Disney: We want to see how devs use our IP to improve lives

Disney Interactive's Matt Carroll discusses the firm's new funding initiative for games studios and tech start-ups
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Last week, Disney and Creative England announced they were teaming up to find and fund a new digital product that will help encourage families to lead healthier lives.

Games developers are invited to pitch their ideas by April 20th, and are free to use any Disney properties in their concepts – and yes, that includes everything connected to Marvel and Star Wars.

With up to £95,000 in funding up for grabs, we spoke to Disney Interactive director Matt Carroll (pictured) to find out what the House of Mouse is looking for.


Tell us about this new programme. What are you hoping to find?
We’re looking for technology and digital designers to come up with a new digital tool that will inspire families to come together and choose healthier lifestyles.

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The programme works in two steps. The first is a call for concepts, from which we’ll pick three projects to have an initial fund of £5,000 each – just to work up that concept a little bit more. From there, we’ll make a selection of one project, which will receive £80,000 towards substantive production development.

The successful recipient of the funds will have until February to make something. And that something could be pretty much anything at this stage: it just needs to be digital. It could be an app, an online tool, something with wearable tech, something that uses physical stuff mixed with digital, it could even be a video short. At this stage, it’s completely open.

And when it comes to concepts, developers are welcome to use the entire catalogue of Disney properties at this stage. That not only means Mickey Mouse and the traditional characters, but also Star Wars characters like Darth Vader and Marvel characters like Thor.

You mentioned wearable technology as a possible area developers could explore, although it isn’t widely used by the public as of yet. Is that more of a long-term prospect?
Yes. I can’t say I’m an expert on it, but I’ve certainly seen wearable technology examples that I do think bring families together. For example, perhaps something fitness-themed could be made into something more fun and interactive.

The winning project could be an app, an online tool, something with wearable tech, something that uses physical stuff mixed with digital, it could even be a video short. At this stage, it’s completely open.

I was joking in the office about a tool that revolves around a pedometer. If a child walks to school every day, that’s ten walking trips that dad has to catch up with by going for a run at the weekend. It just making it a bit more fun, a bit more family-oriented.

Technology can be very isolating, and we know kids can often have the jump on parents. Many of us struggle to keep up with what they’re up to, so any project that perhaps see the family come together because the kids want them to – that’s what we’re looking for.

How did this partnership come about?
In the background, other parts of Disney have worked with Creative England before. Our movie groups have run a couple of projects in the past so we knew of each other. But the big thing is we know Creative England has been upping their game on the development side. Their lead, Jaspal Sohal, first made contact with us and things moved on from there.

Why is Disney keen to get involved with a project like this? What do you hope to accomplish?
We’re trying to achieve a number of things. Firstly, we’re interested in finding out whether there are new ideas or new ways to tackle this topic. We’re very much about families and bringing families together, and we have great IP with stories that can help with that.

We also know that the UK is a hotbed for technology, talent and creativity so we know there are some very smart people out there. Another objective for us is to find ways to find these new ideas and take them in a direction no one has ever thought of.

We know our properties make great stories and can create a good setting. We’re interested in seeing how people combine these with their ambition, and create something that would be really compelling.

We do a lot of entertainment products, we’re well known for that. It would be good to do something that extends our stories with a slightly different objective.

What can games developers bring to this? While will this initiative appeal to them?
I guess gamification is the buzzword of the moment, and we know that it can make things more interesting, as well as easier to understand and navigate.

We know our properties make great stories and can create a good setting. We’re interested in seeing how people who look at the world differently and understand technology could perhaps use that, combine these stories with their ambition, and create something that would be really compelling.

Hopefully developers can for this project do something that’s a bit different to the run-of-the-mill games that are commercially out in the marketplace. Hopefully, they can create something that’s a change for good as well.

What are you guys looking for? What will help developers get onto that shortlist of just three projects?
To be honest, we don’t know yet. We want to see something inspiring, that does bring families together, and that we feel is realistic and could become a real product. But we don’t know what’s out there, and it won’t be until we see stuff that we’ll get a better idea of how far it could go.

In a way, I’m secretly hoping that we love so many projects that there will be more opportunities beyond this initial programme.

The brief on this is really open. It’s not like we’ve already got an idea and we’re looking for someone to make it – we really don’t know what’s out there. In other cases like this, we’ve been surprised what you find when you ask for it.

Any words of advice for developers before they pitch?
Think broadly about the brief. Healthy lifestyles is a very broad remit: it could mean activities, good food choices, safety messages around road safey, or social mentorships. If there’s someone out there who has been thinking about these challenges and issues, and thinks they have a solution, we can help by offering a story and IP. We’d love to find out more about your ideas.

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