Eric Johnson

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Disney Mobile’s Bart Decrem on Trying to Find a Happier Ending for Games Unit

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Ask Disney Mobile SVP Bart Decrem what Disney is doing with games, and he has an answer ready: “We are trying to create new Disney characters and new worlds.”

His company, though, has found success primarily by doing just the opposite: Digging into its seemingly infinite catalog of IP from past movies and TV shows to make games consumers are interested in. In fact, Disney, Pixar and/or Marvel characters are absent from only about 10 percent of the 116 titles Disney has published on Apple’s App Store.

Disney Interactive — under whose umbrella Decrem’s mobile games studio falls — is still the runt of the company’s units, delivering $9 million out of $2.4 billion total operating income in the first quarter of fiscal year 2013.

But that’s still far better than its seven- and eight-digit quarterly losses, consistently found in every Disney earnings report since Q1 of FY 2009, when the company started reporting Interactive Media as its own segment.

So, for the first time since Decrem came to Disney from its acquisition of Tapulous in 2010, he’s part of a unit that can finally expect a bit more attention and respect.

Presumably, those new characters can now come out to play, with Decrem in the middle of building new IP and franchises that originate in mobile games.

So far, the first and only one created in-house is Swampy, the star of Disney’s puzzle game Where’s My Water?, which has garnered 200 million players to date.

disney toy story smash it

Most of Disney Mobile’s other titles — recently, Temple Run: Oz and Toy Story: Smash It — were developed with the long-term vitality of existing characters in mind. While movies get bumped out of the box office after a few weeks or months, a good game can stick around for much longer. Thus, a kid who wasn’t old enough to play Temple Run: Brave when it debuted in late May of 2012 can easily find that it’s still in Apple’s Top Paid iOS charts more than nine months later.

Decrem added that games will be a part of Disney’s growth into China and India, where he claims children are “discovering Disney largely through the games that are on these app stores.” His team’s goal, he said, is to eventually make a game that reaches one billion players.

The gaming studio isn’t always required to do whatever the movie guys tell them to do. A few times a year, Disney Mobile gets pitched on upcoming movies and is told which ones matter most to the company. But when the developers aren’t interested in or don’t have an idea for a game spun off of a movie, Decrem said, “We do say ‘no’ a lot.”

If a big push for more original characters is afoot, the rest of 2013 will be an interesting test of just what the bosses — and, more importantly, Disney’s audience of casual gamers — will say yes to.

Of course, mobile isn’t the only thing that matters here — Disney is still quietly readying Disney Infinity, its big cross-platform console project, for this summer. It’s worth noting that both Decrem and spokesperson Brian Nelson alluded to mobile initiatives attached to the project, but Nelson did not go into details or name the mobile operating systems that will be involved.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald