Disney (NYSE:DIS) has a new virtual world for gamers to explore. Don't expect Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI) to be happy about it.
The family entertainment giant introduced Disney Infinity yesterday. When the gaming platform rolls out in June for all three major video game consoles and PCs, fans will be able to purchase one of three play sets. Actual figurines docked into a portal will then be transported into the virtual realms that can be customized along the way. Whether someone wants to be Jack Sparrow or Monsters, Inc.'s Mike Wazowksi, they can create the seemingly endless combinations that will continue to multiply as Disney introduces new figurines.
Now, anyone who has played the Activision Blizzard's Skylanders franchise will find some of these elements strangely familiar. Docking data-storing action figures on a base that transforms the figurines into a virtual game is exactly what helped Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure become the industry's biggest seller through the first half of 2012.
The video game industry has been struggling for three years, so when you have a hit, you milk it. Now it seems as if Disney is out to steal some of Activision Blizzard's thunder, if not its young gamers.
Don't underestimate Disney's potential here. The original figures are limited to Pixar and Disney icons, but isn't it just a matter of time before Marvel and Star Wars jump into the fray?
If anything, Disney may actually be doing the industry a favor.
Think about GameStop (NYSE:GME). The video game retailer has been in a world of hurt lately. It has hosed down its same-store sales guidance four times over the past year. As the industry goes digital, there isn't much of a market for the prepackaged software and the higher-margin resales. Well, tangible action figures are required here -- and they're going to get traded in along the way.
What if Disney Infinity is the franchise that gets younger gamers -- the ones who no longer care about playing traditional console games with their brothers when they can play free apps on tablets -- interested in video games again? Yes, the House of Mouse is blatantly ripping off Activision Blizzard here, even though the actual game has little in common with Skylanders beyond the setup. However, if Disney's ambitious mission here breathes new life into a dying industry, Activision Blizzard may want to be thanking Disney instead of branding it a copycat.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Activision Blizzard and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard, GameStop, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.