Disney’s video game unit was struggling. It lost $US1.4 billion from fiscal year 2008 to 2013.
So the company decided to take a different approach to gaming. Rather than making standalone games, which are expensive to make and market, Disney followed the “Skylanders” model and launched “Disney Infinity” in August.
“Infinity” — and “Skylanders” before it — isn’t just a video game; it incorporates physical toys from Disney and Pixar films that interact with what’s on the screen. And you can even mesh the characters from different movies together.
Before “Infinity,” the hits coming out of Disney Interactive were few and far between. The first “Kingdom Hearts” game, which merged classic Disney characters and storylines from “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and more, with characters from Square Enix’s “Final Fantasy” franchise, became one of the best-selling PlayStation 2 games in the U.S. It was followed by several sequels.
Later came “Epic Mickey,” which was a moderate success, selling 1.3 million units in its first few months alone. But the sequel, “Epic Mickey 2,” bombed: it only sold 270,000 copies between its debut in November 2012 and the end of 2013.
Disney needed a boost. And it seems “Infinity” was just the thing to do it.
Last month the company reported global revenue of $US550 million for Infinity. The company told Reuters that it expects revenues to reach $US1 billion.
“Infinity” was released originally for the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. It was later released for PCs and there’s even an iPad version.
There are two different modes: Play Set mode and Toy Box mode. In Play Set, you play through the game as different characters from each film, such as Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” You then go through a specific campaign, based on the film you’re playing.
The game knows which pieces you’d like to play because you place a special disk into the Infinity Base. One or two players can play in this mode.
You can’t mix players from different films in Play Set mode. If you want Lightning McQueen to hang out with Mr. Incredible, however, you play Toy Box mode.
Toy Box is what’s known as an open sandbox, in video game lingo. In this mode, you can build your own world, mix and match players, and basically just roam around and discover new things.
This is also where you interact with stuff you unlocked in Play Set mode, such as vehicles and weapons. This mode also supports online multiplayer, so you can play with people who aren’t even physically in the same room as you.
Why It Works
The game is more than just a game; it’s also about collecting figurines. As GameSpot’s Kevin VanOrd wrote when the game was released, “‘Disney Infinity’ isn’t just a game, but a platform as well — in this case, a platform designed to keep you spending money.”
The game boosted Disney’s interactive unit to post a $US14 million profit, which was its third consecutive quarterly profit. And in 2013, it was one of the 10 best-selling games in the U.S., according to the New York Times.
Every movie that comes out is a potential goldmine.
A starter pack, which includes the game, base, and some figurines, will set you back around $US75. Then there are play sets you can buy, which have a couple different characters. Those cost around $US30. And individual figurines cost around $US15.
That’s not to mention all the accessories, like special “Infinity”-themed game controllers and “base protectors” you can get.
At the unveiling of “Infinity” in January 2013, Pixar’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, described what draws people to the game, and its future potential:
They call it a toy chest. It has all your toys. You pull out your play sets. You just do whatever you want. To me, I also look at it as a tool chest for creativity that we’re giving everybody. What’s staggering is not what’s happening with it right now, but the potential of what’s going to happen in the future. When it gets out there in the hands of kids, and adults, of creative people and just getting off and rearing stuff and creating stories and juxtapositions that we can’t even imagine now, that’s what’s so exciting and I’ve never seen that before in any game for this level of quality and aesthetic and beauty and fun.
Lasseter even joked that “Infinity” might even be tempting for Disney fans who aren’t necessarily video game players.
“I do want you to notice how cool these [figures] are, folks,” he said. “Even if you’re not into video games, baby, you’ve gotta have these.”
And this is just the beginning.
Disney will launch the next version of the game, “Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes,” in the fall. This will bring Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and others, as well as Disney originals, like Maleficent from the new live-action movie, and Merida from the film “Brave.”
And others want in on the party. Nintendo showed off its entrant in the “toys-to-life” category of gaming, called Amiibo, at this year’s E3 conference. Nintendo hopes Amiibo help boost sales of its dying Wii U game console.
Hey, if it worked for the House of Mickey, then Nintendo bets it can work for the House of Mario, as well.