The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

August 17, 2013

Disney enlists Buzz Lightyear to lure Activision's gamers

LOS ANGELES — An ad for Walt Disney Co.'s new Infinity video-game system features the Pixar characters Buzz Lightyear and Sulley squaring off against a phalanx of movie villains.

Real-world combat moves to toy stores Sunday when Disney, the world's largest entertainment company, introduces Infinity. The system, using technology that combines collectible figures with onscreen play, goes head-to-head with the top-selling "Skylanders" game from Activision Blizzard Inc., the largest independent U.S. video-game publisher.

For Disney Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger, Infinity represents the best shot at reviving his only unprofitable division, an interactive unit that lost $216 million last year. The product will compete with "Skylanders SWAP Force," the next installment in a $1.5 billion franchise that Activision CEO Robert Kotick is counting on as he engineers an $8.17 billion buyout of his largest investor.

"Disney is going to put a lot of marketing dollars into this platform," said Michael Hickey, a Denver-based analyst at Benchmark Co. "They have a treasure chest of intellectual property. They're going to market the hell out of it."

Infinity links collectible figures with game consoles. When players set plastic characters from Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Monsters" movies on top of the unit, they appear on screen as game characters and can interact, the first time the company has put characters from different films together in a game. Additional toys and discs, introducing other characters and features, cost $5 to $13.

Infinity's $75 starter kit includes a base unit that connects to consoles such as Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 and Nintendo Co.'s Wii U. The Disney game and earlier versions of Skylanders are rated as suitable for children ages 10 and older, according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

"We've had our, call it fits and starts in this business, and we think we are due for a hit," Iger said in an Aug. 9 interview with Fox Business Network. "And we believe Infinity is that hit."

Tony Wible, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia, predicts Infinity will lead Disney's interactive unit to a $123 million profit in fiscal 2014.

Under the direction of John Pleasants, co-president of Burbank, California-based Disney's interactive division, the company has cut back on releases of traditional console-based video games. By developing Infinity as a game platform rather than a standalone title, Pleasants is betting he can develop and sell new products at a lower cost than standalone games.

"It's something we'll be able to live on for years and continually add to it," Pleasants said in a interview earlier this year.

Kotick is working to defend a product that allowed Santa Monica, Calif.-based Activision to buck declining industry software sales and increase revenue 2.1 percent to $4.86 billion last year. He's relying on "Skylanders" earnings to help repurchase most of the 61 percent stake in his company held by Paris-based Vivendi SA.

"Skylanders" is the top-selling video-game title this year in North America and Europe, including toys and accessories, according to Activision. The company will increase marketing outlays this year to meet the Infinity challenge, said Eric Hirshberg, who runs Activision's publishing unit.

"While this genre we've created will face more direct competition than ever before, every indicator tells us that 'Skylanders' franchise is solidly on the rise and has both the cultural momentum and the product innovation to keep it that way," Hirshberg said in an Aug. 1 conference call.

The "Skylanders SWAP Force" starter kit costs $75, with more characters priced at $15 each. Retailers have committed at least 25 percent more space to the Oct. 13 "Skylanders" release compared with last year, Hirshberg said.

Hickey, who recommends buying Activision shares, forecasts Infinity will produce sales of $200 million for Disney this year, while he's predicting $500 million for "Skylanders," an increase from $350 million in 2012.

While both products primarily target boys, Infinity will have broader appeal, including girls and adults who want to collect the figures, said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc. in Los Angeles.

 "Infinity is more of a toy customer, 'Skylanders' is more a game customer," Pachter, who has an outperform rating on Activision, said in an interview.

Target Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., have been taking Infinity orders for months. GameStop Corp., the largest video-game retailer, has dedicated space in its stores for Infinity toys and is working with Disney on promotions such as a free magazine for early buyers, according to Kristin Djurdjulov, a vice president for marketing at the Grapevine, Texas-based company.

Toy R Us Inc., the largest toys-only retailer, is putting Infinity boutiques in the front of all its stores, according to Richard Barry, the company's chief merchandising officer. The Wayne, N.J.-based retailer is selling exclusive figures developed by Disney and opening its stores two hours early on Aug. 18 to meet demand.

At a Disney fan convention in Anaheim, California, on Aug. 9, Brenden Stark, a 41-year-old website director from Riverside, grinned as his 7-year-old son Andrew took Sulley, a character from "Monsters Inc.," on an aerial ride in Cinderella's coach at an Infinity trial station.

Andrew has already played through all of the levels of the "Skylanders" games, Stark said. Asked if his son might have to choose between the two games this year, Stark shook his head.

"We'll probably buy them both," he said.

 

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Davenport officials arrest 4 in child abuse case

    Authorities say they have arrested four women in connection to possible child sex abuse and pornography at a Davenport trailer park.

    The Scott County Sheriff's Office says the women were taken into custody Wednesday. They are all charged with felony counts of child endangerment.

    April 16, 2014

  • Authorities: Iowa suspect is longtime fugitive

    Authorities say a man being held in Waterloo is a fugitive of more than 40 years from North Carolina.

    The Charlotte Observer reports the man was arrested after the Iowa Transportation Department's facial recognition system flagged his driver's license photo. Authorities say they found information in his residence that identified him as 68-year-old Ronald Dwaine Carnes.

    April 16, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • Inmate charged in Rockford lawyer's 2008 death

    Murder charges were announced Wednesday against the one-time client of a Rockford attorney who was fatally shot while clearing snow from his driveway in 2008.

    Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato said a grand jury has indicted Richard E. Wanke Jr., 53, on charges of first-degree murder in the death of Gregory H. Clark, 60. Wanke was arrested Wednesday at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, where he has been serving a 14-year sentence on burglary charges with a projected parole date of May 7.

    April 16, 2014

  • Despite ruling, Iowa to bar all felons from voting

    Elections officials will continue to bar felons from voting despite an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that suggests not all of them have lost their voting rights.

    Three justices ruled Tuesday that only some felonies are considered "infamous crimes" under the Iowa Constitution that bar individuals from voting or holding office.

    April 16, 2014

  • Branstad's tax return shows income of $234,907

    Gov. Terry Branstad released his tax returns Wednesday, showing he earned $234,907 and paid $28,298 in federal taxes in 2013.

    The governor and his wife paid $32,085 in federal taxes but are getting a refund of $3,787. Their state tax return shows they paid in $10,285 in taxes but will get a refund of $4,158. In addition the governor and first lady each received $54 back from the Legislature as all Iowa taxpayers did making their total Iowa tax bill $6,235.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Jenny McCarthy announces engagement on 'The View'

    Jenny McCarthy had big news to share Wednesday on "The View": She's engaged to Donnie Wahlberg.

    McCarthy raised her hidden left hand from behind the desk, revealing an engagement ring.

    April 16, 2014

  • Iran cuts nuke weapons ability

    The United Nations will release a report this week certifying that Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its material that can be turned most quickly into weapons-grade uranium, diplomats said Tuesday.

    April 16, 2014

AP Video