Disney missed out on games and now Fortnite’s their new hail mary

Disney missed out on games and now Fortnite’s their new hail mary
  • Epic and Disney are partnering for a new 'persistent and social universe'
  • But what exactly does that mean?
  • And why be so cagey about mobile, kill off LucasArts and then lament you didn't get into games?

Last week it was announced that Disney, the multimedia giant behind a huge back catalogue of films, television and music, are set to partner with Epic Games for an “all-new open, persistent and social universe.” This ‘universe’ will interoperate with the mega-hit battle royale Fortnite, although it’s not clear to what extent this will be the case. Regardless, that’s the big story. But what does this actually mean for us as players?

Big and bold

This is a major step into gaming for Disney, and probably emblematic of how they capitalise on their back catalogue. The Disney brand is not just films but all the merchandise, toys, television and the identity that goes with it. Being a self-professed Disney fan even as an adult isn’t seen as anything odd. I mean this is the company that now owns Star Wars. And if you check out the overview image that's been floating around below you'll notice some other bits and pieces, like ESPN, rounding out the more colourful characters.

And Disney hasn’t been shy about making big multi-character crossover games, like Disney Speedstorm or Disney Dreamlight Valley. Despite occupying entirely different worlds and times, Disney characters pretty much form a de-facto multiverse when it comes to their multimedia efforts.

However, can this sort of thing carry an entire interactive world? Especially since the press release hints this isn’t going to be something directly accessed via Fortnite but some sort of weird parallel experience. It’s probably going to draw in a huge crowd but we can’t help thinking of the Disney brand as being a bit like white bread, or Bargain Hunt, it’s popular but it’s definitely not cool.


Now, I’m not about to dispute the popularity of Disney, of course. But there is the problem of launching something that sounds awfully like Ready Player One (trite comparison I know) solely for Disney properties. Of course, there’s a lot of appeal, the family-friendly nature of most of their properties, the loyal Disney adults and increasingly cross-cultural popularity beyond just North America and the West. But at the same time, it’s a bold move to not just have another Fortnite experience, assuming this isn’t just that but with a fancy new name.

Over the past few years, the number of live service, multiplayer and other time-demanding games has become increasingly prominent. Especially on mobile where seemingly everything is being constantly updated with new content, characters and levels. All of this means that you have to pick and choose what you devote your time and energy to, and something that promises to be this huge and complex is going to be a difficult sell to people already putting their precious free time into any number of other games.

Remember Disney Infinity? It was a digital playground/platform title similar to Skylanders but you could put NFC toys into it after you bought them at the store - there was a fun sandbox mode where you could use it. It was all about wider play, and doing the same (platforming) again but with different characters and slight twists on the areas and ways to explore. It also pretty much died out by 2016 when Disney closed down developer Avalanche Software, and speaking of that…

The LucasArts effect

Despite statements that’d make you think this was the first time they touched it, Disney does have a history with games. And it was Iger himself who canned their previous efforts like Disney Interactive and the storied LucasArts studio. Disney seems to have this bizarre approach where they license, then have their own studios, then bin their studios; rinse and repeat. It’s a big deal because it’s money moving around and Epic just did the deal with Lego - it’s metaverse like Roblox while being more substantial than more explicit efforts - however, both Epic and Disney have a habit of shutting stuff down and firing people, so this is great, but also it’s in the hand of the Weyland Yutani and Tyrell Corporation of games and movies, respectively.

And yes, Sweeney’s always talking about how he’s dedicated to the players. But that hasn’t stopped him from axing staff over at Epic, despite the studio basically being on top of the world. Their mega-hit Fortnite reaching not just console and PC but also mobile means it’s basically making the same amount of money as some small companies.

All of which to say, Disney shot itself in the foot and now it’s relying on another company - as it continually has with all the licencing agreements they’ve made - to bring them into the 2020s along with the rest of us. And it’s going to be cold comfort for people in studios like Disney Interactive and LucasArts now watching their former bosses about-turn and profess how they always knew video games were going to be big, but they didn’t know how to get into them.

Too little, too late?

So, to sum it up, we think of this as being less a representation of Disney’s new and fresh investment into gaming, and more a serious about-turn and compensation for so many missed opportunities. And, we do always say this, but where’s mobile in this consideration? Let's go back to Dreamlight Valley and the fact that something virtually perfect for mobile - a stylised collectathon primed for long sessions or dips in and out - is only available via a single subscription service on a single OS.

Think about it, Dreamlight Valley is almost exactly the same as this proposed deal, it’s barely on mobile at all. And with this big new investment, if interoperability with Fortnite is going to be parallel and not assured, is Disney going to continue to ignore a potentially huge audience of players on the most widely used gaming platform in the world?

Yeah, we’re not saying we’re hard done by. But from a business perspective and that of players it feels a bit more like Iger has sat in a boardroom, panicked when he saw how Disney was slipping back in terms of games and immediately picked out the biggest name he knew to start a deal with.

Anything else?

So, those are some of the wrinkles we’ve noticed, but is there anything else? Well for one, Fortnite still isn’t seen as available on Apple for one - and they’re unlikely to head there unless something big changes, even in the wake of recent rulings and legislation like the DMA in Europe which drastically curtailed Apple’s power. However, Bob Iger is fairly friendly with Apple, especially after swinging the deal to buy Pixar from them back in the 2000s.

It’s worth noting that one of Disney’s newest games, Dreamlight Valley is available on mobile, but only through Apple Arcade. And you’d think that an Animal Crossing-like would’ve been something they were eager to put out there for everyone to enjoy, but like the about-turn to video games by Ol’ Iger, it’s pretty representative of the bizarre approach they’ve been taking recently, and why we’re not too confident about this latest Epic partnership.

So it’s one of Apple’s best friend and worst enemy getting together; what could that mean for the future? Well, whatever it does mean, for better or worse it’s clear that video games are becoming an increasingly recognised component of the media landscape, and corporations are getting more and more invested as a result.

Iwan Morris
Iwan Morris
Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the Pocketgamer.com editorial team in November of 2023.