Activision's $1 billion toy and game franchise Skylanders was the proof-of-concept that served as the greenlight for Disney Infinity, another toy-based title coming in August. The game is being developed by Disney Interactive subsidiary Avalanche Software, who found success with the Toy Story 3 game in 2010. According to Avalanche co-founder John Blackburn, the game began life as an expansion of Toy Story 3's Toy Box mode, but the developer had no traction with the toy side of the game until Skylanders proved a success.
"Because everything was toys already, in the design, we went and pitched Disney consumer products - we're getting into the inner workings of Disney here - on a toy line that we wanted to bring out with this," Blackburn told VentureBeat in a lengthy interview. "It was the year after Toy Story launched. Their answer was, 'Until this becomes a thing in the game industry, just having a toy line isn't going to work.'"
"Skylanders absolutely proved the viability of it for us. The ideas were essentially already there - we wouldn't be here with a game that's this large if they hadn't have been - but yeah, it definitely proved a point."
Skylanders uses RFID tags embedded within its action figures in order to recognize specific figures and save character data. Blackburn said that RFID tagging didn't occur to his team until they began looking at the business side of things.
"That initial pitch, we really weren't thinking of the idea that there would be an RFID tag in there, and that's actually how you'd get extra content. That came later once we started thinking from more of a business angle and getting into how we could monetize this," he explained.
Disney Infinity has multiple benefits for the media giant: the company no longer has to develop separate titles for release alongside its films, and older properties now have a way of returning without a standalone game.
"The way we're thinking about this is that it's a platform that we can use to capture some of the excitement that Disney has," Blackburn said. "It's also a way to go back and, with a reasonable investment, bring out new content for some of our old franchises that wouldn't necessarily deserve. Like, Aladdin might never be capable of getting its own game right now, but we can bring some content back into it through this. From a year-to-year standpoint, we're looking at a method where, in the future, content will just come along with the films and those sorts of things. It won't just be one big dump every year."