Video Games

Disney's Infinity Game Platform Is Shattering Traditions


A screen shot from Disney's new game platform, Infinity

Courtesy Disney

A screen shot from Disney's new game platform, Infinity

How much of a departure is Disney Infinity for the Magic Kingdom? I got an advance look at the forthcoming video game Thursday when John Vignocchi, an executive producer at Disney Interactive, demonstrated it in New York. The platform enables fans to choose characters from the company’s many different worlds and deploy them simultaneously in a sandbox-like environment.

Vignocchi looks a bit like a Disney character himself. He’s baby-faced and has a prominent chin like Pixar’s Mr. Incredible. There was something playfully transgressive about his presentation. Noting that Disney had historically been reluctant to shuffle its franchises, Vignocchi proceeded to do just that.

“Here’s Sulley,” he said, pointing to the giant blue Monsters, Inc. character on the giant flat-screen TV. On cue, Mathew Solie, a Disney Interactive associate producer, twiddled with his Xbox 360 controller. Soon, Sulley was soaring through Infinity’s open world with the help of a Buzz Lightyear jet pack and a hover board from The Incredibles.

This was all Pixar-related stuff. So arguably, it wasn’t that astonishing. Then Vignocchi pointed out that Sulley was traveling though a surrealistic, mashed-up Walt Disney (DIS) universe. There were ESPN-branded stadiums, the Sleeping Beauty castle, Scrooge McDuck’s money tower, and the Disneyland Matterhorn ride. “It’s truly trying to be all things Disney,” Vignocchi said of the game, as if that was still unclear. His point was that Infinity’s users can pretty much do whatever they wish within Infinity’s universe.

Soon after, Vignocchi had Syndrome, the orange-haired villain from The Incredibles, riding Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage. There’s a feature in the game enabling users to change the size of various objects. Solie fiddled with his Xbox controller again. Suddenly the pumpkin carriage became a go-kart. Then it was transformed into a monster truck. Then, Soli hit another button. The pumpkin monster truck was now equipped with guns. Vignocchi said they had something to do with Cars.

Disney’s strategy for Infinity, which will be available in stores, is to ditch the traditional Hollywood video game strategy. Rather than create a game for each movie or television show, Disney will introduce characters from its franchise into Infinity and let the users create their own narratives. Fans will be able to purchase the $74.99 Infinity starter kit, which comes with the Infinity Base. The device looks like a futuristic set-top box, and can be attached to nearly any Sony (SNE), Wii (NTDOY), or Xbox (MSFT) console. There’s also a mobile phone version in the works.

There’s more to Infinity, but I was out of time. When I was leaving, Vignocchi asked who my favorite Disney character was. “Dumbo?” I said. “He’s in there,” Vignocchi replied.

Maybe I should have said Marvel’s Dr. Strange (a childhood favorite) or Star Wars’ Boba Fett. I don’t think there are any Marvel or Star Wars characters in the game yet, but there probably will be one of these days.

It’s too early to say whether Infinity will be a success. But for Disney, it’s a revolution.

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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