To Infinity and Stop

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To Infinity, and… STOP!

Thanks to the popular Star Wars franchise, reinvigorated by the December release of The Force Awakens, Disney Infinity seemed like it could live up to the name and go on infinitely. The joke from the cast members around the Disney World Resort was that it was called “Infinity” because that’s how much money Disney planned to make from it. Months after the release of Infinity 1.0 stores continued to have a hard time keeping inventory on the shelves and Disney struggled to meet demand. Fast forward to last year and Disney Infinity merchandise raked in over $200 million in fall 2015 alone. By January 2016 Disney infinity had taken the number one position in the “Toys to Life” category, leaping past seasoned veteran, Activision/Blizzard (Skylander franchise) and eclipsing newcomers Amibo and LEGO Dimensions. So how is it that Disney “Infinity” became so short term and finite after all? As I read details from a variety of sources I’m surprised to find out that from the start it had little chance of being infinite. According to Bob Iger, Disney CEO, Infinity was a last ditch effort to save Disney Interactive which had lost $1.3 billion from 2008 to 2012. If it worked, then it stayed; if not, it would end Disney’s attempt at producing their own video games.

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Infinity did do as instructed – get Disney Interactive back in the black, but there were many issues that made it far more difficult to generate revenue as easily as a straight up licensing deal like they had with EA’s Battlefront. Unfortunately for the team at Avalanche and other production studios around the world working on assets for future playsets, executives at Disney decided to walk away from the table while they could.

Following a $147 million charge off Disney is shutting the doors to the whole Infinity program in June 2016 and getting out of producing games in house completely. This means that the product line did not last as long as a short-term lease on a car. How could this be possible for such a popular franchise?

There were several factors but one that I haven’t heard about anywhere else is Disney’s attitude towards the secondary market in the years that followed Infinity’s release. My assertion is that a lot of the missed projections on retail stock were caused in part by not merely ignoring but outright turning on the secondary market. The out of stock issues and runaway eBay fever that Disney saw as a problem in 2013 were a big part of why it sold so well. In the fall of 2013, if you saw an Infinity figure in a store that you wanted, you bought it. You didn’t wait to see if someone else had a sale coming up, you just bought it because you might not see that figure again for a month. That all changed in the years to follow and I go into this theory in more detail later in my upcoming article about my rise and fall as an evil eBay infinity seller.

It would seem that most are reporting Infinity’s Demise as self-inflicted, caused by an apparent $147M loss that many articles attribute to unsold Infinity Merchandise. In truth that is likely a part of it, however in a recent update to a May 10 article on IGN.

Seth G. Macy reported the actual statement from Disney,

“Disney announced it’s cancelling the Infinity line, and is getting out of the business of self-publishing games altogether. A charge of $147 million “in connection with the discontinuation” of Disney’s console game business affected the company’s earnings.”
This would seem to imply that the $147M charge off was not necessarily from unsold Infinity stock as we are led to believe, rather it seems to be charges related to ending the product line early. These would be things like returned payments to retailers for product that will not be manufactured. It could include things like remaining leases on buildings and equipment. It would likely also include severance pay, to those who get it, and possibly penalties or fulfillment of commitments to both re-sellers and manufacturers.

Contrary to popular opinion, it would seem that Disney Infinity wasn’t cancelled because it lost $147 million. It lost $147 million because it was cancelled.

So a simpler reason for the abrupt closure could simply be the current climate for business in general, if it isn’t producing enough, get rid of it. Remember, this loss was following a record gain the previous quarter. If overproduction was truly to blame, adjustments could have easily been made to balance stock and profit next fall. But the current chant of business is “our only commitment is to the shareholders.” If it isn’t producing NOW, get rid of it.

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Staff? They’ll find other jobs. Fans? They’ll buy our next toys regardless. Art? It’s only art if it sells. Last year alone the Disney World Resorts saw the cancellation of some of its most popular “no additional cost” events: Cars Masters Weekend, Star Wars Weekends, Osbourne Lights and a few smaller events and attractions. The latter two were Disney standards for 20 years. Unfortunately, “If it isn’t producing (revenue) get rid of it,” seems to be the new mantra.

