It’s no Mickey Mouse Outfit

The original wholesome family-values company, Disney has long been a part of the videogames industry. With so many well-established character franchises in the TV and movie worlds, a transition to videogames was an obvious step.

Still mainly known for content geared towards children, the ever-increasing average age of gamers – as well as the influx of new audiences from more casual gaming styles – has adjusted the demographic.

As a result many publishers are branching out, Disney included. recently got the chance to spend some time with Thierry Braille, Disney Interactive's VP and managing director for EMEA, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, to find out how the company's attitude is changing in some areas, and how it's standing firm in others. A few eyebrows were raised when Disney announced it would be releasing a Turok game, because it's not seen as a traditional children's game. How do you see it?

Thierry Braille: Well, we are actually spending our development money in a very clear way. 90 per cent is going towards Disney-branded content – that's 70 per cent on movies and TV series for existing characters, and 20 per cent on developing new characters.

Now we have 10 per cent which is being spent on non-Disney branded content, and in this area we think we can do a lot of things. There are basically only to markets that we don't want to approach: the sports market, and we have our ESPN brand and an existing deal with Electronic Arts there; and the extreme-rated area, because as a company we don't want to touch these kinds of products.

Having said that, the rest is absolutely open, and Turok is an excellent game – which is the most important thing. The content is not appropriate for the Disney brand, so we are branding it under Touchstone, but that's fine, it's not beyond the limit I just mentioned.

It must be quite exciting to be branching out from what traditionally would be considered your main area, the youth market, and embracing a new group of gamers?

Well, we can do that with non-Disney branded products, but we can still reach this audience with Disney products, such is the vision of the company. It's a brand that is targeting the family, and the way that we see the family is inclusive, not excluding anybody in the family.

You have families where there are a couple of kids, maybe 16 and 10 years old, and we have gamesthat appeal to them as well as their parents under the Disney brand. Take Pirates of the Caribbean for example – it was number one on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in most markets in Europe, if not all, and stayed there for a couple of weeks.

This is a game that at this stage is probably targeting more the core gamer, but the core gamer is part of a family.

The other example that talks to everyone is Kingdom Hearts, which is being developed and published by Square-Enix. If you look at the audience playing Kingdom Hearts, with the Disney characters, it's absolutely everyone, because it's a wonderful execution, it's a fascinating game.

So the Disney brand is related to a lot of content, and we have titles that are for a younger audience, but there are more titles, such as High School Musical that could gather the family, after the Sunday lunch maybe, and we can imagine them singing together.

This is Disney – this inclusive way to bring the family together and have fun.

You talk about the family unit, but the concept of the family has changed a lot in the past decade. How do you respond to that change? Do you see Disney and gaming as a way to bring disparate families back together?

I think gaming is definitely playing this role, and when you see the gaming audience in the last couple of years we have a lot of new people starting to play games, and actually they share this experience with the rest of the family, and it's definitely a way to bring them together.

Of course you have content which is really specialised, and provides an experience which is more targeted to over 16s, but you have consoles and games which are bringing people together for a couple of hours, and you don't have to be an expert in manipulating a joypad to have fun.

A couple of years ago people were criticising games because they weren't a social entertainment experience, but if you look at the market today it's probably one of the most social experiences now. That's a very nice evolution of the market, and I think that's why the market is expanding.

Because the core gamer isn't disappearing, they're fortunate to enjoy a better and better experience with the evolution of technology – everybody must be happy with the products coming out today.

But there is this emergence of new players, a new target audience, and the female market is booming.

Is there a receding generational effect on the gaming market?

Absolutely, that's a very strong driver of the current trend. People started playing on the Spectrum a very long time ago, and now these people have kids, and they're sharing their entertainment with their kids, it's a snowball effect.

Plus you have people coming to the market who have never played before. And we still have a lot of people to convince – we're still not at the maximum number of players, so there's still a lot of potential to come.

You supported the Wii and DS right from the beginning, what difference have they made to the market?

I think they offer new opportunities to develop new gameplay, different experiences, and ones which are probably talking to a Disney audience, so I think it's a very beneficial contribution.

At the same time you can see a similar trend on the other consoles, with EyeToy, or SingStar, so I think everybody is going in the same direction.

When will we see a SingStar game for the Disney cartoon musicals then; Beauty and the Beast, etc?

[laughs] Well, we have High School Musical coming out for Christmas, but maybe you've given us an idea there…

The gamespace is looking pretty healthy now with all three of the new consoles having been available for a while, but what about the flipside of higher development costs?

Well, you're right, the development costs are escalating rapidly, but not only that – the marketing costs are also growing fast. I think it will be very good for the consumer at the end of the day, because they will see better products.

When publishers bring out products, we better make sure it does something new, it is of the highest quality, it's compelling, and it targets a specific audience. So it's good news, but at the same time, it's a bigger bet – so as a publisher you better be right.

PlayStation Home will be launched soon – is that a platform that interests Disney?

That's not something I can comment on.

Thierry Braille is Disney Interactive's VP and managing director for EMEA, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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