Disney (NYSE:DIS) seems to have a hit on its hands.
Disney Infinity -- the long-anticipated video game series where RFID-backed character figurines are placed on a dock to enter a virtual world -- hit the market yesterday. The family entertainment giant was originally targeting a release date of June, ultimately settling for the back-to-school season instead of aiming for the school's-out crowd.
History won't mind the delay. The move may have bought Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI) Skylanders some time, but it still means that Activision is going to have to compete with an army of well-recognized characters.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was one of last year's best-sellers, but Disney's clearly raising the bar here. Kids may not know a lot about the physical figurines that they were collecting last year to play in Activision's game, but they know what they're getting when they pick up Jack Sparrow, Mr. Incredible, or Buzz Lightyear.
This is where Disney's going to make a killing. Disney fans are everywhere, and the figurines would probably have a market even if there were no game attached to the collectibles.
Disney's arsenal is also massive. It will never run out of magnetic characters to break into this world, and that's before even considering what it can do after spending billions on Marvel and Lucasfilm.
The arrival of Disney Inifinity is going to make the Activision franchise seem dated, and rightfully so. Success is never a permanent thing in the gaming industry, and Activision Blizzard has the now unplugged Guitar Hero franchise that proves it.
However, there's always a chance that Disney's move actually helps. Yesterday's release will likely woo a new generation of gamers to the world of consoles. These are the kids that have grown up on tablets or borrowing their parents' phones to play games. The appeal of dedicated platforms may seem foreign to them, and perhaps that's why video game industry sales have fallen sharply in each of the past three years.
If Disney gets a young audience to ask for consoles to play traditional video games again, won't that mean that the audience for all potential games will also widen? Yes, this is a self-contained universe here. Folks aren't going to buy as many games as they used to, but we've known that as developers include cloud-based gaming features that extend the shelf life of hot titles. However, if this gets more people to invest in the systems themselves, we may finally start to see an uptick in video game sales for the first time in more than four years.
This would be great news for Activision shareholders, even if it means that Skylanders will be the next franchise to get sacrificed.