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Tweenage kicks

Tweenage kicks
While the Disney of old might prompt images of Mickey Mouse and charming early movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the modern, colossally powerful corporation has undoubtedly moved on.

Family-friendly entertainment remains at its core, of course – but in 2008, the likes of Zac Efron, Vanessa Hugdens and Hannah Montana have usurped Mickey, Donald et al as the most bankable stars in Disney’s rich entertainment stable.

This sense of not clinging desperately to past glories is similarly reflected in its approach to the games industry – while a solid base has been established through the use of its most recognisable stars, it wants more. Much more.

The release of Pure was not just a landmark release in terms of it being the first title from its big-money signing Black Rock (formerly Climax Racing) – it is also new IP that isn’t aimed at existing fans of Disney’s huge stable of cross-media brands. And there’s more to come, says Disney Interactive Studios boss Graham Hopper.

“These games are aimed at a broad audience – they’re not aimed at core gamers at the exclusion of casual consumers, they’re franchises aimed at gamers in general,” he tells MCV. “With Pure and Think Fast I think we have something for everyone. If you want intense gameplay or if you just want to sit around a TV and have fun and do a quiz game, there’s a lot more social gaming from us this year. That’s what people want to do – get together and have fun and we’ll have the titles for them to do that.”

Following in the wake of February’s chart success with Turok – rated ‘15’ by the BBFC – Pure is another key platform on which Disney intends to build its ‘serious’ gaming reputation. But it is clear that those bedrock franchises and family-focused properties are still Disney’s bread and butter.

“I think we were a little surprised by the tremendous success that we had with Sing It! last year, so this year we think we’re going to really be able to really capitalise on that success more strongly by combining our other huge franchise we have in High School Musical with Sing It,” says Hopper.

“So we feel pretty good about these products and we think that many, many families will be taking them home and enjoying them.”

And a key point of difference with Disney is the cross-media synergies that its brands are able to offer.

“One of the advantages that Disney has is that when we market, it’s not just what we put out in the media and in the trade – it’s what we’re able to do with our other assets,” Hopper says. That strategy, so far, has seen Disney-specific POS invade retail, offering DVD, CD soundtracks, and of course games, all in one go.

The sheer number of properties ripe for a video game incarnation is mind-boggling – so much so, in fact, that despite Disney’s huge investment in building its studio base, it is not snatching back its licences just yet.

“We publish more content than we can produce ourselves, so the ability to use good licensing partners is really valuable. We have a relationship with THQ, Konami and others. And we’ll continue to do that where we have more content than we have resource to deal with that,” says Hopper. “We’re not going to rush into expansion just for the sake of it.”

That sense of steady progression is clear in Hopper’s projections for the next year – there are no ‘we’ll be as big as EA’-type statements here, just a focus on building a reputation for making quality titles.

“We do have targets in a creative sense – we’ve got to feel that we’re delivering titles that are the best in the industry and so far the indications are that we’re doing that,” says Hopper.

“If we can bring that together on a worldwide basis then I’d be very happy. So I don’t have specific targets at all in terms of the amount of number ones, top tens or sales – I’m looking for creative achievement.

BIGGER AND BETTER
“I think we need to be a little bigger than we are currently and we’re investing to be bigger than we are today. It isn’t a goal for us to challenge other publishers for specific slots in the rankings – we need to be big enough so we can be running an attractive business,” he adds.

“We’ll grow, but we feel that once you say ‘we want to be as big as publisher X’ then that starts to affect your decisions. We won’t grow just for the sake of it.”

Disney is targeting expansion, sure – but the pragmatic approach so evident in Hopper’s responses suggest that there won’t be a desperate rush to buy studios and quickly pump out title after title.

Like the wider Disney Corporation, careful evolution of the brand and a nose for sniffing out new opportunities will be Disney Interactive Studios’ way of progressing. And you’d be a fool to bet against this approach reaping serious rewards over the next few years.

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