Kabam’s Mark Raham on the creation of Disney Mirrorverse

Our MGA Award's People’s Choice award winner is Kabam’s latest big IP hit. But how did they tackle such a big project from such a big name?

Kabam’s Mark Raham on the creation of Disney Mirrorverse

The developers at Kabam are no strangers to tackling big name IPs and putting them in the hands of players all around the world, but the success of Disney Mirrorverse is truly testament to the skills of the team and the level of trust they’ve earned.

So what does it take to work with one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world and earn the rights to handle characters that are true cultural icons? We spoke with franchise executive producer, Mark Raham on all things Disney Mirrorverse - the winner of this year's people's choice at our Mobile Games Awards. Tell us a bit about what it is that you do at Kabam

Mark Raham: Title wise, they call me the Franchise Executive Producer. My job is to build a team of people who can be passionate about creating something amazing together. We want to build an incredible world of experiences for our players. So I try to get folks aligned, to get the right people on the team and then get out of the way and let them do what they're great at.

Sometimes I still pinch myself that we're actually doing this.
Mark Raham

You’ve worked with lots of awesome IPs over the years, but Disney… That's quite a big deal. How does something like that come about?

Sometimes I still pinch myself that we're actually doing this. We started this journey in 2018, so it's been in the works for a long time. And when you handle such a beloved set of IPs, you want to do the right thing. You want to meet people's expectations. In our case, we wanted to do something a little new and different with it.

And that involves working closely with Disney?

Yes, lots of great partnerships with our friends at Disney, who have been awesome to work with. I don't know that this would have been possible with any other IP. Disney understands their brand so well. They understand why people love their characters so much. And they’re a story company at their heart, right? And so working with them wasn’t just “What does Mickey look like, in a different hat if you had an enchanted sword?” but to come up with a franchise universe with its own backstory and history. Because we wanted to know what would X be like in a world with a different set of stakes, in different circumstances in a world of higher conflict where universes collide? That to us, was something that was pretty interesting to imagine.

It's new ground for all of us. So we take our time, we tried to do it right and it's super gratifying to see the response. People are really intrigued.

Congratulations on winning the People's Choice Award at the Mobile Gaming Awards. That's the one voted for by the players so that's extra gratifying?

Oh, yeah. First and foremost, it's a tremendous honour to be named People's Choice Award winner. I just want to thank all the players who voted for Disney Mirrorverse. The response we've had from our community and our players has been incredible since launch. And we're really happy to see how the game is building such a passionate community and dedicated set of players that are really integral to how we build this, how we build this world out in these stories going forward.

And it's especially meaningful for the people here who have worked on this game for so long. It's been such a labour of love. We did it because we wanted to build something special and invite people into a world that they could stay in and explore for a long time. So to be named People's Choice it's super meaningful to the team.

Mirrorverse is quite a ‘dark’ game for a Disney game. But then Disney movies are actually quite dark too…

Yeah, there is that element in every great Disney film. Even in the very early days of the films - you can't have light without contrast, right? Think of the beginning of Bambi or Jungle Book or you know any of those films. We wanted to carry on that tradition in a way that made sense with our audience, who are people who, by and large, grew up with that sort of 90s renaissance era of Disney films and try to reflect a Disney universe that makes sense to them.

But we wanted more blending of worlds, where these characters can interact and you have an action based set of stakes. You can start to imagine really cool things, like what if Maleficent and Belle could discuss secret knowledge from books? And what if Belle starts to wrestle with the idea of if it’s okay to use dark powers? That's a pretty interesting conversation that's never been done in a Disney universe before and working with Disney, we were able to talk to all the franchise partners, talk to our creative team here, and then come up with stories that circle around really cool ideas. If you put these characters together and change the stakes you have the opportunity to tell these really compelling stories.

The multiverse concept is a great tool for bringing together disparate characters. Is this your creation? Or did Disney say, “Here’s the concept, we'll let you run with it.”

We were able to get the confidence and the willingness of all the people who own these amazing IPs to try something new and different.
Mark Raham

I had an old boss who spoke a lot of “cowboy wisdom”, one of the things he said was, success has many fathers. So I think many people were circling around the idea of how you could pull this off. I mean, even the idea of Kingdom Hearts has been out there for 20 years now. But getting the characters to connect, interact, and act together hasn't been done before. So you know, whether it was because we were extra adventurous or the timing was right, or whether it was because of the time we took and invested with Disney, we were able to get the confidence and the willingness of all the people who own these amazing IPs to try something new and different.

