In its modern form, Disney isn’t just a movie company. He does everything. With multiple streaming services, a sprawling theme park empire, countless movie studios, Disney has so much at its disposal that it is under constant controversy and scrutiny over whether it whether or not it violated U.S. monopoly laws. But one area Disney isn’t as invested in is video games. You will see Disney characters appear in licensed video games, namely the Kingdom Hearts franchise – but the days of Disney having an in-house video game company are long gone. Former Disney CEOs like Bob Iger have even been open about Disney’s inability to enter the video game space. But why? What’s stopped Disney from getting into this medium when its reach extends to so many different places?
Disney’s forays into gaming began with a company called Walt Disney Computer Software Inc. In 1993, the Los Angeles Times did a breakdown of the company that noted how little impact that division had left on the Disney empire. While in 1993 Disney’s animation division was in the midst of one of its greatest peaks, Walt Disney Computer Software Inc., home to just 46 employees at the time, barely left a ripple . Key people in the company noted that the ambitions of this outfit were to emphasize establishing recognizable characters in video games rather than pioneering new technologies, while outside critics were disappointed with the quality of video games released so far with the Disney label.
Disney’s video game downfall was all about timing
A key issue with the division was seen as its heavy reliance on creating video games for various Disney movies, but failing to release those titles when the movies were hot. A good example of this is how a video game based on Aladdin was noted in the article as an upcoming title for Walt Disney Computer Software Inc… but the movie had already been released six months before the article was published. Yet even at this troubled stage, the Mouse House had released its share of acclaimed and even highly lucrative games, including Disney’s Waterfall Island and one Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Game. Disney was able to release successful video games… it just had to be the right conditions.
Walt Disney Computer Software Inc. becomes Disney Interactive
In December 1994, the company was renamed the less wordy Disney Interactive. There were initially long-term plans for the new form of Disney Interactive to usher in an era of Disney producing in-house video games that dominated the world. Some of the titles that followed managed to take off thanks to their association with beloved brands like toy story Where The Lion King, but these ambitions were short-lived. Disney pulled out of the in-house video game business (not for the last time) in April 1997. The change was widely attributed to new video game technologies on the horizon. Rather than spending large sums of money overhauling Disney Interactive so that it could create in-house games to keep up with all the new technology, Disney cut its losses and decided to license only its various characters and brands. to third-party developers.
It’s unlikely that Disney would have gone this route if in-house video games had become a massive undertaking for the Mouse House or if they had created something hugely popular in the 1990s video game scene: an exclusive mascot character in video games. In this era, everything from Sonic the Hedgehog to Crash Bandicoot to Gex the Gecko managed to leave a mark on gamers. These characters bonded with players and offered adventures you couldn’t get in any other medium. Because Disney only saw games as a way to extend the life and brand viability of movies and TV shows, Disney Interactive never produced the kind of thrilling original character that might have justified keeping in-house games longer.
Bob Iger made sweeping changes at Disney
A decade passes. Time passes. Just as the sun rises and sets, a new regime is taking effect at Disney. The Bob Iger The Disney era brought many drastic changes to the business. Disney Interactive and its short-lived successor Buena Vista Games were no more. Disney Interactive Studios would now be the umbrella label for all games published by Disney. While Disney was still licensing characters to outside game companies, the focus was now on doing more and more projects in-house. Acquiring a variety of video game developers was key to this task. For example, Avalanche Software was purchased in 2005 and the company was tasked with making games like Lock and Toy Story 3. Propaganda games, on the other hand, have developed Tron: Evolution and the unpublished Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned for Disney.
Taking over these companies for new projects for Disney was consistent with Bob Iger’s general approach to entertainment in his tenure at the helm of this company, as evidenced by his purchases of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. However, the new version from Disney Interactive was not taking off as it should have. For one thing, in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Disney didn’t have a massive amount of new blockbuster movies it could turn into great video games. The studio was not without hits, but projects like G-force Where bedtime stories weren’t going to inspire hit Playstation 3 titles. Disney Animation wouldn’t fully regain its mojo until Tangled in 2010 and Disney being able to release new Marvel movies was still years away. Once again, relying so heavily on movie-related games hurt Disney Interactive.
Video game franchises are struggling to take off
Perhaps more fatally, attempts to launch video game franchises have struggled. Turok was a hit, but it failed to land a sequel. Ultimate Bandan attempt to take advantage of Guitar Hero and Rock band the craze of the late 2000s quickly faded into oblivion. An attempt to revive Mickey Mouse as a modernized video game hero in epic mickey also failed to grab the players. It had been well over a decade, but Disney Interactive Studios was still struggling to produce the kind of standalone hits that define a video game company. Its internal exit plan desperately needed a hard-hitting original concept to give it an extra boost. This became all the more important as video game ties to movies dwindled dramatically in presence in the early 2010s. Disney needed to find another path to churning out successful video games, and quickly.
There was a big Disney Interaction swing in the early 2010s that had the potential to forever change its approach to the game internally: disney infinity. Building on the popularity of Skylanders, disney infinity combined action figures with video games and allowed players to combine a multitude of different Disney characters (from Jack Sparrow to Olaf the Snowman) in one game. It was an appealing concept, and unlike many other high-profile Disney Interactive projects, this one took off. Nearly six months after its launch, news broke that the disney infinity game (complete with three starter action figures) had sold over three million copies.
Over the next two years, new versions of disney infinity which added Marvel superheroes and various star wars characters in the mix, it seemed like this franchise could go on forever. However, in the summer of 2015, dark clouds were forming over the series that was supposed to work as Disney Interactive’s savior. Sales of the game and its accompanying figurines had slowed significantly by this point. Disney Interactive as a whole had a tough quarter in the middle of 2015, which ran within the company due to adjustments in the type of games people played on consoles. Once again, we see how a familiar issue comes back to hurt Disney’s video game ambitions. Much like the late 1990s, the changes in the game were upsetting Disney rather than seen as an opportunity for the company to grow and change.
The writing was on the wall
The writing was already on the wall that Disney Interactive’s future darkened in early 2014 when the division laid off 700 people. The outlook darkened further with the simultaneous announcement in May 2016 that disney infinity would close and that Disney Interactive would withdraw from the in-house video game business. The news made sense on several fronts, including how Disney’s latest big acquisition, star wars, had already reached an agreement in 2013 for EA Games to develop new video games in the franchise. Disney Interactive couldn’t even turn to newly acquired Disney properties to help boost profits, among countless other issues.
Disney’s ongoing failures in the world of home video game titles have been so pronounced that former CEO Bob Iger even openly admitted in February 2019 that the company just isn’t particularly good at it. It is not difficult to understand why. Between an overreliance on relying on movie-related games, a lack of much-needed original game characters, and most importantly an inability to adapt to the changing gaming world, Disney’s time in the gaming business video internally had more misses than wins.