Today it's hard to call Disney's approach to the video game industry an approach. All we mainly get are cheap mobile games, EA Star Wars games, and the occasional Kingdom Hearts. I think Disney can get back into gaming, I think it begins with them buying Ubisoft.
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My biggest issue with Disney’s approach to gaming today is that it’s hard to even call it an approach. They’re not really doing anything with gaming these days. It’s no secret either. Back in May of 2016, to the surprise of many fans, Disney not only cancelled Disney Infinity but they also announced their plans to back out of video game publishing entirely and instead depend on licensing out their intellectual property to publishers like EA.
Today when it comes to Disney and video games what we get are mostly low budget mobile games and licensed Star Wars titles from EA. There’s also Kingdom Hearts but let’s be real here, it’s one series, and the last full console release came out 11 years ago. Sometimes I think maybe Disney forgot that Square Enix is even working on it. This is a pretty sad shadow of Disney’s past with gaming. Sure they weren’t a major powerhouse, but they had put out some really good games at the time.
So what’s the problem? It’s all nothing spectacular, but it’s safe and reliable. Well, that’s the problem. It’s safe! This is Disney. This is the company founded on the ideal of taking creative risks. Walt put everything he had on the line to start making animated shorts. He did it again to make Snow White years later. He did it again even later to build Disneyland.
“Yeah but that was Walt. He’s been dead for a long time now.”
Even in the Eisner era of the company this trend continued. It was Eisner and Wells who ultimately backed out of working with hotel chains to build new resorts at Disney World themselves because they realized that Disney would do a better job making hotels the “Disney Way.” They stepped out of the shadow of the retail middle-man by creating The Disney Store. They stopped licensing their characters to cruise lines so that they could form their own and build their own ships.
When it comes to doing things the Disney way, Disney excelled at doing it on their own. However this is the Iger era and that’s not really his style. Pixar. Marvel. Star Wars. Iger is about finding established talent and buying it, and you know what? It works. So nevermind doing it on their own. Disney can still do it the Iger way by buying a video game publisher. They can do it by buying Ubisoft.
Why Ubisoft? They’re successful enough that there’s something there worth buying, but there’s enough room for improvement for Disney to fix them up and install the “Disney way” into the company.
Ubisoft has a number of successful game franchises in its library. Rainbow Six, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Rayman and Rabbids, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia. On top of that they’ve been known to dabble in more small scale indy-like games such as Child of Light, Valiant Hearts, and the latest Call of Juarez. These are also properties that Disney could put to use outside of video games. A good Assassin’s Creed movie. Some Rayman cartoons. A Rabbids Disneyland ride. OK, not that last one. Let’s forget I said that.They’ve got enough going for them that if Disney wanted, they could just let Ubisoft operate normally and still be pretty well off.
However why do that when you can combine some of Ubisoft's 33 game studios with Disney’s varied IP? Imagine more fleshed out AAA marvel games based not only on the Avengers, but individual heroes, or maybe the Netflix characters like Jessica Jones and Daredevil. How about games based on Pixar films that are built in partnership with Pixar themselves? Not just cheap tie-ins, but in-depth experiences. Or maybe a really good Wreck-It Ralph meta game or a Moana title that plays like a Zelda game. What about a AAA Pirates of the Caribbean RPG or a AAA Guardians of the Galaxy sci-fi RPG similar to Mass Effect (the good ones)? Imagine a game like Rayman, but based on the latest Mickey Mouse shorts and its art style.
These are the kinds of experiences we’re missing out on as a result of Disney just focusing their gaming efforts on mobile and Star Wars games. I get why they’re doing it. On paper it makes sense. It’s safe and makes for easier earnings calls, but that’s not what made Disney into the company it is today. They’re knocking it out of the park with films, and they’ve got some amazing stuff lined up with theme parks. It’s time for them to stop being so timid and put that talent and effort into video games.