The marriage of Walt Disney and Marvel will be realized across video game consoles this September with the launch of Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes. The sequel to Disney Interactive’s Disney Infinity game will give The Walt Disney Company (DIS) and Marvel Entertainment a new platform to cross-promote theatrical releases like Guardians of the Galaxy as well as TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The game will feature voice actors from the Marvel animated TV series and movies. Peter Phillips, executive vice president and general manager of interactive and digital distribution at Marvel Entertainment, confirmed that Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury in both the live-action films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. provided voice acting for the new game.
“We took a very similar approach that we do with a lot of Marvel properties by pulling from the best of films, television and comic books,” said John Vignocchi, executive producer of the Disney Infinity franchise. “We’ve taken all of this content and put that together into what’s the best gaming experience for Marvel fans. We’re not trying to make film translations with this franchise, but we will cherry pick all the goodies from the movies.”
Phillips said that since Disney Infinity isn’t a movie game, Marvel will continue to license its film franchises to game makers. Activision has been developing Spider-Man games since before the original film franchise debuted, including the recently released The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “We believe there is a lot of room for different Marvel Games experiences, which reach different audiences across all platforms,” said Phillips.
Disney will launch the new Infinity game with 20 Marvel characters, including The Avengers’ Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor and Hawkeye, as well as Nick Fury, Spider-Man and a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy characters — Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
“We worked collaboratively with the team at Avalanche to decide which characters and franchises to bring to the game, with a primary focus on gameplay,” said Phillips. “It was important to us that each of the characters bring their own unique game mechanics and stories to the game, while also being widely recognizable to the kids and family audience.”
Disney Interactive is focusing all of its efforts on the Disney Infinity platform, which has connected with audiences to the tune of 3.2 million copies sold. In comparison, Activision’s current Skylanders: Swap Force game has sold approximately 3.9 million copies according to Newzoo, and the franchise has sold more than 13.3 million copies to date.
The $75 Disney Infinity game generates additional revenue through the sales of individual toy characters ($13 each) and play sets ($30 each). When placed on the portal, the toys unlock new characters for the Toy Box mode and entire play areas in the game. The Walt Disney World Resort sells the game and toys throughout its theme parks. There’s even a tie-in to the RFID-powered Magic Band technology that’s being used throughout the Orlando parks. Gamers who put their Magic Band on the power coin section of the Infinity portal will unlock the Dragon Gate, which includes the classic Disney dragon.
Disney Infinity 2.0, which is another name for the super hero sequel, is backwards-compatible with all existing characters and play sets. That means Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, Elsa from Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph can join forces with Captain America and Hulk in the sequel’s improved Toy Box mode. Vignocchi said these older characters will receive a virtual upgrade in the new game, unlocking new abilities.
Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada worked closely with developer Avalanche on everything from the story lines to the new-look in-game characters to the to the figure development, which Phillips believes fans will continue to collect. Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Securities forecasts steady sales of approximately 3.2 million Disney Infinity 2.0 video games, but he thinks the Marvel play sets and figures will double in sales thanks to the strong international appeal of super heroes.
“Marvel has a lot of characters, and a lot of marketing support because of the movies, so I think it expands Infinity’s appeal a lot,” said Pachter. “Disney Infinity is a perfect fit with Disney’s branding/merchandising strategy, and its success is both buoyed by the success of its other properties and contributes to their success. I think it is very important for the Interactive division, but not as important to Disney as a whole. It is only a small fraction of the company’s revenues and profits.”
“With the Marvel brand and its characters on board, the Infinity product gets a significant fresh boost,” said Peter Warman of Newzoo. “Most importantly, it now has the potential to appeal more to slightly older kids. This also means it probably will compete more directly with Skylanders, which typically skews a little older than the Infinity when it comes to demographics. I expect the Marvel characters to do better in Asia than the traditional Disney characters, so it could help the global appeal and sales of the game and its figures.”
With Disney Interactive focusing almost exclusively on its Disney Infinity franchise moving forward (it will release Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved this fall), its ownership of Marvel will play an important role in keeping things fresh.
“The interactive nature of video games has always made them a great vehicle for telling our super hero stories and reaching new audiences,” said Phillips. “We’re now creating more interactive and immersive experiences on these platforms, particularly for kids who consume so much of their entertainment on devices from game console to mobile devices.”
Walt Disney Imagineers collaborated with Marvel at sea for the Disney Magic cruise ship Marvel’s Avengers Academy experience, which includes an exclusive Xbox Kinect game featuring Iron Man and real props from the first film. But this new Infinity game allows landlubbers to further explore the rich Marvel mythology anytime and anywhere (it’s also available on mobile devices).
With J.J. Abrams new Star Wars: Episode VII film planned for December 2015, Disney Infinity will likely be expanding into a “galaxy far, far away” for its next iteration. But for now, there are plenty of super heroes to hold the fort and battle Activision’s new Skylanders: Trap Team game this fall.