From Marvel Contest of Champions to Frozen Free Fall: Disney on the power of its brands

Disney's Chris Heatherly explains all

From Marvel Contest of Champions to Frozen Free Fall: Disney on the power of its brands

Kicking off the first day of Pocket Gamer Connects San Francisco 2015, VP of Disney Interactive Chris Heatherly explained where mobile games fit into the Disney corporate universe; the process in which they partner with studios; and what they’ve encountered when bringing their catalog of beloved IPs to mobile gaming.

“We [Disney] are at our best, when all the elements of the company take something like Inside Out and transform it into an IP phenomenon,” Heatherly stated when asked about how Disney approaches mobile games.

Part of its recipe for success is the ability for Disney to “... take a brand and build it into culture,” Heatherly continued.

In this way, mobile games present a unique and strategic way for Disney to create a direct relationship with its wider audience.

3 ways to win

“We think about games as audience engagement machines and a storytelling medium,” Heatherly said.

An example of audience engagement is Disney’s Club Penguin website in which any fan art submitted is instantly displayed and archived on the site as a means to cultivate a meaningful relationship with their audience, who previous were separated through theater groups and cable providers.

In this way, Disney's success in the medium is due in part to its partnerships and the three business models its maintains.

Heatherly explained the models as such:

  • The first is the vertical model - in-house studios building compelling games using Disney brands,
  • Second is co-development - finding smaller studios with a proven history in live game operations, solid engines and experience in free-to-play models, to partner and publish with.
  • Finally Disney finds larger organizations that can bring something specific or outside the scope or expertise of Disney’s own in-house or smaller studios and making licenses agreements. Example include partnerships with the likes of DeNA who have strong presence in both eastern and western markets.

The potential of these types of partnerships is best modeled by Disney's relationship with Kabam.

Kabam's Marvel Contest of Champions has gone 360

Kabam worked with Disney and Marvel and create the successful Marvel Contest of Champions game.

We think about games as audience engagement machines and a storytelling medium
Chris Heatherly

Kabam then went to Heatherly to see if Contest of Champions, would be worthy of the Disney 360 brand/product treatment. This ultimately led up to the recent announcement of Marvel’s comic series based on the game, that will be used as a means to introduce new characters who will eventually become part of the game.

Two hooks

Another fascinating part of the conversation was Heatherly explaining the success of Frozen-themed match-three game; Frozen Free Fall.

Heatherly explained that Disney's release model is designed to allow it “...two bites at the apple.” This means games are often released around the original theatrical release, as the case with Frozen.

However the game's success didn't happen until the home release of the film. Due in part to children at home watching Frozen twenty times a day, Disney saw a second spike in the game revenue, which lead to its ultimate success.

All of these games are built with the purpose to extend the life and story of their IPs. And that is what makes them successful.

Being able to use even simple match-three games as a means to interact with its audience and utilize the story-telling potential is what helps create the Disney phenomenon and help give its IPs that “360 effect” which transforms their brands into culture.