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We smash open the secrets of Piñata Smashlings with Tokido’s CEO

We sat down with Toikido’s Darran Garnham, the CEO behind the newest Roblox collecting phenomenon, Piñata Smashlings to learn more about the massive project.

Pinata Smashlings interview: A pineapple-themed Smashling cut out, outlined in white, and pasted on a slightly blurred image of the Pinataverse

Slightly older residents of the internet will remember a time when instead of spending hours on Roblox, kids were obsessed with complex browser-game worlds like Club Penguin, Neopets, and, my personal favorite, Moshi Monsters. If something like that were to come back in 2023, an all-encompassing franchise with games, books, plushies, and more, what would it look like?

Darran Garnham, CEO of the creative design studio Toikido, is here to answer that question with his company’s new venture Piñata Smashlings, a “blockbuster quality” Roblox game with its own accompanying line of plush toys, blind boxes, and official guidebooks. The design of the Smashlings might look a little familiar to you, especially if you grew up online in the early 2010s. That’s because Garnham is one of the minds behind Moshi Monsters and members of the Toikido team worked there alongside him, as well as with companies like Disney and King.

As we’re big Roblox fans here at Pocket Tactics, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to ask Garnham some questions about Piñata Smashlings, from its beginnings to where he sees it going in the future. We started by asking how a toy-focused company came to the decision to explore the world of Roblox games.

“Games have been in the plan from day one in our ecosystem,” Garnham said. “We continue to see a shift in kids’ play patterns – where “gaming” is taking an ever-increasing portion of kids’ attention, engagement and driving loyalty and enjoyment. We need to lean into this shift and we endeavor to sit right in the middle between physical toys and digital games – we want our IP to flick between action figures and in-game avatars. ‘Toy’ will always however be at the heart of everything we do – our games are built around our toyetic thinking.”

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He’s right of course – kids haven’t entirely abandoned toys for gaming, but the two are becoming increasingly interconnected. Even I remember connecting my Tamagotchi to my computer to play online and creating a virtual version of my Build-A-Bears to play with and dress up. More recently, we’ve seen Minecraft release its Camp Enderwood DLC action figures that come with exclusive in-game items for your avatar.

Garnham also pointed out that the characters children are gravitating towards more often than not come from videogames and online influencers rather than traditional TV and film media. He said, “The level of engagement possible in games today, opens up endless opportunities in the physical toy space – it’s a fun space to work in.”

As much as we love Roblox’s blocky landscape, we wondered why Toikido decided to launch on the platform rather than building its own app or console game. The answer is essentially “we brought the game to the kids”, as Garnham praised Roblox’s passion for its community. “The growth and traction of the platform is stunning with millions playing, communicating and creating daily. Whilst we love creating new IP – we also love the benefits of network effects. Roblox has an audience of 250 million waiting to play.”

Pinata Smashlings interview: A mango-colored graphic featuring a cartoon smoothie with eyes and arms and legs. Text reads: The level of engagement possible in games today, opens up endless opportunities in the physical toy space – it’s a fun space to work in. - Darran Garnham

That’s not to say that Roblox is the beginning and end of Piñata Smashlings as a game, though. He continued, “We will bring the brand to animation later this year and we’re looking at Switch and other platforms for 2024-2025 – but with Roblox being at the heart.” Plus, the Smashlings are set to make their print debut in the official Collector’s Guide that launches in December.

As I mentioned earlier, some of the art style of the Smashlings is reminiscent of the Moshi Monsters, with all the characters boasting bright and eye-catching color palettes and a distinct ‘friend-shaped’ appearance. Garnham said that members of the team have worked on a range of IPs in the past with unique design styles from Moshi Monsters to Adventure Time, to Toy Story, and that this influenced the final Smashlings style.

“We love bright and fun brands with characters whose eyes pop,” he said. “At Toikido we don’t have brand managers, we have vision keepers. These keepers protect and weave the story through the game, animation, and publishing. This nicely demonstrates our “toyetic” focus – everything we create and design always has ‘toy’ in mind. We have created over 500 Smashlings and growing – not that many IP can post that depth.”

Pinata Smashlings interview: Darran Garnham's headshot pasted on a blurred Pinataverse background

A question that invariably comes when talking about free-to-play games, including Roblox experiences, is one of monetization. I asked Garnham how monetization plays into the Piñata Smashlings game itself and how the toys tie into this, if at all. He said, “Game monetization has not been key to the game. Toikido, unlike many studios, has other models and revenue avenues. We do have monetization in the game but it’s a very light touch. We didn’t want to have barriers to play or deep gacha mechanics. However, feedback from kids is they want to spend more – the current generation is used to having things quickly, it’s something we have to balance.”

Similar to the Camp Enderwood toys I mentioned before, the Piñata Smashlings toys will also come with a DLC code for kids to redeem in-game to tie the physical and digital worlds together. “We want this to be a really connected experience,” Garnham told us. Much of Toikido’s success comes from listening to what kids want and enjoy, and that includes their own children. We asked where the unique idea for a piñata-themed game came from and Garnham said it was from his own personal experience with his family.

“The idea came from watching my own kids’ excitement breaking open a piñata. Seeing them and their friends’ excitement, scrambling for the contents. I sent Jeff Hall, our Chief Product Officer, a note and a week later PS was born. I wanted an IP with an amazing story, worlds, characters, and play. The Toikido team has not let me down.”

The future is looking bright and colorful for Toikido’s future with Piñata Smashlings and its other endeavors. It is already responsible for creating the Euro 2024 mascot and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “We have a solid 15-month roadmap reaching into music, sport, food, major Hollywood studios, and more,” Garnham told us. “We will also expand into music and live events. We recently recorded our first single at the famous Abbey Road Studios and have an album in the works with Grammy-winning producer Jason Perry. Watch this space.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the global Piñata Smashlings release date, or hop online to play now if you’re in the UK. Why not learn more about Roblox’s real-time animation engine next? Alternatively, we’ve got a whole list of Roblox game codes for every experience you can imagine.