Thursday, May 26, 2016

Out of the Games

Disney, as observed earlier, has gotten out of the video games business for the umpteenth time. Here's analysis as to why.

... Video games seem like such an obvious way to channel IP into massive amounts of dollars. It seems it should be easy to succeed with the entire Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars universe at your fingertips. Slap together a game and launch it with the movie, and the money should flow in, right? ...

It is important to understand that video games are not like other forms of media. The skill set required to develop a film or TV show is not the same as those required for the development of a video game. Game design incorporates system architecture, risk/reward structuring, the development of player agency, and an understanding of what constitutes fun gameplay. There is less control over narrative and story. Character development is important, but not typically the main focus as in film. ...

The core issue was Disney's risk aversion and unwillingness to make the full investment required to be successful in the video game industry. A lack of predictability as regards future ROI caused rash decisions via spreadsheets rather than a focus on product design and gameplay. Games were started, and then management would spook and kill the fledgling game before it could fully materialize. Studio priorities were shifted rapidly from AAA games to free-to-play to mobile, with no clear strategic vision. These are all clear indications that the company simply did not understand video game development. ...

In the end, it was clear - just because a company knows movies and TV does not mean it understands video games. A fundamental lack of institutional knowledge killed the Disney video game effort. The half steps and lack of commitment doomed it to failure. ...

This sounds about right.

Several years back, Disney did one of its about-faces with video games. It had started a game studio in Glendale, staffed it and launched a project. But then, midway through development, management's feet got cold. The decision was made to deep-six the work already done and lay most everybody off.

Staffers rebelled. Disney had negotiated long-term contracts with many of them, and now attempted to strong-arm people into accepting partial payouts. A dozen Disney workers called TAG, and we helped them get bigger settlements from Diz Co. A couple of them said in some amazement:

"We told them 'no, your first offer is no good.' And wow, they tripled their buyout offer. We never expected that."

Disney has been in and out of the video game business for years, and the company has always seemed half-hearted about competing head-to-head with EA and Blizzard Entertainment. The medium takes time, effort and major money to create a successful game, and Diz Co. could never find the right visionaries to make a franchise work.

Whether the company makes a fresh assault on games sometime in the future is hard to know. But it probably won't happen while Bob Iger remains in charge. He's been burned once too often.


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