Disney explains why its $1 billion 'Disney Infinity' game is such a smash hit

Star wars force awakens rey disney infinityDisneyRey, hero of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens,’ as seen in ‘Disney Infinity 3.0.’

Earlier this week, Disney claimed that “Disney Infinity,” its $1 billion-plus video game business, soared past competitors like “Skylanders” and “Lego Dimensions” to be the best-selling “toys-to-life” video game of 2015.

“Toys-to-life” refers to that category of video games where you buy real-life action figures that you can then play with on the screen.

In “Disney Infinity,” those action figures are drawn from Disney’s huge stable of massive media properties, including the animated movies, Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel Super Heroes. Place your Mickey Mouse Infinity figure (which retails for $14) on the game’s included “Infinity Base,” and Mickey Mouse shall appear.

Earlier this week, “Disney Infinity” announced a whole mess of new stuff coming later this year, including new Marvel and “Jungle Book” characters — plus, extended support for the current 3.0 edition of the game.

I talked to John Blackburn, the senior vice president and general manager of “Disney Infinity,” and John Vignocchi, Vice President of Production for Disney Interactive, about why the game is such a tremendous hit.

From Blackburn’s perspective, the reason for Disney Infinity’s success is pretty straightforward, even beyond the fact that it combines so many giants of pop culture.

“It’s the overall value of it,” Blackburn says. “We are providing so much gameplay.”

Going to the park to play

The goal, says Blackburn, isn’t to force you to buy all of the one hundred-plus Disney Infinity figures (though it would be cool if you did). It’s to provide enough variety and difference so that it appeals to everyone, from hardcore gamers to kids who just want to play around with their favourite Disney characters.

“We’ve always positioned ‘Disney Infinity’ as a family gaming platform,” Vignocchi agrees.

The idea, he says, is to make something that anybody, young or old, can pick up and enjoy “very much like how the Disney brand appeals to people of all ages.”

Most players get their introduction to “Disney Infinity” via the “playsets” — story-driven packs of levels and characters, usually retailing for $35, based on Disney movies and TV shows like “Inside Out,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Ultimate Spider-Man.” The “Disney Infinity” starter sets usually include one playset.

Disney infinity vader luke reyMatt Weinberger/Business InsiderRey and Luke on the Infinity Base, with the ‘Rise Against the Empire’ playset piece.

Then, after using the playsets as their intro, Blackburn says that most “Disney Infinity” players spend the majority of their time in the game’s “Toy Box” mode, a “Minecraft”-like creative palette for building your own Disney-fied worlds full of monsters, familiar faces, and challenges.

The goal with the Toy Box, says Vignocchi, is to provide a virtual analogue to the idea of dumping all of your toys out on the floor and messing around with them. It’s supposed to be a place where it’s ok to mess around with no obvious goal, “just like it’s ok to go to the park and play,” he says.

‘Infinity’ and beyond

The nice thing about the Disney Infinity Toy Box, says Vignocchi, is that it has something for everyone. If your idea of play involves Queen Elsa and Captain America driving around in the Space Mountain car smashing Stormtroopers, that’s cool.

But if your idea of play is a little more ambitious, Disney Infinity supports that, too. From painstaking recreations of Disney theme park attractions, to fan-made racetracks and battle arenas, Toy Box supports a wide range of gameplay across genres.

“It’s a really powerful creator from a game engine standpoint,” Blackburn says.

Disney Infinity 3.0 Star WarsScreenshot/Matt WeinbergerThe ‘Disney Infinity’ toy box.

Furthermore, Blackburn credits Disney’s “very direct relationship” with the community around the game — fans can share their custom levels online, where the Disney Infinity team vets them for offensive content and then lets other players download them.

It means that there are always more levels to play, and more worlds to explore. And with the commitment to keep supporting the current “Disney Infinity 3.0” version of the game, Disney is going to keep adding more characters through the rest of the year.

“Disney Infinity will feature more Disney content than any video game ever made,” Vignocchi says.

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