Disney Interactive Studios isn't just about the well known family brands, with games such as Turok and upcoming racer Pure aiming for a more mature market than Hannah Montana and The Chronicles of Narnia. The company is now increasingly focused on creating new brands that can transfer over into Disney's TV and movie branches, and in this exclusive interview with GamesIndustry.bizmanaging director of EMEA Thierry Braille discusses working on new intellectual properties, managing internal development studios and creating titles under the world famous Disney name.
Q: Why did Disney decide to buy studios instead of licensing out IP and outsourcing the work?
Thierry Braille: There are a couple of reasons for that. I think in your question there are two questions, which is why do we prefer publishing versus licensing and then why do we use more acquired internal studios.
The main reason actually is to protect the brand and we think that we are in a better position to develop the most innovative titles with our brands ourselves. This is now a business which is so important; we have so many fans playing games and families playing games in the world, so it's more important that we control the creation of Disney games.
And of course there is a value chain reason, it is a probably a better financial story - provided you are successful - to publish the game yourself than to license them.
Why an internal studio? I think probably the same reason. When you have so many projects that you want to develop every year, and actually we have a vision for the coming years that is bigger than today, it is very critical that you tie up with studios who are the highest level of quality and who have their own speciality and who share the same innovation, values and quality values.
To work with studios who are basically 100 per cent in the same line of thought, internal studios therefore, it is really a much better promise in terms of making sure we develop the best content as possible.
The other point is, that we have an acquisition philosophy which is really that all the studios have different skills, they all have their area of excellence. Black Rock Studio is all about racing, Fall Line is making incredible gameplay for Nintendo platforms, Avalance has a unique expertise in terms of working on feature animations and characters, and Propaganda, you know, did Turok and it is a completely different expertise again. The new studio in Texas - we cannot say what they are working on - but again I think this is very much our logic in the same line as what I said before, they have a vision which is very much in line with the company vision. All the studios are basically working on the project that they want to work on, they're not working with constraints.
Q: Has a bad experience with outside publishers and studios driven you to create internal projects and protect the brand?
Thierry Braille: The route we are taking is the most logical route when you have this type of branding requirement, this high vision of the brand and of the content which carries the Disney brand. I think it is very natural to go down this path.
However, we're still working with external studios because we don't have the internal capacity to deal with all the projects we have in mind. We are working with very talented external studios as well.
It's not all internal studios is good, I think it's a combination of both.
Q: You have six studios at the moment, are you happy with that or will be looking to expand and to what extent?
Thierry Braille: I think you know the gross plan we have going forward is most probably meaning more internal studios. At this moment we are not looking to make any announcements.
I think it's fair to assume you could see us working with and adding more internal studios as we go forward, it would be logical.
Q: The Disney brand carries with it a certain stereotype that the content will be aimed at young children – how will you deal with that and are there any instances when you won't be using the Disney logo or name?
Thierry Braille: There are categories of games. Basically we'll see 70 per cent of our product being Disney branded and based on what we could call extended entertainment. So based on TV series, based on movies, based on existing Disney IP, or newly created Disney IPs.
20 per cent will go on new Disney stories and characters that we will create, that Interactive will create. The idea is that these new stories and franchises could resonate in other divisions. Going from games to TV, from games to movies, from games to publication. A practical example is Spectrobes, Spectrobe is a comic, Spectrobes is expanding into consumer products.
The goal is really systematically to make sure they have a potential to expand. It will not always happen.
And finally 10 per cent of our products will not be Disney branded. This 10 per cent not Disney branded could be new brands or new stories like Turok, or could be related to a non-Disney brand from the Walt Disney company, maybe something from ABC - like we did a game for Desperate Housewives.
Q: That 20 per cent, which you make, is it like the Pokemon business plan, where it starts off as game and branches out into multiple TV shows, comics and toys?
Thierry Braille: That's a great analogy. I think that's really a very fair analogy of what we are trying to do with our brands created by the game division.
Q: I know you mentioned Spectrobes, but is there any other new IP you have particular faith in to crossover into other mediums?
Thierry Braille: I think Spectrobes is definitely one. I think Pure is another one, this is such a fun game. Everyone who plays it feels the vertigo when they are trying to do all these tricks. The game giving you sensations and feelings like that. When you play games it's not very often the case. Really, we have enormous hope on this one.
We have a musical game, which is very cool, called Ultimate Band, which is not using peripherals. You can play drums, base guitar, electric guitar and you can control the lead singer so you can have four players with very cool music tracks.
And so that is another project that is followed up with another division as well - we have a record division in the company so we have a very natural link to music.
Q: With rising development costs do you believe that other studios and publishers will have to look at their IP's in the same way in order to make sufficient profits?
Thierry Braille: Yeah, I think that's a way to minimise and control the costs. That's probably something that will happen in the future.
Q: Disney IP is often aimed at children and families, because of this do you favour developing for the Wii over the PS3 and Xbox 360?
Thierry Braille: I think we are generally platform agnostic, and the way we see the Disney brand is probably broader than what you said.
I think for us, the Disney brand is all about family audience, quality, innovation, with some characteristics where you don't have violence beyond a certain level, no bad behaviours, something the family can touch with safety and enjoy it together or at different ages get a different experience.
It's not actually limited to younger audiences. Of course we have a very natural fit with the younger audience, and we have a lot of projects in the company which are very much appreciated by the younger audience so we are developing games on these brands.
But we are also looking at the older members of the family but still with the same values. I think a good analogy is actually the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, I think these movies touch absolutely everyone in the family. It's not for a young audience it's for everyone. This is exactly our vision.
Because of that we have generally platform agnostic, that's the logic.
Q: On the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie the Disney logo was subtly placed and then after its success the sequels had much more over Disney branding, is this an approach you'll be taking with your games?
Thierry Braille: I think Pure must exist because first of all it's Pure, the Disney brand must exist second. We've got to make sure Pure is resonating as one of the coolest games of the year, like Pirates of Caribbean the first one, and we'll take it from there.
Q: How did you decide to acquire the studios you have?
Thierry Braille: That is a very complex question I think there are so many criteria. The main one is actually the potential fit between the two companies, it's about people connecting and whether or not there's a feeling that both could really work together. This is really one of the key points.
Then of course it's the quality, the skills, the talent of the studio and specificity.
Some have been not acquired some have been created, like Propaganda and Fall Line.
Q: Often studios complain that after being bought they lose creative independence. How does Disney avoid that?
Thierry Braille: First of all we are working on the same project with the same goal and we share the same vision. That's the key condition to create an environment where the relationship will get stronger and stronger. At Disney there is an enormous culture of working with creative talent.
Creative talent and Disney have always had a great relationship, and really this company is probably a symbol of creativity if you talk to feature animation artists. We have the same natural fit with creative talent, and I think this is very important.
We do a culture survey from time to time so we get feedback and make sure people are happy at work.