Drawing inspiration from properties like Skylanders, LittleBigPlanet and Minecraft, Disney Interactive’s toy-and-game world-building adventure Disney Infinity has all the potential of a prosperous franchise when it releases this June. The publisher is convinced that the sprawling title is their “most ambitious gaming initiative ever,” and Disney/Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter (director, among other films, of Toy Story and Cars) boldly called it “one of the most creative things in the interactive world that I’ve ever seen.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Disney is setting it up for the long haul. Already branded as a “gaming platform,” the publisher confirmed that it has established an annual release schedule for Disney Infinity. Fully priced core installments will release every 12 months, and like most triple-A franchises they’ll be interspersed with additional offerings of DLC. There’s just one issue with Infinity #1: All 12 months of its content will ship on-disc, fully developed and ready to play, but certain parts will remain locked for purchase later in the year.
The revelation came from Disney Infinity’s executive producer, John Vignocci, who told Videogamer recently that the decision boils down to the physical-media constraints of the current generation. Disney aims to pursue a digital distribution model for Infinity in the future — specifically when it moves to next-generation platforms — but until then adhering to a yearly release schedule means cramming all the data onto one disc:
“In the future, as we move on to new versions of consoles we’re going to be able to digitally deliver that content, and the figurines themselves will simply be dongles that allow us to then instantiate a download of that content.
“But given the current generation of consoles, the content needs to be on the disc.”
And for Disney Interactive, sending out into the world content they plan to reveal later poses a largely unique threat: the exposure of highly classified secrets related Disney’s upcoming films. No information was offered on the locked-away goods, but from Pirates of the Caribbean to The Avengers to now even Star Wars, any secrets regarding the entertainment behemoth’s future plans are a hacker’s Holy Grail. (And let’s face it: With the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars: Episode VII hitting theaters in 2015, it’s only a matter a time and synergy before the series flares up in Infinity.) Vignocci acknowledged the danger of someone cracking on-disc files (as Bioware and Capcom will attest, it can happen), but maintained that it was a necessary risk:
“That’s something that we’ve made the film-makers aware of.
“There’s absolute potential that people are going to see characters prior to their PR campaigns kicking off if someone does that, but we’re hoping that isn’t something that is widespread reported because then people are going to start looking for it, and it’s going to ruin the magic for the consumer.”
Later in the interview, Vignocci compared Disney’s challenge to the one faced by Activision, who embedded DLC into copies of Skylanders:
“There was the Empire of Ice and all of those different expansion packs that they had that were on the disc. Thankfully they didn’t run into that risk. We might. Who knows.”
Disney’s forthright comments bring us to the wariness on-disc DLC inspires. Yes, it’s 2013. Publishers want perpetual revenue machines. Post-release DLC has proven rather efficacious over the years and most gamers — assuming they were satisfied with the base experience — aren’t opposed to the extra missions and map packs and multiplayer game modes that sustain the allure for a little while longer. But what are the ethics of hiding it in the original purchase? Where’s the line between overcoming technical constraints — a fair argument in some scenarios — and arbitrarily slicing apart a core game because the audience isn’t supposed to notice? In Disney’s situation, holding back on, say, a new Pirates of the Caribbean character until they’re announced for Pirates 5 (releasing in 2015) is understandable — but what happens to that case if the rest of the year’s content is entirely spoiler-free?
As digital becomes the distribution standard, those lines won’t be so blurred. They might even disappear. Until then, though, they look to be the status quo for Disney Infinity, and paying for content on a disc that was already advertised and purchased as a full product is bound to vex a few gamers. Here’s hoping that Jack Sparrow, Mike Wazowski, Mr. Incredible and the rest of the game’s star-studded cavalcade makes it a worthwhile concession.
Ranters, what do you make of the way Disney plans to handle Disney Infinity — for 2013 and beyond?
Disney Infinity releases in June, 2013, for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii U, and Wii, with mobile versions to follow.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.