Disney Invites Game Developers to Tell Original Stories With Popular Franchises

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order - Courtesy of Respawn Entertainment - Publicity -H 2019
Courtesy of Respawn Entertainment

Sean Shoptaw, senior vp games and interactive experiences at Disney, on Wednesday gave an update on the studio's new approach to gaming, emphasizing original storytelling and "reimagining" classic characters and settings.

Disney is opening its vault to leading video game creatives.

Sean Shoptaw, senior vp games and interactive experiences at Disney, on Wednesday gave an update on the studio's new approach to video game licensing at the 2020 DICE Summit at the Aria Convention Center in Las Vegas.

"I'm here for one specific reason: to empower you to do really unique things with our [catalog]," the exec told the crowd of game developers. "We want to tap into the power of creatives across the industry."

Citing recent examples such as EA and Respawn Entertainment's Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, 2019's sixth-best-selling title, and 2018's Marvel's Spider-Man from Insomniac Games, which was the fastest-selling first-party title in Sony's history with 3.3 million units sold in its first three days (it has since gone on to sell over 13 million copies), Shoptaw stressed the importance of original storytelling and "reimagining" what Disney characters and settings could be.

The Disney exec extended an invitation to game developers in the room and throughout the industry to "come and play" with its extensive catalog of franchises, which now include many 20th Century (formerly 20th Century Fox) properties such as Avatar and Bob's Burgers, among many others.

Disney has had an exclusive publishing deal with EA on Star Wars games for consoles since 2013. Last year's Jedi: Fallen Order has been the biggest success story since the start of the partnership, outperforming previous titles like Star Wars Battlefront II in 2017, which sold more than 9 million copies but came in under expectations for the multiplayer title. EA expects Jedi: Fallen Order, meanwhile, to top 10 million in sales early this year, despite being a single-player adventure that, as of yet, has released no new content since its launch in November.

Another long-term partnership has been with Square Enix, which Disney has worked with over nearly the past two decades on the role-playing series Kingdom Hearts. The latest entry in the franchise, Kingdom Hearts 3, debuted last year and has sold more than 5 million copies, becoming the fastest-selling title in the series.

“Working with our friends at Disney through our nearly 20-year relationship has produced something that neither of us could have accomplished alone," says Kingdom Hearts 3 producer Shinji Hashimoto. "The Disney/Pixar team have provided invaluable support in helping us realize our creative visions through this beloved saga.”

The presentation at DICE is the first time Disney, which stepped away from developing its own games recently to focus on licensing partnerships with game studios, has pulled back the curtain on its broader gaming plans since its acquisition of 21st Century Fox early last year. 

“We want to dream big and look forward to all the things we can do together," Shoptaw told the audience.