A few weeks ago I interviewed Disney Infinity 3.0 senior producer Ryan Rothenberger about the latest Marvel-themed content coming to the popular toys-to-life gaming platform, and we spent much of that conversation joyously thinking about the future of the game. From potential new Star Wars sets and classic Disney characters, to cosmic Marvel characters we'd both like to see get their own character figures. Little did I know a few weeks later it'd be all for naught.
Earlier this week, that potential future was obliterated when seemingly out of nowhere Disney cancelled Disney Infinity, shutdown developer Avalanche Software, stopped its toy production, and basically put an end to their own gaming division. Going forward, Disney will license out its properties to mitigate risk similar to how they currently do with its Star Wars IP. It's a shocking revelation, especially given how Disney Infinity helped turn around Disney's gaming efforts (which had previously resulted in major losses), but we now have a better of idea of how and why this all happened when it did.
It didn't take long for Disney Infinity to dominate the toys-to-life market, overcoming Skylanders last year and remaining the market leader even after LEGO Dimensions debuted with its equally impressive licensed properties (which includes Jurassic World, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Doctor Who, DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, and may more). So, if it was the top seller in the genre, the "hit" game so to speak, why was Disney Infinity canned?
What Killed Infinity?
The abrupt shutdown of Avalanche Software, ending 300 jobs alongside it, is the culmination of three major issues:
- Inventory vs. Sales
- A lack of corporate synergy
- Internal competition from Star Wars: Battlefront
When Disney Infinity first debuted in Q3 2013 the supply didn't meet demand and production could barely keep up to maintain appropriate inventory levels at retail, so by the time Disney Infinity 2.0 came around - based entirely on Marvel - they over-produced big time. The problem was that the forecasts were way off, and using Hulk as an example, 2 million figures were produced with only 1 million being sold. That led to a drop in revenue reported in Disney's financials.
That very same issue - the biggest reason Disney Infinity ultimately failed to remain a viable investment for corporate - has a lot to do with corporate itself and this leads into point #2. Despite Disney Infinity utilizing Disney-owned properties, there were a significant number of mind-boggling obstacles with licensing that caused all sorts of restrictions. In that respect, the business sort of killed its own business. Brands couldn't exactly overlap with ease, so Marvel, Lucasfilm and other Disney IPs each presented their own squabbles.
This is why story modes in the Playsets wouldn't allow for characters from other brands to show up, or even with playsets themselves. Want to use Venom in your Avengers playset? Noooooopppeeeee. Those restrictions were why the game's free-form, open-world Toy Box became such a large focus, so the developer could position all the characters as actual toys, and let them - for licensing purposes anyway - share the screen together, albeit without a story.
The other issue arising from this is that each company had their own demands, so as Kotaku points out, when the developers wanted to explore the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel forced certain characters to all be included, so Yondu (Michael Rooker's blue-skinned alien character) became part of the set - but was a character who players didn't generally care to buy. Marvel forced those losses on the game division instead of allowing them to focus on just the popular characters.
Lastly, while Disney Infinity was an in-house project from a Disney-owned developer and while the focus of Disney Infinity 3.0 was all Star Wars, all of the other triple-A Star Wars games are coming exclusively from publisher Electronic Arts who Disney licensed out the property for as a way to reduce risk. The idea behind the timing of this partnership's first game, Star Wars: Battlefront, was that it would largely reach a different audience than the younger, kids-focused Infinity Playsets. That wasn't the case, and Battlefront's appeal and simplified design (which actually hurt the quality of Battlefront ironically) appealed to everyone, so Disney was competing against itself last year on this front - the same year Star Wars: The Force Awakens was relaunching the film franchise.
The same issue "ultimatum" issues came from Lucasfilm which saw developers forced to develop characters and levels for the Star Wars Rebels animated series instead of focusing on the far more popular movies like they wanted to, according to Kotaku's sources:
"Those kind of ultimatums were very prevalent in negotiations for creating new toys for Disney Infinity."
In many ways, Disney Infinity had something special and still had all sorts of potential, but their rigid licensing issues and internal struggles with other Disney divisions saw them kill their own very special project. Insiders claim there were talks with Hasbro about ideas to continue the project but nothing came of it and Hasbro offered no comment.
Despite all of that, the Disney Infinity team did try to do something different and capitalize on a market created by Activision's Skylanders franchise, using that idea to bring cool and unique classic characters together to let gamers of all ages simply have fun. John Vignocchi, VP of Production on Disney Infinity said it best:
I’d like to think that we contributed to the legacy of Disney in some way and created memories for you, your friends and family w/ our game.
— John Vignocchi (@JohnVignocchi) May 11, 2016
We wish the best the best of luck to everyone involved and the Avalanche team!
Disney Infinity 3.0: Marvel Battlegrounds is currently available. Three new Alice Through the Looking Glass characters debut later this month and the Finding Dory playset releases in June.Game Of Thrones: Why The Mountain Was Recast (Twice)
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