Sunday, January 6, 2013

Disney Infinity May Include Physical Toys?

Although concrete details are scant, Disney Infinity has been reported as a new cross platform gaming franchise starring the ever popular Pixar and Disney characters. If rumors are correct it is being developed by Avalanche Studios and will likely draw on their impressive “Toy Box” mode in Toy Story 3: The Video Game where players could interact with and edit the world, much like family favorite Minecraft.

Other reports increased anticipation with leaked screen shots from videos (curiously not posted) that suggest Disney Infinity will involve action game-play involving grappling hooks, airplanes and cars alongside on-foot running, jumping and exploration.

Before this recent influx of info, expectations were that Disney Infinity would include physical toys like Skylanders that would grant access to characters and worlds in the game. However, with no sign of further information on this toy tie-in, expectations have cooled somewhat, with just a cursory mention to “playing cards with character cost and attributes on them” in the Polygon report. If Disney Infinity were to include this functionality they would likely need their own Portal peripheral to use the toys with different gaming devices — although of course the Wii U could use NFC in its Game-pad controller.

In this respect Disney Mobile’s recent AppMates Cars 2 game for the iPad is of interest. Not only does this serve as a recent example of a physical toy used interactively in a Disney videogame, but also of their focus on mobile devices. AppMates Cars 2 is a free iPad app that lets players control various Cars characters with a physical toy you place on the tablet. Disney Mobile partnered with Spin Master, creators of Bakugan and other toy brands, to cross the toy-video-game divide with AppMates.

While Activision moves from purely video-games to toys and games, Spin Master is doing the same in the opposite direction. As reported in the Financial Post, it has “just given the go-ahead to develop four digital gaming apps that will debut in the second half of 2013. The apps are based on its Air Hogs, Tech Deck and Spy Gear toys, as well as one for a new toy that will also tie in to a game and entertainment franchise.”

It is a bit of a leap to assume that this “new toy” for an “entertainment franchise” equates to Disney Infinity, but it is equally unlikely that Disney will ignore the success of both Skylanders and its own AppMates product. Spin Master and Disney would certainly be well placed to partner on a product of this nature.

To add more grist to the grinder, although the Walt Disney Company as a whole makes a tidy profit (enough to have recently bought Lucasfilm), its Disney Interactive arm operated at a loss in fiscal year 2012. Even Epic Mickey 2, which I seem to be alone in loving to bits, wasn’t able to help receiving a lukewarm critical reception (Meta Critic average of 64 currently). The pressure is on to create a profitable interactive product; what better way to do this than to go down the Skylanders route?

However it turns out at the announcement in Hollywood on January 15, Disney Infinity already looks like a brave move in tough economic times, and one that certainly makes a lot of sense — leveraging those family friendly Disney characters, for a start. The challenge will be balancing the investment that consumers are asked to make against the value it offers. I’ll report back with a FGTV Disney Infinity episode when I learn more in a couple of weeks.

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