INTERVIEW – Matt Carroll

We’ve talked about the emergence of major media companies entering the market an awful lot of late.

Warner, Viacom, Fox, Hasbro and Marvel have all either made moves already or are thinking about it. And it has given the likes of EA and Activision Blizzard something to think about.

But all this time, we’ve had one of the world’s most famous media companies steadily building its games publishing business, maximising its IP and buying up developers.

Disney’s ambitions in the games space are hugely significant – and they provide a decent model which media giants currently eyeing up gaming would do well to follow.

Properties like High School Musical and Hannah Montana are prime examples of where Disney differs to more ‘traditional’ games publishers. These properties have each spawned countless movies, toys, CDs and DVDs – and Disney, more so than any other media company of its scale, has placed its gaming output on a par with any of these.

Companies like Warner and ourselves may have a better ability to translate those different experiences,” says Matt Carroll. But I think we want to be good at what we do and if others follow that’s up to them.”

And it’s not just about capitalising on existing IP either. Current chart hit Turok, while based on a well-known gaming franchise, is a sure sign that Disney wants to be a major part of the ‘core’ space too.

We want to create games that appeal to as broad a demographic as possible,” says Carroll. But it’s absolutely true that Turok is aimed at the traditional audience. I think we had lots of expectations for the title but the proof is when it comes out – it’s very gratifying for us to have done well with it because we’ve worked very, very hard on that project for many, many years.”

Another key point of difference for Disney is the audience buying family-focused titles. These people are not your day-one, hardcore games buyer, and should be treated that way, says Carroll.

Many publishers are very front-list focused – there isn’t a lot of time spent on their backlist. For us, it is and will be very important, because of the target audiences we talk to and the brands we represent.

It’s a different way of doing business and it’s something that we want to work harder at. In particular, there’s a lot of attention given to next-gen and Nintendo at the moment, but we think there’s a lot to offer elsewhere and we’ve enjoyed a ten per cent market share on PS2. We’re looking to continue that growth all the time, so that’s the challenge for us this year.”

This kind of approach is certainly different – and requires Disney’s trade partners to think differently too, says Carroll. Some retailers understand us better than others – I wouldn’t say we have everyone fully understanding the opportunity yet. Also the games category is still developing and merging.

The opportunity’s there this year, so I believe they should be allocating more resource to that department. I’m quite optimistic about ’08 but if we just accept where we were last quarter the market won’t develop as much as it should.”

So Disney’s success in this field is clear – but at the same time, it’s equally explicit that the publisher doesn’t want to just be known as ‘the High School Musical people’.

2007 was a year of tremendous growth for us – we’re entering our fourth year as a publisher,” continues Carroll. People will remember us at Christmas for High School Musical but the important thing to note is that it accounted for about half of our business during that quarter and only represented about a quarter of our business for the whole year.

We’ve got a really broad range of successful titles now and that sets us up really well for 2008. This year will shape up to be another year of tremendous growth in the breadth of our portfolio.”

It’s worth remembering that Disney as a games publisher is just four years old. With a division effectively in its infancy, every year has been a significant step toward its ambitious goals, says Carroll.

One of the big changes about 2007 in terms of our relationship with retailers is that people were aware of us but didn’t see us as a major driver of their business – that’s significantly changed now. In 2007 we were the number six publisher on DS and the number six publisher on PS2, so we make a really important contribution to retailers out there.

We’ve had lots of growth and change this year – we’ve a lot of new people that are very talented and are from some intertesting backgrounds. We’re still looking for more people and we’ll continue to add to that.”

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