The story gets more interesting and frustrating when we learned that Disney Infinity was announced closed on May 10th yet Disney Interactive hosted an annual tech conference two days later. Tuesday, April 12, Disney Consumer Products & Interactive Media kicked off its DCPI Tech Days 2016 in Glendale, CA (Home of Disney Interactive) to the joy of almost 350 employees with another 220 tuning in to a live feed. Ironically, not far away in Salt Lake City, the 300 Disney employees at Avalanche (the group that saved DI) were still reeling from the news less than 48 hrs earlier that Disney Infinity is ceasing all operations, including getting out of making console games completely and closing up Avalanche entirely. This means that all the creative talent that went into the game and salvaged the division are now looking for work. So as I whine about how this effects me and my kids’ video game investment, my sympathy must reside with those hard working creatives and others who relied on Disney Infinity’s success not merely for future enjoyment, but for continued employment.

Countless others were effected as the ripple effect was felt by additional studios that were working on aspects of at least three new play sets and a host of new figures. It almost hurts to report but among the cool things in the works were a Star Wars Rogue One set and new highly detailed 12″ light-up Infinity figures. The biggest improvement though was to be a 2017 release that would finally allow figures to cross genre: Elsa on Tatooine, Chewbacca fighting Pirates, etc.

With recent news in March of no further PC updates and then no 4.0 this year (just DLC’s), apparently the warning signs have been there for some time. In retrospect I remember being surprised to find great deals on Infinity products in February, long after seasonal sales normally stop. So it’s clear that consumer apathy did play a big role in sluggish profits. At this point there’s nothing left to do but accept the inevitable. There are only a few infinity projects left that are still in a state too far along to stop: three figures for Alice Through the Looking Glass, and a Finding Dory Playset. That’s it, no more. The party is over.

But can we play on? There are a lot of questions about continued support but so far very few answers…

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If you go to the Disney Interactive or the Disney Infinity websites you would get the impression that all is well. There are even a few toy box contests and events posted recently. Besides a downplayed posting from the 10th that briefly explains that Infinity is done, there isn’t much info on what that means for current owners. Thankfully there was very little that required online play but it’s naive to think that Disney will continue to maintain free servers for sharing toy boxes and the like. PC updates ceased already as did those for the just introduced AppleTV version of the game and since the people who created the entire franchise will all be working at their next company shortly, we can be almost certain that there will be no future console updates.

The last round of figures and sets (Baloo, Marvel Battlegrounds, etc.) require an internet connection to download content updates before 3.0 can recognize them (as will the final June items) so expect at least a skeleton crew at Disney to be keeping things humming through June and possibly a little longer to let stores sell out of stock that is already retired before release. I’m hoping for the best but the fact that there has been no definitive word on future support from the Disney camp is enough evidence to plan for the worst. With product left to release and lots left on retail shelves Disney would predictably hold off any announcement of a definitive end date to support for the very finite Infinity franchise. Optimistically, I would expect console compatibility updates through the summer, but I would not expect support of any kind beyond 2016.

I’m not sure what it means for the tablet/phone app versions of the game. I never did enter any of my “online codes” that came on the card with each figures or game so I won’t know what I’m missing. Hopefully my infinity collection will at least continue to work on our current consoles; it’s one of my daughters favorites. I’m going to start doing some Infinity runs on my Twitch channel as well to go into more detail as kind of an “infinity fan chat” (twitch.tv/clonecrafting), but really all that’s left to do is get in some pre-orders and round out my collection before I have to buy on eBay.

So now I find myself running to Best Buy to get the Light FX Kylo and recent figures like Baloo, ordering Light FX Kanan from Amazon and rounding up all my power discs to see what I’m missing before the news hits too hard and retailers go full crazy on remaining stock. To all you Infinity and Star Wars fans I suggest taking a run by your local GameStop. They currently still have “Buy two, get 3 more free” on “Pre-Owned” Infinity, Skylander & Amibo figures. That works out to 5 figures for about $15-25 (In store only).

