Disney's unveiling of its new "Infinity" video game was a milestone for a studio that has long struggled in the interactive business. But others saw it as less of a milestone than a duplication.
One of the core elements of "Infinity" is its use of toys. Players buy figurines of Disney characters such as Mr. Incredible or Jack Sparrow and place them on a scanner called a "portal" that plugs into their Playstation, Xbox or Wii U. That same character then appears in the game.
That same mechanic first appeared in late 2011 in Activision Blizzard's game "Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure." A hit with young boys, it has since spawned a sequel and generated more than $500 million in sales. Soon after Disney's Tuesday event debuting "Infinity," which goes on sale in June, Activision sent out a not-so-friendly response.
"We are thrilled by the incredible success that the 'Skylanders' franchise has had in such a short period of time," vice president of consumer marketing John Coyne said in a statement. "We are also flattered that one of the leading family entertainment companies is joining our toys to life category. We continue to focus on... pouring more creativity into our games. As a result we are well positioned to continue leading the a category."
Translation: You're late to the party, Disney. Hope you enjoy being No. 2.
In an earlier interview, Disney's top video game executive, John Pleasants, said his company was "playing with the concept before 'Skylanders' came out," and noted that the success of Activision's games "gives us encouragement."
And of course, with characters from "The Incredibles," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Monsters Inc." at launch and more from Disney's ample vault expected to follow, the entertainment giant has the advantage of arguably having the best known characters in the world, compared with Activision's collection of original creatures.
Building off of a gameplay mechanic invented by someone else is a longstanding tradition in the game industry. Activision's multibillion-dollar "Call of Duty" series didn't create the military first-person shooter genre. It simply perfected it.
Similarly, the Santa Monica company's "World of Warcraft" came along after several other massively multi-player online role playing games (or MMORPGs). But none before, or since, have proved as popular.
So Activision can poke as much fun as it likes. But if Disney does well with its roster of A-list characters, the makers of "Skylanders" will have to keep a close eye on their rear-view mirror.