Tuesday, May 10 2016 22:12

Some Thoughts on the Shutdown of Disney Infinity...

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It's a bummer that seemingly came out of nowhere this afternoon, the news that Disney is exiting the video games publishing business and shutting down Disney Infinity following the upcoming release of figures from ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS and FINDING DORY. Shocking as it may seem, I can't say I'm terribly surprised, as the hints of a crash have been coming - the "toys-to-life" gaming category having already peaked, its shelf life already dwindling. We've seen this before, with trends like music gaming dominating retail aisles with massive interactive displays and an ever-growing array of hardware, games and accessories. Eventually, consumer overload takes place, retailers get tired, and interest eventually plummets no matter how good the latest game in the series is. The biggest problem with games and toys and merchandising in general is pretty simple: there's just too much stuff available. We'll swing back to that in a minute, though...

Activision's SKYLANDERS (2011) was first out of the gate a few years back, and we actually had the first two versions here at Rock Father HQ. Personally, I thought the games were just okay, but nothing particularly exciting... though I thought the business model was genius, forcing the purchase of physical toys to unlock cross-platform in-game characters. Fortunately for us (as parents), the Skylander's craze never caught on here, and the few items we had ended up as garage sale fodder. 

 Disney Infinity
Addie back when Disney Infinity 2.0 - MARVEL Superheroes came out in 2014

Enter Nintendo's amiibo (2014) and LEGO Dimensions (2015) alongside Skylanders and Disney Infinity (2013), and a very crowded market took shape - each fighting for the love of kids, and the dollars of their parents. With each new release in a series, countless figures and accessories that were now rendered near-obsolete ended up hitting the clearance bins, and retail hates that.

My first hint of that with Disney Infinity 3.0 came just two months ago - on the eve of the release of a new Captain America Play Set, and a new assortment of figures from ZOOTOPIA and THE JUNGLE BOOK... Best Buy quietly placed a ton of really recent figures on sale for as little as $4.99 each, allowing parents like myself to fill in some gaps (we went after the STAR WARS figures) for cheap.


Even as a #DisneyInfinty figure, Nick Wilde still looks shady. #ZOOTOPIA #ZootopiaEvent #toyography

A photo posted by James Zahn (@therockfather) on Mar 17, 2016 at 5:48pm PDT

Disney Infinity has faced much of the same plight that we saw with platforms like ROCK BAND and GUITAR HERO the first time around... even though the game itself has gotten better in quality (and Disney Infinity 3.0 is truly a stellar game), saturation and lack of growth caught up to a really expensive business endeavor, and Disney pulled the plug on it. On a personal level, it's a real shame because Disney Infinity was the first video game that our entire family of four played together (and we keep the girls much more tech-free than most kids), and a platform that was legitimately cared for and nurtured by a team that truly believed in making something special that families could enjoy together. Today, around 300 of those folks are out of jobs as Disney moves it's business to a licensing model.

While the video game aspect of Disney Infinity (and its competitors) is the "meat" of the platform, the real appeal for our kids has always been the figures themselves. They're beautifully-designed little statues (non-articulated "figurines"), and they're played with here on a near-daily basis... without even turning the Xbox on. 

When you head out to your local retailers this week, take a glance at all the toys-to-life products collecting dust on the shelves and pegs. It doesn't matter if it's Skylanders or LEGO Dimensions or amiibo or Disney Infinity, there's thousands upon thousands of unsold figures out there (too much stuff!), and as they begin getting marked-down and cleared-out, the real magic will begin when they wind up in the hands of children. 

The real magic isn't in the game, but in a child's imagination. As Disney Infinity shuts down, those characters will live on and continue to have countless adventures fueled by the minds of our children. Disney Infinity was a three-year experiment, but imaginative play is timeless and will always bring toys to life - no servers needed.

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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