak results in recent quarters for its interactive division, pointing to declining sales of Disney Infinity during its sophomore season. Disney digging into its Marvel and Star Wars vault to beef up the product line is smart, but it remains to be seen if it will help turn sales around.
Lego isn't settling for in-house characters, something that should be obvious since two of the three figures in the starter kit are iconic characters from DC Comics and The Lord of the Rings. From Scooby Doo to Back to the Future -- from Dr. Who to The Simpsons -- Lego's making the most of its licensing partners to provide a game that will appeal to various cult audiences.
Brick and mortified
There's a minor building component to Lego Dimensions that will also appeal to traditional fans of the brick-building toys, but this is ultimately a way for owners of PS4, Wii U, Xbox One, and Xbox 360 consoles to get in touch with their Lego roots.
If this is able to get gamers who may have moved on from Lego a reason to reconnect with the brand, this could be a huge move for the Danish toy company. It could also spell trouble for Disney and Activision Blizzard beyond just folks migrating from Skylanders and Disney Infinity.
Anyone who has strolled the aisles of Lego boxes knows that the building toys aren't cheap. They eat into discretionary income and holiday shopping budgets. Money spent on Lego is cash that isn't spent on something else, and that could sting Activision Blizzard's other releases and Disney's consumer products division.
Lego Dimensions arrives in stores on Sept. 27, and wallets will be emptied.