INTERVIEW: Disney Interactive

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Disney Interactive

You’ve got a lot of brands tied with big movie releases. In terms of portfolio planning, that must be the central pillar of your strategy?

If there is a big tent pole movie coming, we’ll take a long hard look at it. And if we decide that it has long-term appeal and that we can create a great game around it then, oh sure, we’ll take that story and those characters and create a big game.

Major products for us this year include Cars, which is a significant franchise for our company, and we’ve announced a massively multiplayer online game for that, World of Cars. We’ll get behind Cars 2 in a big way when that movie comes out. Pirates of the Caribbean is another in which we have major titles tied to theatrical releases. Tron is looking fantastic for November. Toy Story 3 comes out in the summer and we’ll have a multi-platform video games tied to that.

But that’s not all we do. It depends on the property. For instance, the next big theatrical release is Alice in Wonderland. We have great games for that but just for Wii and DS. We also look at something like The Jonas Brothers on The Disney Channel and ask ourselves ‘what can we do with that?’

We just acquired Marvel Entertainment and we’ll look carefully at creating a whole range of multi-platform experiences to those.

Plus, we are working on products that are derivative of existing properties like Epic Mickey, which will roll out in the next 12 months. That title is based on the history of Disney characters with Mickey Mouse at the centre of it, but it’s a whole new story and a whole new approach that’s not tied to a particular movie.

And we have a title called Split Second, which is a racing title and isn’t tied to anything else at the company.

Why, with an almost limitless array of classic IP, would you risk coming to market with new IP?

We are looking to broaden our audience and that’s one of the reasons why we bought Marvel. But we also like the category of racing and we felt we had the talent to create something new. It broadens our audience, gets us into a new category and makes us less dependent on – and more flexible with – what is coming out of the rest of the company. Of course Marvel creates a whole new set of opportunities for us.

Overall, our strategy is a combination of IP that is originally produced elsewhere in the company; derivative products based on Disney franchises, like Mickey, and original IP. We’ll certainly do more original IP to broaden our portfolio.

How about franchises based on properties within other Disney companies like ABC and ESPN?

We do look at those and others, but with ABC the opportunities are kinda limited and ESPN has a significant deal with EA. Disney is where we have a lot of great franchises and now Marvel.

It seems difficult to actually realise congruent synergies within an organisation as vast as Disney. How do you cope with that task?

Disney has become good at that. Take Tron as an example. The producer of the movie was talking to us about a game before really getting anywhere on the script, and has been heavily involved in tying the game and movie together. The game’s story is a prequel to the film.

Basically it’s getting the right talent  – whether it’s the producer of the movie or the director of the game – talking early. And this is one thing that Disney is great at. Of course, it’s not as simple as doing whatever we want in a vacuum but the end result is better because we have a whole story arc that makes sense to people and all links together. And if you are trying to build an intellectual property across platforms, it needs to make sense.

I have been at the company for almost 17 years and I’d say that in the last four years, we have become much, much better at it, particularly in our space. In interactive media the growth has continued to increase, and so we get the call earlier than we did in years past. There was a time when we’d get the call when they were well into the process; now it’s right at the beginning.

Understanding children is a big part of Disney’s role. What are you learning about children today?

Kids are as advanced – or more so – than anyone. They consume a huge amount of media. They multitask and want to engage across platforms. If they run into a limitation they just don’t get it. They can’t understand why they wouldn’t be able to access something from anywhere.

We know that when a kid gets interested in something – a toy or a character – they want the full version. They want to really be in it. That means anywhere they are or whatever they are doing, they want access, and so we’re making sure we provide that access.

Look at Club Penguin. The kids who are in that online world love it. We know that if we are going to create other products based on this IP they can’t just be separate experiences. They need to be tied into that world. So when we did a game on DS we integrated it into that online world, by offering codes that access exclusive areas. We have seen huge success with that.

Our next Club Penguin DS game will be even more integrated with the online world.

What about the changing nature of their demands for ever-more sophisticated experiences?

Kids want to be able to manipulate the worlds they experience. That’s something they expect. We want to let them design what they want to happen and what they want to play. Let’s give them the tools. Toy Story 3 has an element called Toy Box, which is a manifestation of that. We are just listening to what kids are saying to us, especially via our online worlds, so we know what they want and respond to. They want to be creators, and so let’s let them be creators.

You have talked about your affinity with the Nintendo platforms. You’re not one of those publishers that’s critical of Wii as a good platform for third parties?

Nintendo platforms have been successful for us. Partially it’s the demographic. Our demographic is right on that platform. We have also been happy to see recent moves with the next generation platforms, and price cuts do help enormously and we see an uptake when that happens. We like being on multiple platforms, but yes, the majority of our products are produced for Nintendo platforms.

But, as I said, we are expanding our demographics. Pirates of the Caribbean is an intense role playing game for a broad multi-platform audience. I don’t think the rating will be M, it won’t, but the sophistication of the gameplay will be advanced, as it will with our Marvel products and some of our new IP.

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