Disney Interactive has introduced its ambitious new gaming platform, Disney Infinity, a new take on Activision’s wildly successful Skylanders model, with one essential difference: Disney characters.
Coming in June for consoles, mobile and PC, Disney Infinity features Disney/Pixar properties Monsters and The Incredibles as well as the Disney live-action and theme park characters of Pirates of the Caribbean. Each game set comes with figures that represent the characters found in those worlds. The figures, when placed on the system’s "Infinity Base," grant access to an original interactive adventure that relates to its film franchise. The platform also allows users (or "guests," as Disney Interactive is calling them) to customize the experience in "toy box" mode—combining worlds and crafting a practically infinite array of possible ways to play—say, Jack Sparrow meets Mike Wazowski and Mr. Incredible to fight Davy Jones. "Guests" can share what they’ve created with each other. At launch, Infinity will include 17 character figures and 40 interactive pieces that allow users to expand and customize game play.
The company has gotten around traditional intellectual property restraints by making all of the characters toys, meaning it’s not the "real" Jack Sparrow but a toy version of him, with arms that pivot and a size proportional to that of Mr. Incredible.
Here, John Pleasants, who took over as codirector of Disney Interactive in 2010, tells Co.Create about the approach the team took that, he says, "Put everything into a tailspin."
"The division was spending the majority—the vast majority—of its money on creating console products, one-offs tying directly to movies. But that made the products too tied to the storylines of the movies, and it curtailed us creatively," says Pleasants, who knew that the year or so that Disney Interactive would get to develop a movie tie-in was half as long as it needed to make a truly great product. "We were stuck in an unsuccessful strategy."
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"Why can’t we do something more than just a Toy Story thing? We have all this clay here," Pleasants says of the vast array of available Disney properties.
And yet getting those properties can be tricky. After all, it’s a huge company and each character is under the ownership of a division of Disney. "We had to sell it around the company to get more buy-in," explains Pleasants, who snagged Pixar first, giving the new venture access to Monsters and The Incredibles. Next: Disney studios, which gave permission for Pirates of the Caribbean. Those three properties will represent the first "play sets" that will be available in June. Still to come: Disney Channel, the Disney vault (Mickey Mouse!), Marvel and Lucasfilm. "We’ll go to all those places," says Pleasants, who insists there is no announcement on those deals pending. "I promise you will see old Disney (characters). And you can imagine if you were to bring Marvel into this thing, you have to be very careful about it. It’s a very different animal. It’s not a layup, but we’ll figure it out."
"Disney/Pixar, ESPN, the themes parks, they all deliver world-class quality, a world-class experience," says Pleasants. "I can’t say that for games. Nobody thinks of us as having world-class games. First of all, everyone wants to talk about the fact that we’re unprofitable. The reason we’re unprofitable is that we don’t have great product. So we need to start thinking about making great product and start thinking of our users not as consumers or gamers but as guests of our product."
The Infinity premise harks back to the very first Toy Story movie, the first time we got to see toys of different worlds and eras interact. Making the characters into toys, Pleasants says, gives the owners of each respective IP an important measure of comfort when you’re suddenly making those franchises into malleable playworlds.
A new Monsters movie is coming out in June, and this whole venture is a tie-in with that film, but Pleasants says it’s bigger than that. Monsters is establishing the tone of the game world, which is humorous and fun for the whole family.
"The Incredibles is a very, very successful franchise that hit a lot of people in a great place," says Pleasants. "It has been quiet for a while but we believe there’s latent love for it." Also key to the choice: They’re superheroes; you’ve got to have some of those. "There’s just so much potential gameplay in there with all their superpowers."
Pirates of the Caribbean brings in live action, theme parks, and…pirates.
"When you look at live-action franchises, this one comes up quick," explains Pleasants. "People love it. It’s pirates, gun battle, ships, water. There’s a lot to jam around on here."
It was also important to make clear that Disney Infinity is not just a Pixar product. Bringing in Pirates gets at Disney live-action movies as well as the decades-old theme park ride. It’s symbolic of what’s to come.
The message of this first iteration of Disney Infinity is that it’s for kids, adults, gamers, and non-gamers. Yesterday’s introduction of the game was not just for consumers but also for those inside the company. "Now people are coming to us from around the company saying, You’ve got to get this character in there."