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NFC Technology Brings New Life to Games

Kids, toy makers and technology providers all benefit, as the line between physical and virtual play blends.
By Jennifer Zaino
Dec 10, 2012—"Skylanders is my favorite video game," says my 9-year-old son, as he positions his Legendary Bash action figure atop the Portal of Power accessory and watches the figure come to life onscreen in his Wii gaming system. "It's cool," he says, though he's not referring to the Near-Field Communications (NFC) reader in the Portal of Power that reads the NFC tag in the action figure. "It's easy to switch characters during the game, and I can play at my friends' houses with my action figures and their system knows it's my guys."

He's not the only one enthralled with Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, released last fall by Activision Blizzard. The game is available for Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles, as well as PC and Mac computers, in addition to the Wii. While reporting its second-quarter earnings, in August, Activision Blizzard said the game was one of the top three titles so far this year in North America and Europe, and Skylanders toys were the top-selling action figures in the United States in the first half of 2012.

Image courtesy of Activision

NFC—a short-range wireless technology that enables device-to-device data transfers—is ushering in a new age of gaming, opening up a world in which kids of all ages can bridge the divide between physical and virtual play. In addition to NFC gaming systems, NFC mobile phones allow gamers to interact with each other and with real-world objects. And some organizations are inviting players to use NFC mobile devices to search for clues in their environment to win a game or contest.

NFC technology is not designed to handle large amounts of information, but the quantity of data that must be transferred in Skylanders is not significant. That means several tagged action figures can interact when simultaneously placed on the Portal of Power.

Image courtesy of Activision
Activision Blizzard clearly has capitalized on the fact that there's gold in those action figures. A Skylanders Starter Pack with the Portal of Power costs approximately $60, but I know from personal experience that kids will want the additional characters and Expansion Packs needed to gain access to new adventure levels. "Now vendors are not just selling video game discs, but they are selling characters that probably cost relatively little to produce," says John Shuster, a VDC Research analyst. "And if you are a heavy gamer, you probably will spend whatever it costs to buy multiple characters, especially to facilitate progress in the game. But there are benefits on both sides of the fence, because it is a more fun and interactive experience for those playing the game."
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