Marvel’s superheroes, who have triumphed over evil and battled theater box office competitors, are preparing for a new mission: Joining Captain Jack Sparrow, Rapunzel and Buzz Lightyear in the Disney Infinity videogame.
On Wednesday morning, Marvel Chief Creative Office Joe Quesada is expected to announce the addition of Marvel superheroes to the videogame’s lineup of interactive toys, which are bought in the physical world but can be mixed and matched in the virtual one. Infinity’s popularity has been a bright spot in Disney’s otherwise struggling interactive strategy.
The event, which has been relentlessly plugged — perhaps you saw this YouTube teaser titled “Get Ready to Assemble,” or caught this accidental early tweet yesterday — is part of a plan to stoke consumer interest and portray the Disney Interactive division as on the mend. The unit laid off about 700 people in March and closed offices in Chicago, New Jersey, Colorado, South Korea and Hyderabad, India.
The company invested $100 million over four years to develop Infinity, at a time when the group was losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Since the layoffs, Disney Interactive has scaled back console game plans and will focus instead on mobile devices and social media platforms.
The high-stakes gamble of Infinity apparently paid off, though. Introduced last August, the game ranked among the best-selling games of 2013, according to the NPD Group, although it is currently only available for previous-generation consoles, mobile and PC. Its success helped boost the Interactive group’s revenue and operating income in the first quarter.
The game is a marriage of toys and interactive play — a surprisingly vibrant segment of the console game business. NPD said Interactive Gaming Toys (accessory items like Skylanders and Disney Infinity) totaled $419 million in 2013 and grew nearly 70 percent over the prior year.
The action figures work like game controllers. The toys rest on a plastic platform that is connected to the game console, and reads a chip in the figure’s base. If a player plunks, say, Mr. Incredible on the “base,” the red-suited Pixar character appears on-screen within the game.
Disney sells “starter packs” that include the game disc, three character figures and the “Infinity Base.” Players can access two game modes: A traditional game campaign, called Play Set Mode, and a Minecraft-esque build-anything arena, called Toy Box Mode.
Toy Box Mode is arguably Infinity’s stronger selling point, because it lets players mash up the once carefully separated worlds of Disney’s multitudinous IP. Elsa from “Frozen” can shoot toilet paper rolls at Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” while flying around in Buzz Lightyear’s jetpack, if the player so desires.
On top of the Starter Packs, the company currently sells 26 other character figures starting at $9 a pop individually or bundled together in varying “play sets.” Players who have bought all of the collectible figures can even wield Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, suggesting more Star Wars content to come.
The addition of Marvel superheroes broadens the number of playable characters within the game — and keeps players interacting with, say, Captain America or Iron Man, creating anticipation for the next film release. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” reaches theaters in May 2015.
Liveblogging from the event:
10:10 am: Disney Interactive President Jimmy Pitaro says the company has sold three million Disney Infinity starter packs. The title has generated an estimated $500 million in global retail sales to date.
10:15 am: The Avengers assemble for the second edition of Disney Infinity, due out this fall. The game will incorporate Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Nick Fury and others.
10:30 am: Okay, now on to the details. The new Disney Infinity Marvel Super Heroes 2.0 comes with three characters from the Avengers: Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow, with some new game experiences. It’ll run with the new generation of game consoles, the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, as well as the older systems. Oh yeah, and these dudes engage in combat.