GamesBeat

Surprise? Disney Infinity’s toy-game push has a mobile strategy

Above: Scott Humphries, John Vignocci, a Dan Lehrich of Disney Infinity team.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

The future of gaming is mobile, but console games are far from dead. That’s why Disney is entering the hot toy-game hybrid market, announcing both a console game and two new mobile apps today.

Disney will launch its Infinity collection of toys and video games on Aug. 18, but it is revealing for the first time that its mobile companion apps include the Disney Infinity: Action! user-generated video app and the Disney Infinity: Toy Box game world creator on the iPad. The Infinity project, which has been several years in the making, is Disney’s attempt to take its giant physical store-based toy business into the digital world of mobile, tablets, and game consoles. It will make or break the career of John Pleasants, the former Playdom chief executive who now runs Disney’s game business.

The Disney Infinity collection of toys and video games (dubbed Play Sets) represents Disney’s big attempt at creating cross-media entertainment in both the physical retail and digital distribution markets. The toys that come to life inside its video game are its unique twist on the toy-game hybrid market. If successful, it could create a big hole in Activision’s $1 billion Skylanders toy-game business.  With a mobile app, Disney could have a differentiator, since Activision hasn’t announced any mobile apps (or cross-platform mobile-console apps in particular) since it launched its first Skylanders games on iOS last year.

Disney’s new apps will also target the iOS platform.

Toy Box is a very ambitious product because it aims to duplicate the experience of creating game worlds on the console. It’s not a half-assed mobile app with stripped down features. The app lets you create and edit your own game worlds using Disney props and characters in a blank slate called the Toy Box. The app is interoperable across platforms. That means you can create a world on the iPad and then view it or edit it on your game console.

You can do that because Disney is revealing its new cloud-based identity system, dubbed Disney ID, with the launch of Disney Infinity. John Vignocchi (pictured at top, middle), executive producer on Infinity, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the identity system enables a true cross-platform experience. You can, for instance, create a custom world with the Toy Box mode on the console, mixing and matching characters from different Disney properties. Then you can save it to the cloud. You can then go to a friend’s house and access it via an Xbox 360 or an iPad.

Since building things with your fingers on a touchscreen is intuitive, creating new worlds and games within Infinity can actually be easier than doing it with a game console, Dan Lehrich (pictured at top, right), senior producer at Disney Interactive, told GamesBeat. You can create the world from a menu-based interface and then link complex actions together. If you kick a ball into a soccer goal, for instance, you can trigger a fireworks display.

The Disney Infinity: Action! app jumps on the trend for user-generated content, allowing you to shoot videos and magically splice them into scenes with Disney’s cartoon characters. The mixed-reality app blends a video with the animated cartoon characters. It enables fans to create gag videos that they can share instantly on YouTube, Facebook, or via email.

“The apps will help make Disney Infinity one of the most connected, cross-platform game initiatives ever developed,” Vignocchi said. “Disney ID is very important to the Infinity experience.”

Disney’s previous attempts at creating toy-game hybrids, dubbed Actimates for the iPad, are not compatible with the Infinity apps. But Infinity is a surprisingly well-coordinated assault on the toy-game market, with different Disney divisions working in concert together. Disney’s own Infinity game team worked with a variety of mobile game creators to bring the apps to life. Lehrich said the apps were in the works for a long time, and they are integrated into the strategy, not just tacked on top of the console games.

For instance, when you buy an Infinity toy, you can set it on top of your Infinity game base and play with that character in a game world that has the same theme. Woody, for instance, will be playable inside a Toy Story-like world in Infinity. The toy will also come with a code that you can use to unlock the same character in the Toy Box mobile app. You can also buy digital-only characters inside the mobile app for 99 cents.


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