I’m a little bit behind on the video gaming news. I guess when there are million more real things happening around you the ebbs and flows of the entertainment industry take a back seat.
Long time readers of this blog –and frankly anyone with a child who has ever been to our house– will know that over the last couple years we’ve really gotten into a video game called Disney Infinity.
Your three sentence primer on Disney Infinity.
Imagine a sandbox-slash-world creation game populated by almost every bit of Disney Corp intellectual property you can think of, animated, and made interactive on your video game console. Now imagine that to unlock many bits and pieces of the game you had to shell out ten bucks here and fifteen bucks there for little real-world plastic statuettes representing characters, levels, or skills that were physically placed on a “base” where they activated and entered the game. Now imagine that after you bought into that game, and the more you unlocked, the more of the million little things unlocked too, exploration-platform-type games to cart-racing to farming to exploring to just simply building your own video game.
I bought in. I bought in first to the tune of the version 1.0, $70 starter pack a few years ago.
And then I bought in to a few dozen of the little character models. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.
I bought in for Claire. I bought in because I was a dad. I bought in because, freaking-Disney-what-could-go-wrong?
I bought into the version two and then later version three upgrades. I bought into the online play. I bought into YouTube subscriptions and hours upon hours upon hours of daddy-daughter time. I bought in. I got my money’s worth, but I bought in.
“Bought” being the operative word there.
The fact that Disney announced about two weeks ago that they are not only simply shuttering development on the project, but BANG! that they have effectively and abruptly stopped further work on this game (probably leaving a long list of talented, creative people unemployed) — that sucks. In a very selfish way — it’s probably a good thing, at least for my bank balance.
In another way it’s a bit of a kick in the face from Disney to all its fans.
See, the real problem isn’t just that another solid family video game is now part of video game history (rather than video game future) but that Disney, for all their marketing genius, is leaving a lot of loyal fans with a very physical reminder of this sudden break up.
Sure, the little plastic toys are probably considered “collectible” or could easily be displayed on a shelf somewhere — y’know, if you’re into that. But for a lot of parents and young gamers who loyally bought into this abstract concept that they were buying “pieces of a vision” that had a long term gaming future, that — say maybe– owning a Jack Sparrow figurine now wasn’t worth particularly much, but perhaps five years from now he would drop neatly into this other part of some new game and that early loyalty would pay off– that same toy, now gathering dust on my shelf is a reminder of a broken promise.
I know this is a bit whiny. I get that. Like I said, I think I got my money’s worth, and it’s just a silly game, and ultimately, worst of all things, the real hurt is probably going down somewhere in California where a bunch of hard working creative people, including some interesting, dedicated faces who humanized the game, built a real culture around it that was worth as much as the game-play itself as they talked to us every week on the social medias, they are out of their job because… well…
… yeah, money. Profits. I get that, too.
But I guess what makes me question the abruptness of this is the dissonance between my two major Disney experiences.
It seems like every time we go to Disneyland I get pinned down by one of their little roving survey folks: They politely ask me for some demographic info, they record my email address, and then a month or two later I get an invitation to fill out a short survey about my experience. And this is just the obvious stuff. Disney puts on a show from the moment you get off the airplane in LAX until the moment you leave to go home. It’s about the warm-fuzzy feeling you have in your heart while you consume crappy food, wait in line for mediocre rides, and fight crowds for a good spot to sit and watch it all happen. It’s control of your feelings and your impression of all the things they are throwing at you from the second you enter their realm until the moment you leave.
So then it’s funny –not haha-funny, but hmmm-funny– that a company is so concerned with tweaking and fine-tuning their “guest experience”, is so deeply invested in what a guy who spends a couple thousand bucks to bring his family to wander around a theme park for a few hours thinks of that experience, while simultaneously divorces themselves from the opinion of that same guy who spent a few hundred bucks but a few hundred hours to wander around a virtual theme park back at home.
After all, we’ve now got this Disney clutter, a few dozen little figurines that are still good fun and working-for-now, but whose utility now has an expiration date, and no answers to what use they will be in, say, three months. Or, three years? Those good feelings will fade. The dust will settle. New fun will certainly take their place.
Yet maybe when one day some time in the near future when we’re discussing, thinking, talking about sitting down to book another vacation, wondering where we should travel this time, maybe, just maybe, that glassy-eyed plastic Mickey Mouse will look from under a fine coat of dust, staring across the room and the little mousy voice in my head will remind me that I’ve already given him quite a bit of my money. That buying in didn’t pay off quite as well as I’d hoped.
A privilege? Sure. A right? Certainly not. But a thing we did, and a bit of our mind-share given over to an unfulfilled vision. We bought in this time. But how does it go again? “Fool me once…” I’m on to you now Disney.
But really, ultimately, finally… kudos to the people who made this and gave us a great few years of something really special. No regrets.