How did ideas generate around which weapons some of these iconic characters would wield? Captain Hooks is going to have a sword, but what about a character like Snow White? What’s she going to carry and did those ideas need a lot of approval from Disney?

Sure, how are you going to turn Snow White into a warrior? So it begins with a love of the material and it isn’t just me sitting in a room thinking these things up. We have a really invested and passionate design team for the world and the characters. No matter where they end up, it has to be authentic, so you have to start at the beginning. Watch the films, explore the source material and see which threads you can pull on.

Then we can ask, how could these characters respond to the high stakes that work within an action game? We were very conscious about staying true to the essence of those characters and finding a way to make them resonate in this context. We work with our partners over at Disney and each of these franchises has an owner on the Disney or Pixar side who is super passionate and they are experts on who each of these characters could be for Mirrorverse.

In the game's development, what was it like pitching ideas to franchise holders, do you pitch a bunch of ideas and perhaps hear a lot of no’s before hearing a yes?

It’s about starting with the broad strokes, like, do we agree that these are the emotional drivers for this character? Do we agree that these are the seminal moments in their original backstory? Right? You get sort of alignment on those kinds of things. So rather than spitballing a bunch of completed concepts, you start with the root of who they are and something we call the ‘what if’ document, which explores what changes in the Mirrorverse. That nicely leads us into an authentic but surprising evolution of each character.

So does the team have a daily or weekly meeting? How does that work?

Yeah, there are weekly creative sessions where we talk about character evolutions. There are more than weekly art sessions too, where we review how those evolutions come to life and we have a wider meeting with all the creative and design folks. That’s the same on the Disney side, we can review how it’s all coming together, so yeah, it’s a tight partnership.

How does the team work with this great IP and allocate things like special moves? How do you determine who will be stronger or who gets what moves?

That’s a really challenging part of game design. We don’t want anyone to have the best special move. We want each character to have something unique to them. So rather than imagining that these are all Swiss army knives that can do everything, we remind players that this is a team game and how you combine these guardians with their different abilities is what’s going to enable you to progress.

What’s the balancing process like for this kind of action RPG fighting game? Do you need to keep playing and testing to make adjustments?

Yeah, there is a high-level vision statement of what we expect each character to be like and what we want them to do best, who works well together and who each person might be weak against. It sounds boring, but there’s a lot of spreadsheet work that goes into their abilities and attributes.

But where it comes to life is in the playtest, which are a couple of my favourite hours of the week where I get to put aside the rest of the world and sit with the team on Tuesdays and Thursdays and just play the latest of what’s in the game. We then get all the feedback and talk about how things are coming together and we do that until things are honed and feeling really good.

We have had just over 40 unlockable guardians in the game and we’re now at 60 plus, with more to come.
Mark Raham

Just to be clear and put the message out, this game is still very much in development. Things are still ongoing…

I mean, the game’s not even a year old. So you know it’s still relatively new and when we launched, we have had just over 40 unlockable guardians in the game and we’re now at 60 plus, with more to come. The question that we keep asking ourselves is, how do we broaden and deepen the experience for the players? So yeah, there’s a full team effort to continue to develop the experience.

Do you have any upcoming milestones for when the next update will hit?

We’re still doing monthly updates, which works for our players and we’re continuing to release new guardians, story content and events. To me, that’s really what's amazing about creating a web service game, it’s not just one and you’re done. It’s an evolving story and your audience has the chance to interact and give you feedback. I really love the community that’s gathered around this game.

You can add new content and updates when you want, so in theory, could we get other IPs like Star Wars in the Mirrorverse?

Right now, we’re focusing on Disney Animation and Disney live-action Pixar. There’s enough there for us to work with for a really long time. When you think about it, it’s not just the blockbuster films, there’s the 90s afternoon TV series stuff, so there’s a ton of interesting and amazing stories to dig into.

Does the creativity flow the other way? Could you see this game as its own series on Disney Plus?

There’s so much story material that there can be all kinds of expressions of the Mirrorverse. We’ve already seen Dinsey and their partner McFarlane Toys put out a number of lines of collectables. So, I think the way it’s resonating, there’s a lot of opportunity for further cross-collaboration for sure.

What can you tell us about the future of Disney Mirrorverse? What’s next in development?

For me, the most important thing is continuing to build relationships with players and understanding the community. There are a number of very cool characters that are coming in the future.


Deputy Editor

Paige is the Deputy Editor on who, in the past, has worked in games journalism covering new releases, reviews and news. Coming from a multimedia background, she has dabbled in video editing, photography, graphic and web design! If she's not writing about the games industry, she can probably be found working through her ever-growing game backlog or buried in a good book.