John Blackburn HeadshotA little over one month ago, Disney Interactive launched its long-awaited Disney Infinity gaming initiative, combining physical Disney character collectibles in a digital video game world. Kids can either play Disney Infinity in Play Set or Toy Box mode.

Play Set mode allows them to collect figurines and build video game worlds based on a single franchise such as Toy Story. In Toy Box mode, kids have the freedom to “mash-up” characters from different Disney stories to create their own, unique virtual world.

KidsWire went behind the scenes with John Blackburn, Studio Vice President and General Manager of Disney Interactive’s Avalanche Software, at Digital Kids Summit Thursday to learn more about the launch.

“The critical response has been positive,” Blackburn said. “We are most satisfied with the success of our Toy Box concept, which we feel is a  really different idea. It gives children that same free-play experience they would encounter with an actual toy box. Parents are really enjoying watching their children explore and play in that way.”

In the past, Blackburn said, Disney has been hesitant to mix its characters because they didn’t belong together. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean and Cars characters are loved by fans as their own separate worlds, and Disney is very careful to guard that heritage.

Disney Interactive, however, had a business need. It was becoming more challenging to create innovative individual themes in video games, and the company needed a way to mix things up.

“The Disney Infinity idea was the way to do this,” Blackburn continued. ” If everything was a toy, we would have a way to bring these products together. We learned that if we could take a variety of franchises and create interactive figurines in a unified visual style–that looked like they were meant to stand together–then we build on our Toy Box idea for the video game.”

So far, Disney Interactive has observed that the Infinity Play Sets are more successful with the younger audience, as younger children often need more structure. There has been great excitement surrounding Toy Box mode with older children who are enjoying building their own worlds and sharing them on sites like YouTube.

“When we talk about play, we talk about playing together,” Blackburn noted,”Toy Box enables that in a way that people haven’t seen before.”

Since the launch, one of the biggest things Disney Infinitive has learned is the value of simplicity.

“We realized that our concept was really complex,” Blackburn concluded. “Toy Box is something new, and it was hard to explain. People didn’t really understand it until they played it.

In the future, the company will be working on simplifying Disney Infinity by backtracking to the key things it has done really well and developing those ideas further.

At Digital Kids Summit, Blackburn expanded on these insights, drawing on his experience developing Disney Infinity to highlight the ways that toys, most notably interactive figurines, can be integrated with digital gameplay.


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