Disney Infinity looks like a Skylanders clone, but its roots go deep at Disney’s Avalanche (interview)

disney infinity incrediblesGamesBeat: How soon are some of those other playsets coming?

Blackburn: At launch, we’ll have Cars and Lone Ranger. Then there’s another playset we’ll be announcing in the holiday season. That would be six altogether, plus the Toy Box. Then there’s a bunch of individual characters and those kinds of things that we’ll roll out as well.

GamesBeat: Do you think of the playsets as expansion packs, sort of?

Blackburn: I think of them as games. When we’re going through and creating them, everything has a common core for the way all the biped characters move, but we have so many other gameplay mechanics in there. It’s crazy. We have never had anything that came anywhere close to this in terms of scale. We have rowboats and pirate ships and jet packs, all sorts of guns, melee combat, mounts, you can fly — all that stuff to take into account — and then you can edit your whole world while you’re playing. That’s one of the key things about it. Within the Toy Box mode, if you get a chance to look at it, that could be an entire game in and of itself.

Talking about an expansion pack, I think maybe the users could perceive it that way. The way I look at this, though, if I’m a fan of a particular Disney property that comes out — say we’ve got a movie next summer — and I want to buy a game for that, I’m incorporating it into my Infinity game. But I’m probably going to play that entire thing as a game right then and there. “Expansion pack” makes it seems like a little add-on. A playset is a brand-new game even though it does interface with everything else.

GamesBeat: Did you have any way to test the waters with this, to see whether consumers would go for it?

Blackburn: We obviously do a lot of market testing and that sort of thing. Some of the biggest consumer tests were actually our own kids and some key executives’ kids. The Toy Box mode in Toy Story 3 was critically acclaimed, but what we all saw was that it was the first time our wives would play with our kids. When our sons and daughters played together, it worked. Some of the key stakeholders in the company, the key creative guys, their kids played it too. We felt like Toy Story 3 was, from a gameplay standpoint, a trial balloon out there. We felt like we’d found something and that we wanted to push that even further. As far as the toy component, it was obvious once we saw the success of Skylanders that this is a way people want to interact and get more content.

The Lone Ranger playset

Above: The Lone Ranger playset

Image Credit: Disney

GamesBeat: After the launch, do you look at this as a kind of service platform?

Blackburn: Yes, we do. It depends on which platform you’re talking about. There are more service elements on some compared to others. Number one, we do feel like we’re launching a community, particularly with all the user-generated content and all the curation of those things. We’re definitely starting a service there. We’re also debating whether we want to put out more content that we create on our own into that platform.

We have a couple of different logistical issues there — the Wii is a bit more hampered because it doesn’t have storage – but we’re definitely assuming that with all future versions of Infinity, where we’ll be in more of a digital-distribution environment, that will be easier for us. All the platforms that people are working on will have storage, and there will be more content that can come that way.

GamesBeat: Is there a path that you’re going down that you think is different from where Skylanders appears to be headed? One is that they’re doing a game every year, right? That seems clear so far.

Blackburn: Right. The way we’re thinking about this is that it’s a platform that we can use to capture some of the excitement that Disney has. It’s also a way to go back and, with a reasonable investment, bring out new content for some of our old franchises that wouldn’t necessarily deserve. Like, Aladdin might never be capable of getting its own game right now, but we can bring some content back into it through this. From a year-to-year standpoint, we’re looking at a method where, in the future, content will just come along with the films and those sorts of things. It won’t just be one big dump every year.

GamesBeat: When it comes to the multiplatform approach, on their side, they’ve put their feet into mobile. Disney has all these social-mobile platforms as well. How do you feel about how far you want to spread this?

Blackburn: We’re pretty bullish on mobile right now. We’re definitely supporting that. We have details that will be coming out a bit later in our PR cycle on this. Those games have been in development, and we’re getting ready to show them right now. We want to try to make sure those games are as good as they can be for those platforms and that they can appeal to the gameplay type on those platforms. We don’t think you want to sit down and play a six-hour experience on your phone. We’ve gone through and changed all those mechanics and tried to work them in elegantly with the whole theory of toy collection and how all these other parts fit together. So we’re definitely doing that, and we’ll be launching it soon.

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