Last week brought some sad and shocking news for gamers, as Disney announced its withdrawal from the console market, pulling the plug on its popular Infinity franchise and seeing the loss of hundreds of jobs. Having originally launched in 2013, Disney Infinity made for an ambitious addition to the burgeoning toys to life genre, combining licensed playsets and characters with an accessible suite of creation tools. It also marked a radical change in direction for the company following its original departure from games publishing just years earlier. Some of you will no doubt remember its culling of several talented studios including Propaganda, Junction Point, and the Brighton-based Black Rock Studios.
Disney Infinity would ostensibly path the way for a safe re-entry into the market, bolstered by the mass appeal of licensed properties. Although far from ground-breaking, the original game established itself as a firm platform for future expansion. Aside from popular Disney titles such as Toy Story, Cars, and Frozen, the series would go on to include a bevy of characters from both the Marvel and Star Wars universes.
With the genre going from strength to strength, there was always going to be competition on the horizon. Even so, for Disney to pull out entirely instead of downsizing its efforts came as a surprise. However, some will say that the writing was already on the wall. Not long ago, Disney announced that there would be no Infinity 4.0 coming in 2016 with only a few hints of smaller expansions on their way. One could also point to the sharp decline in price for last year’s range of figures, most of which have dipped to £5 or less at some point this year.
Taking a step back, the toys to life genre as a whole feels like it’s in a strange place right now. Given a cursory glance even just a month ago, this was going to be a slower year compared to 2015, with Lego Dimensions always planned as a game to last two or more years and Disney Infinity 3.0 to also be supported with expansions, instead of being superseded.
So what went wrong, Teflon asks, and what does it all mean?
By the accounts that have sprung up from inside sources, the end of Disney Infinity was more down to failing to meet terribly high expectations of success and mismanaging supply. There’s still a market for these games despite this move, in other words, with Lego Dimensions having recorded the fastest first week of sales for a toys to life game at its launch, and Disney Infinity building on its wide variety of licenses – OK, mainly Star Wars – to draw in more money than its competitors at the end of last year.
So what this means is that there’s an opportunity for Disney’s former competition to grow into that space. It’s difficult to see where Skylanders can go that’s significantly different, as they can’t really draw on other properties as they build their new toys and think up new gameplay ideas, but for Lego Dimensions… well let’s just say that there’s more than a few instances where Lego and Star Wars have combined forces.
With Dom being our resident family-orientated gamer, he’s been well exposed to the genre, offering his own insights as to how its most popular product ranges have continued to fare:
The biggest shame about Disney’s withdrawal from toys to life is that the Infinity figures were wonderfully realised, and generally solid enough for serious play (apart from the odd lightsaber mishap). Both Skylanders and Amiibo offer nowhere near the same build quality, at least as far as a four-year-old is concerned. The Amiibo’s in our household are actually mine, and I’ve cringed anytime Noah has played with them, whereas the Disney characters have been launched from infinity to beyond a galaxy far far away and survived.
Sadly, we’ve not found enough repeated play with the games themselves, while it’s been LEGO Dimensions that’s stood the test of time. Whether that’s due to the variety of levels and characters, or the missions and puzzles, Dimensions has captured our family much more than Infinity’s three releases, despite the inclusion with Marvel and Star Wars which are two of my absolute favourite franchises. Overall, there have been plenty of highlights from playing Infinity, from the Pirates of The Caribbean levels through to leading Anakin and Ahsoka in Twilight Of The Republic, but its cancellation could be seen to mark the saturation of one of gaming’s most expensive genres.
On one hand Disney’s departure is bound to upset a sizeable number of fans and buyers. Although there is still plenty to see and do within the series’ three mainline entries, the prospect of no support in future will crush those who spent time and money padding out their figure collection. On the other hand, however, Disney’s flight could serve as catalyst for innovation with the toys to life movement.
With Infinity out of the picture, Skylanders and Lego Dimensions can start experimenting with features such as user-generated content without fear of heavy competition. You never know, we may even see another company step up with a new toys to life IP, ready to fill the gap in the market.
Where do you sit on the toys to life genre? Are you an ardent fan (or a parent of one) who’s dismayed by Disney Infinity’s end? Perhaps you think this is the start of the end for a fad that has already run too long? Let us know in the comments.