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Best of 08: Thierry Braille

Disney Interactive's EMEA boss on the company's plans for the next twelve months

Disney's a very powerful consumer media brand, of that there's no doubt - but the company has yet to put together a world-beating videogames franchise... so far. In the past few weeks rumours surrounding the acquisition of various fellow publishers have abounded, and with share prices low on the economic climate, a canny cash-rich company could so well.

But that aside, the past twelve months have seen some steps forward for the company's current properties, including the relaunch of the Turok brand, and latterly the release of new IP Pure and SingStar Disney.

At this year's Games Convention in Leipzig we spoke to Thierry Braille, freshly promoted to head of Disney Interactive Studios in Europe, to find out what the company's plans for the next twelve months are. How would you evaluate the past 12 months for Disney?
Thierry Braille

Fabulous, I think the things we were discussing twelve months ago have happened, and as far as we're concerned basically the results have been absolutely fabulous - we're happy. One of the things we discussed was the development of family and social gaming last year - obviously that's gone even further, which is great news for Disney?
Thierry Braille

It's great news, but I think we're also a player in the evolution and expansion of the market, with new demographics - the products that we've released are contributing to the new videogame market. The new Turok title was released in the last year - how do you feel that was received?
Thierry Braille

I think Turok was seen by all the industry players as a successful resurrection of an old and cherished brand in the industry. People who have been in the industry for a while, and played the games when they were younger, will have a point of view on the old Turok - but I don't think we disappointed these people, on the contrary. It's a good first step. And how do you see the roll out of products and evolution of services in the next twelve months for Disney?
Thierry Braille

Well, I think we have a very strong Christmas line-up to begin with - probably the strongest ever, with a lot of family titles, but also some products that are aimed at a more specific demographic. Tinkerbell, for example, is more for girls, and Spectrobes which is probably more for boys. But altogether we have a strong family focus. The company also has strong studios of its own now - do you feel that part of the business picture is complete?
Thierry Braille

Well I think there is a number that we're quoting from time to time, which is that the growth we're projecting for our development investments. This year we're spending USD 180 million on development, and we think that in 4 or 5 years from now that should be about USD 350 million.

So it gives you an idea of the growth path we have in mind. Now if you take this growth path into account, and look at the way to spend money on product development, you could assume that there will be a mix of money spent on internal and external development.

If we spend more than twice the amount of money, it's fair to assume we cannot exclude a studio acquisition - it's definitely a fair assumption. We've also seen other traditional media companies acquiring videogame studios - is it a sign that videogames are much higher on the agenda for media companies?
Thierry Braille

Well, I can't speak for the others, but for this company it's definitely a part of the strategy. When our key executives meet the analysts, journalists and so on, they systematically mention the videogame investment, results, creations - and I think there's a very strong commitment from the company behind this activity.

That product development number that I mentioned is a very clear illustration of that commitment. As a world leader on the creativity side, how do you feel that translates over to the videogame studios? How do you embed that sense of creativity in the teams?
Thierry Braille

I think it's a mix of things - I think that first of all the company to begin with very much has a culture of creativity embedded from day one. This is in the genetic code of any Disney division - there's so much respect for the creative people within Disney, they are the stars. It's truly something which is there already.

Then I think it's when we look at bringing external competencies, like for instance development studios, I think we're really looking at people and teams who are sharing these visions.

When you make a game at Disney Interactive you are pushing yourself as much as possible because you know that you're talking to guys who are doing movies, and who are benchmarks, role models. It's like a sort of emulation, people are pushing themselves.

So there is a lot of cross-fertilisation between the various divisions, so you see a lot of bridges between movies, TV and games, and we are talking to the other divisions, the creative communities are talking to each other, they share ideas and so on. Does it make it easy to retain key staff?
Thierry Braille

Yes, the culture is actually very good - it's very strong, and people are very proud. There was some corporate restructuring a few months ago - how has that impacted you in Europe?
Thierry Braille

I think it's very recent, to begin with - the idea is to have two divisions working in parallel. One is Disney Interactive Studios (DIS) - that's us, the videogames company - and the other is Disney Online (DOL).

From that standpoint there's no change on the day-to-day operational side, but I think there's a lot of potential for synergy across the divisions - product, marketing, you name it. So we're exploring all that at the moment. Europe seems to have gained a new prominence in the industry in the past couple of years - why do you think that is?
Thierry Braille

Well I think to begin with we never had a frustration that Europe was perceived as second class. I think we have a very mature global organisation within DIS, and we're global for a good reason. We have a team in the US with a lot of international experience, so I think for them it's easy to deal with Europe at the same level as the US - we are peers.

But I totally understand what you're saying, because I hear that the size of the market... we could potentially become bigger than America in the coming years, especially if you factor in the growth of the Russian market. You mention Russia - how do you evaluate the European landscape?
Thierry Braille

I think it's a lot of countries, you could name the Middle East as well, which isn't strictly Europe, and Turkey as well. You could take the countries with the biggest populations and find out that some are still late when it comes to videogames, but if you look at the growth of those countries - it's spectacular.

You can imagine that those very populated countries will see very strong household penetrations 3 or 4 years from now. And when that's the case, imagine the size of the opportunity. Poland is a very well-populated country as well. Add all that and you can have hundreds of millions of people. Does that bring more problems with localisation? Are companies better at tackling those challenges now?
Thierry Braille

Yes - you have a lot of very interesting tools now to manage assets. One of the issues before when you had localised assets was managing the versions, correcting bugs, and so on. It's very complex.

It's also more integrated in the minds of developers now, particularly US-based developers, who in the past weren't always very prepared to deal with ten languages. Disney must have a long history of localisation from the film side of things - has that been good experience to draw on?
Thierry Braille

Yes, because we have always been very sensitive to localisations. We've been the first company to localise some products in Russia, last year on some formats. Often we're the first company to offer a format in a new country, so we're on the forefront. What are the crucial platforms for Disney? The younger market speaks to a presence on the Nintendo DS, but how does the overall picture look?
Thierry Braille

Well it depends on the content we produce. To begin with we're platform-agnostic, so it's not like we prefer one or the other. But then you're right - it's a question of analysing the potential, the demographics, the affinity, the gameplay, the story we want to tell... there are so many areas, every decision is a unique one.

It's not like we say we need to have a certain number of SKUs on a certain format. Obviously there's a well-trodden path in bringing Disney IP from films or television to videogames - might we start to see some movement in the other direction?
Thierry Braille

Definitely, there are discussions every time we have a new IP, or franchise, or story created by DIS, there's a debate with the other divisions - there are some good examples that will become apparent I think.

It's something that there's a lot of interest in. Watch this space.

Thierry Braille is head of Disney Interactive Studios in Europe. Interview by Phil Elliott. Originally published in September 2008.