Amazon on Thursday revealed  a special offer that it says makes it the first and only game seller offering in-app purchases of physical goods that they'll deliver to your doorstep. It's a partnership with Activision and the mobile edition of its Skylanders game that bridges the gap between the virtual world and the real world.
For a short while, players of Skylanders Cloud Patrol on the Kindle Fire will be able to buy an exclusive version of one of the characters from the new Skylanders Giants console game--Flameslinger. A quick click on the in-game offer, and the physical character is on its way to your home (it'll also unlock a digital character in the Kindle Fire game).
For obsessed young players (and their significantly older, often similarly obsessed parents), it means the game never ends, even when the screen goes dark--you can play a game on your tablet and buy a product that you can play with in real life.
Activision's console game, available for Wii and PS3, is aimed at children and it centers on the adventures of a number of characters (well over 30). That's not new in the gaming world, as any World of Warcraft player will tell you, but in the case of Skylanders the player chooses their game character on the fly by placing a small plastic model of it on a "portal" that's plugged into the console. The game piece identifies its unique ID to the portal by NFC, and play continues. Extra game worlds and special powers are accessed in the same way. Each character costs $10, which ensures Activision a long tail revenue stream as players who purchased the game continue to demand the toys.
No matter how clever this technology, or the business model is, the real trick here is that the game toys are very playable with by children in a completely offline mode. Partly this is because they are highly detailed, attractively crafted plastic models that can definitely fuel kids' imagination. The brand thus persists in games that have nothing at all to do with firing up a PS3 or turning on an iPad. It's a strategy that takes the traditional, though ubiquitous, Angry Birds merchandising to another level.
Activision also has an upcoming  fuller edition of its game that will play on iOS and actually connect to a "portal" by Bluetooth in the same way the console game does. That makes the game mobile, as well as expanding the brand. But this digital edition will also recognize all Skylanders figures, which means kids can take their own favorite character from the console game, into offline play, and then into the new world of the iOS game.
Amazon quotes its director of games Mike Frazzini in relation to the new tie-up, suggesting the physical-digital tie-up is so clever that "you can imagine the possibilities this opens up for developers and customers in the future." While Amazon is claiming "first" with this, it's certain to be just the very sharp tip of what may be a very rapidly growing trend ... particularly as tablet and smartphone app purchases continue to surge and the market evolves.
[Image: Flickr user jurvetson ]