Detailing how Disney plans to build its gaming catalog

A bar graph for the breast cancer rates among women of different ethnicities.

After a failed attempt at making video games in-house, Disney has found success in offering its biggest IPs to seasoned game developers — with more coming soon.

Photos: Marvel; Illustration: Pale Magazine

Published on Dec 15, 2023

Disney hasn’t been in such a state in decades: suffering from boardroom battles, long strikes, and a streak of box office failures, the company’s stock is less than half of what it was at its peak two years prior. Trouble piled up since Bob Iger returned as CEO last November, but the company finally seems to have moved beyond its “period of fixing.”

Iger’s first run as Disney CEO was celebrated for high-profile acquisitions like Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox, collectively making the company into an entertainment juggernaut. Celebrating the success of some of the biggest film franchises in the world, the company thought of pulling off a Netflix — creating Disney+ in what would be a head-turning property at its inception.

However, the streaming business has since turned into a hefty loss-maker for the company, with a string of box-office bombs and unsuccessful TV series only driving subscribers away. “No other company we’ve covered has seen that kind of decline,” said media analyst Michael Nathan in a Bloomberg report.

One potential strategic shift for the company is to buy a gaming giant like Electronic Arts — publisher of FIFA, Need for Speed, and Apex Legends — to become something more than a gaming licensee. While Iger has reportedly been “noncommittal” to the idea, Disney isn’t planning a half-hearted approach when breaking into the gaming business — with the success of its “Marvel’s Spider-Man” franchise likely fueling this hardiness.

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in HBO's The Last of Us.

Photo: Marvel

While Disney’s intellectual properties are still featured in several games, the company itself has had a troubled history with publishing games itself. Over a decade, Disney acquired and subsequently closed multiple game studios — laying off hundreds of employees, canceling multiple projects, and losing hundreds of millions in the process. “We feel we’re better off managing the risk that the business delivers by licensing instead of publishing,” Iger said in the investor call where they announced the shutting down of Disney’s video game division.

The company has since experienced a resurgence in the gaming industry: approaching acclaimed studios to craft video games around its biggest properties — like Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Miles Morales spin-off, the Star Wars games developed by EA, or last year’s mega-popular mobile game Marvel Snap from Second Dinner.

With several more titles on the way, the company is “just starting” on the video game front, Disney’s head of gaming Sean Shoptaw told Axios. “We’re very happy with where we are strategically in the work that we’re doing,” he said, while flatly declining to comment on a potential EA acquisition.

Big-budget gaming isn’t exactly a safe bet, with several recent superhero titles underperforming at critical and commercial fronts. Marvel’s Avengers’ poor performance led to an estimated $200 million in losses, with developer Crystal Dynamics concluding support for the game earlier this year. The Guardians of the Galaxy game missed its publisher’s expectations despite being released to critical acclaim. Things haven’t been easy for non-Disney properties either, with the Batman spin-off Gotham Knights being received poorly by critics and players alike.

Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is the genre’s biggest recent success — making a case that leaping game mechanics and even a decent story are more than enough to deliver a game-of-the-year contender. While backing off on its previous strategies of internal game development, Disney has figured out how to stay relevant in the booming gaming industry: important as it searches for an opportunity to break through.

Disney’s got a lot brewing on the gaming front: Iron Man and Black Panther games are being developed by EA, with another Black Panther game in the works at the newly-formed Cliffhanger Games. Insomniac is reportedly preparing to release a video game featuring Wolverine in 2025 — an idea that has also been teased in the recent Spider-Man game. Some reports suggest that Disney wants a new Star Wars game to be released every six months, with Ubisoft’s “Star Wars Outlaws” scheduled to release sometime in the next year. The most recent development was an announcement made at The Game Awards last week, where a game based on Marvel’s Blade was announced. ❑