Some components like the clear game pieces and bases are very cheap right now so it couldn’t hurt to get some backups.

Here’s a handy checklist for how die hard fans can handle the Disney Infinity post-apocalypse…

1) Make sure that you have a good quality copy of EACH game disc for any Playset piece you want to play (i.e. Cars Playset only works on infinity 1.0) and get them for EACH of your consoles or any you plan to buy (have Xbox 360 but getting PS 4? Buy a ‘clean’ copy of both). On a side note, there is no Infinity 1.0 for XboxOne or PS4 (but there was for WiiU).

2) Get a backup Infinity Base. They’re about $5 used but they aren’t making any more and the oldest ones are less than 3 years old, so who knows how long they last. There were 3 different bases: one for Xbox360, one for XboxOne, and one that worked on all other versions (PS3/PS4/Wii/WiiU) and all editions (1.0/2.0/3.0).

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3) Get any figure or Playset game piece that you REALLY like NOW. However, unless you need or want original packaging, get any 1.0 – 3.0 figures that you are missing at GameStop or eBay used if you can. Since there’s no more company, there’s no need to worry about online codes that come with the new ones.

(There weren’t many ‘special variants’ but Star Wars themed Light FX figures with a glowing light saber were a much more recent and limited run so if you want one get it NOW. There are 7: Anakin, Obi Wan, Yoda, Luke, Vader, Kylo and Kanan. Same goes for the 1.0 Toys r Us “Chrystal” variants or the 2.0 with a special display case, if you can still find them.)

4) UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE! make sure that your console(s) has the latest updates for its own OS and then update the Infinity game (for each version that you own).

5) Launch Infinity and ‘log in’ all of your figures, power discs and Playset pieces on to the base (just in case any of that process needs online updates to function completely). This is really only a concern for the newer figures which require online connection for content, but I would try them all out just to be safe.

There’s no way to predict which figures will sell out first but I’m betting on the few female characters. Also, I can see these last two items becoming in demand and going up on the secondary market…

6) Get Marvel Battlegrounds for Infinity 3.0 – Good news bad news for Marvel fans: marvel themed games from 2.0 (Spider-Man, Avengers) only work on Infinity 2.0 (not 1.0 or 3.0) so if you buy one of those sets, make sure you have last year’s version of the game. If you buy 2.0 figures, make sure that you not only have a copy of 2.0 but also the corresponding Playset piece (clear w/hexagonal base.) The good news is that all marvel figures from any set can play in the new Marvel Battlegrounds for 3.0.

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7) Finally, get a copy of both toybox expansion sets for Infinity 3.0; Toybox Takeover and Toybox Speedway. They are the only games that any character can play with any other outside of the toybox mode itself. These retail for $20 but Best Buy has them for $10.

That’s about all we can do now. As I’ve said before, Disney doesn’t do much by accident. If the heads of one of the most successful businesses on the planet say it was the right choice, then I’m sure it was…at least for the company and its shareholders, if not for customers and certainly not the fans. As reliant as our Central Florida economy is on Disney, there’s something to be said for even hard decisions if it keeps the company growing and agile. Personally, my family and I love everything Disney and will always support them financially. Between DVC, annual passes, hotel stays, meals, trips to the parks and all the Disney merchandise I would say that conservatively 10% of our annual income goes to Disney.

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Ending such a popular franchise so quickly and abruptly is no way to win the trust of loyal, young customers who will be far more skeptical the next time we are offered a new product line with such a high customer investment.

Hope beyond hope I found and signed this petition…

https://www.change.org/p/the-walt-disney-company-save-disney-infinity

I know there are groups trying to rally support for reversing the decision but I can tell you from experience that Disney has made their decision. It wasn’t done lightly and it isn’t up for debate. When they announced the closing of a popular ride at EPCOT many years ago petitions were signed, protests were held and even lawsuits were filed to have the ride declared a landmark. Nothing mattered. The ride closed, we moved on. That ride is now “Mission Space” and you would be hard pressed to find a guest or cast member that even remembers what it used to be.

These are no longer the toys you are looking for.

Move along…Move along.

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