There’s a certain degree of respect that commandeers discussion surrounding Disney. No matter your opinion on the mass media megacorporation, it’s hard not to feel a sense of meagre humbleness in the face of such a staunch cinematic powerhouse of the 20th and 21st century. But in that bountiful, Scrooge McDuck-level wealth of influence in modern media, the multi-billion dollar company never managed to translate this to the games industry.
However, on the 11th of January 2021, Disney would solidify their place as a serious competitor in the gaming market with an announcement on the Star Wars website that all Lucasfilms-related products in the gaming market would now be under the newly rejuvenated Lucasfilms Games umbrella, and no longer locked into an exclusivity deal with Electronic Arts. It was a move that left a vacuum of shock and contemplation on behalf of the gaming community.
Complete with a sizzle reel to boot; the press release boasted about the ‘new era’ over the horizon for the long-standing publisher: “Lucasfilm’s legacy in gaming stretches back decades. And with Lucasfilm and the galaxy far, far away entering a new and unprecedented phase of creativity, so will the world of Lucasfilm Games – developed in collaboration with the finest studios across the industry.”
This press release does two things. Firstly, it subtly assures that this isn’t a retraction of development rights from companies like Traveller’s Tales or EA, in fact, the opposite is true. Secondly, this statement proclaims that Lucasfilms, and by extension Disney, are starting to take gaming seriously.
That is not to say that Disney is a layman of developing games – far from it, in fact. Their first game dates as far back as 1981 with Game & Watch’s Mickey Mouse. The collaborative efforts between Nintendo and Disney were fairly successful, although it’s not known how many of these are attributed to Game & Watch’s 43.4 million sold handheld LCD games. This sums up the history the multimedia company has had in video games. A slurry of associative brand tie-ins that serve to promote their products rather than to stand alone.
Even the more fleshed out attempts to breach the cutting room floor have either fallen flat or simply not had what it takes. Disney Infinity’s strange existence between trying to sell figurines and video games attests to this motif of never going the full mile towards games development without there being some sort of catch. The project eventually failed at the considerable cost of $147 million which, alongside their previous commercial flop Split/Second, soured the company’s view of the games industry and ultimately led to a void of Disney-related interactive media for some time.
Even games series like Kingdom Hearts or Epic Mickey feel more like cult classics than statement franchises for Disney. This is exactly why Lucasfilm Games’ revitalization is such a significant thing. It might not have been the beginning of Disney’s return to the AAA market, but it’s the hallmark declaration, as though the mouse-eared town crier bellowed from amidst the crowd of peering upwards from below, and they have heard his message: Disney is finally here.
And from that mighty roar, the flood gates opened to DIsney news, rumours, announcements, and previews of all the exciting and intriguing new games being developed by various companies. If industry professionals and fans weren’t stunned by the untitled Ubisoft Star-Wars game or the mysterious rumours of a KOTOR remake, the surprising announcement of an Indiana Jones title from Wolfenstein developer MachineGames would be sure to turn heads. There was also Guardians of the Galaxy putting in a good showing with its reveal at E3 2021, giving fresh optimism after the mediocre sales of Marvel’s Avengers for Disney’s multi-game deal with Square Enix and how they can capitalise on video games in general.
This constant flurry of news blasted at us like waves of hype mirrors the exact kind of treatment that the movie and TV industry gets. Companies such as Disney stay silent for long periods of time to build anticipation, then only when the time is right, do they expel all their announcements and upcoming projects to the world. The fact that these tactics are something Disney is now bringing to the forefront of the games industry shows exactly the kind of mindset they have towards it.
It’s not a surprising move either. The games industry is a monetary powerhouse, with forecasts for 2020’s overall revenue peaking at $174.9 billion as of November 4th. Games are a bigger industry than the movie and North American sports industries combined and it’s no wonder that the company that has made billions off of the film industry would want a piece of that pie. This unmitigated boom has only been exacerbated thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a huge catalyst for the industry growing by 19.6% in the span of a year. Such a massive surge in economic growth comes with a few caveats, the most notable being media consolidation.
Consolidation in business terms effectively means that competitors within an industry are aggressively consumed and bought up by larger corporations, thus creating a smaller pool of influence which, in turn, fuels more consolidation until you have an oligopoly of media behemoths. The film and TV industry has been steadily feeling the effects of consolidation quite rapidly since the early 80s. An infamous graphic created by Jason White of the now-defunct website Frugal Dad shows how in the span of 28 years, 90% of media in North America went from being owned by 50 companies to just six; one of which is Disney itself.
These aren’t just empty predictions of an ominous future either, this is an issue that is very much happening in the now. Companies are being bought up constantly, some of the biggest include Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda for $7.5 billion, Embracer Group’s bulk acquisition of companies like Gearbox and Aspyr Media, EA snapping up Codemasters and Tencent grabbing Sumo Group, but this isn’t even scraping the tip of the iceberg.
Disney’s migration to games could cause the market to become even more competitive. A major media enterprise translating its business practises of constant acquisition to a medium it has barely touched would cause other already well-versed publishers to aggressively buy up companies in a bid to stay ahead of the curve. It’s all a case of whether Disney manages to get its foot in the door.