Since it acquired Marvel and the rights to the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, Disney has been an even-bigger money-making machine than at any point in its history. The Walt Disney corporation has always held a license to print money – for as long as there are children (and adults who are still in touch with their inner child), Disney will find a way to make huge profits from them by releasing movies and building theme parks. With a brand value that’s rapidly approaching $130bn, if they continue at their current trajectory, they may one day challenge Amazon and Microsoft for the position of the most profitable company in the world. It’s therefore something of a surprise to see that they apparently have no interest in video games.
When Disney acquired Fox in a deal that cost over $70bn, they also acquired Fox’s in-house video game development company FoxNext. The deal went through earlier this year. Having now seemingly had the chance to assess everything they paid for, they’ve decided that FoxNext is surplus to requirements, and will be sold to the highest bidder. FoxNext is one of the last video game development companies under its banner, and the sale will leave the company without a way to develop and release its own video games. Considering the enormous number of entertainment properties which now live under the Disney umbrella, at first glance, it appears to be a move that’s likely to cost them money in the long run.
FoxNext is a relatively new company. Fox only opened it in 2017, and tasked it with creating all video games associated with Fox brands. They hired people who had experience with virtual reality and augmented reality products, and the rumors at the time were that Fox had seen the success of the ‘Pokemon Go’ game, and decided to try to create their own viral video-gaming sensation. The first title believed to be in the pipeline would have been an officially-licensed game based on the movie series ‘Aliens,’ and would have been developed by people who’d made up the teams responsible for ‘Borderlands,’ and ‘Bioshock.’ Given today’s news, it’s now doubtful that the proposed game will ever see the light of day unless a new buyer decides to keep it on the table.
So far, the most successful release that has come from FoxNet has been ‘Marvel Strike Force’ a collaboration with Aftershock Studios, who specialize in mobile games. As it was a Marvel-themed game, it should have been perfectly aligned with Disney, who now owns Marvel, but Disney already has form for shedding themselves of all exiting Marvel-themed mobile gaming content. There was once a range of Marvel-themed mobile slots games available which were popular with players. Around a year ago, Disney started contacting online casinos and their sister sites and asking them to take the games offline. At the time, it was believed that the child-friendly company didn’t want to be associated with the adult world of gambling, and so mobile slots didn’t fit with their brand identity. Now, it seems that they just don’t want to be associated with video games at all.
The story goes further than just FoxNext and mobile slots; three years ago, Disney called time on its ‘Disney Infinity’ series of games, and also closed down Avalanche Software, which was their in-house team responsible for developing the series. That followed hot on the heels of the closure of Propaganda Games, who made ‘Tron Evolution’ and were in the middle of making a promising-sounding game based on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. The game had been close to completion at the time of the studio’s closure, and many people within the gaming industry who’d had the chance to play early demos of the game expressed disappointment that it would never see the light of day. Going back even further, Disney has also closed down Black Rock Studios (who made ‘Split/Second’), and Junction Point Studios (who made the ‘Epic Mickey’ games).
One possible explanation for the spate of sales is the long-term agreement Disney recently signed with video gaming giant Electronic Arts, who are known around the world for their sports games. Electronic Arts, better known as EA, are the developer behind the FIFA Soccer franchise, which sells millions of copies around the world. They also release the official UFC and NFL games. The current agreement guarantees EA the exclusive rights to make ‘Star Wars’ games for the next ten years, but could theoretically be expanded if Disney decides that EA are best-placed to make games based on their other properties.
The other possible explanation would be that Disney has either lined up a major video gaming acquisition, or is about to announce the creation of a new in-house studio of its own. If that’s the case, there have been no clues or suggestions released to the press. On the surface, it wouldn’t make sense to let go of an experienced design team like those who currently work at FoxNet to build something new. That leaves us with the third, and less pleasing possibility – Disney simply aren’t interested in making video games anymore, because they’re more than happy with the amount of money they’re already making from their existing products and businesses.
There is one bright spot on the horizon if you’re a video-gaming Disney movie fan, though – the official ‘Avengers’ game, which goes by the name of ‘Avengers: A Day’ will be released early in 2020. The game, which is loosely based on the movies and features all of the characters (although regrettably none of the actors), has been developed by Eidos – the company best known for ‘Tomb Raider.’ It’s unclear how and why Eidos was selected for the job of creating the game, as they have no long-term Disney affiliation. If the game is a success, it could theoretically encourage Disney to work with other developers on officially-licensed products. For that reason, if you have an interest in playing video games based on your favorite Disney characters, it might be in your interests to go out and buy it.