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While Disney is known as an entertainment juggernaut for years, it also has a history of being involved in video games. In fact, they have been involved in the video game industry for more than 3 decades now. What makes things a little more complicated is that their ventures (and the results) have been more or less a mixed bag during that time span. Here is a quick look at the long and complicated history of Disney games.
It was during the late 1980’s when the company first experimented with video games. Their first stab at the industry came in the form of educational software. It was at first a licensing venture, with other companies creating the software and just them licensing their characters and movies. Their first ever self-published non-educational title was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a video game spinoff of the popular movie from the 80’s.
The game sold more than 250,000 copies, made Disney a ton of money, and gave them good publicity. Beyond that, Roger Rabbit set the precedent of what the company wants to do all along: it has to be a good game and it has to be Disney.
The success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit got the ball rolling, so to speak. They established their first dedicated division for video games: Walt Disney Computer Software. They first started by creating video games for kids, and then they once again struck gold when they succeeded with The Little Mermaid, one of the forgotten video game hits of the late 80’s.
Another early hit they had is a project they developed with Silent Software: The Animation Studio. Other successes they had during the decade include Castle of Illusion and Ducktales. While success was there, consistency of results hasn’t always been there.
During the 1990’s, the company was making waves in the movie industry. However, their video game ventures have been more of a mixed bag. For the most part, the company just let WDCS call the shots on the creative direction of Disney games. Some of the 90’s: The Lion King, Aladdin.
This has led to the creation of games that didn’t rely on any Disney characters such as Stunt Island and Coaster. Partly because of this success, everyone within the company suddenly wants to get more involved with their interactive event division, and it made it hard for them to get projects approved, let alone create successful video games. Politics has hamstrung WDCS, and it has led to a number of cancelled titles.
Later on, the problem of Disney is with regard to their long-term plans. Some in the company believe that they should continue producing their own games while others think they should just focus on licensing. They would be acquiring or collaborating with game studios one moment, and on the next moment they would cut ties with them. It was this confusing pattern that will dictate the story of Disney’s game development exploits for the past 30 years.
In spite of all this, Disney were still able to release some great titles over the turn of the century. Whether it is done independently or in collaboration with other game studios, The company was just able to get things done. Among the successful games released during the 1990’s and the 2000’s include the Kingdom Hearts series, Nightmare Ned, and various others based on their characters.
Disney’s history is a complicated one filled with hits and misses. Many outsiders (and even those who worked with and for the company itself) thought they could have done more, but they still made an impact in the industry in spite of all that.
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