Disney Gets Into Kids’ Social Network Game

SANTA MONICA, Ca. – In addition to saying, “Hey! We make video games too!” at E3 last week, Disney announced a new social network for kids called DGamer. I’d call it “DLater”, though, because the service doesn’t come out until May 2008. (As if the Walt & Co. can afford to wait any longer to get onto the social networking-for-kids train.)
As described at E3, DGamer will let kids chat, trade items, and acquire online achievements using in-game avatars. Disney claims that anything done on DGamer via the Nintendo DS will also be done online through a designated portal at Disney.com and vice versa, for what they call “complete synchronization.”
Little else of the online community was shown, but the move clearly shows Disney’s interest in simultaneously banking on the rise in popularity of both the DS community (40 million strong) and kid-themed social networks like Webkinz, Club Penguin, and BarbieGirls.
According to division president Graham Hopper, DGamer will be safe for children and will include tight integration with existing Disney IP, including Pixar, though no specific properties were mentioned. The service comes bundled with every Disney DS game, and launches with the release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in May 2008. It’s unknown if non-DS owners will be able to create a DGamer account online.
Since 1994, Disney’s video game division has quietly grown to 700 employees while publishing in-house games and licensing its IP to other game makers, such as Cars from THQ and Kingdom Hearts from Square Enix. The company now calls gaming a long-term priority and expects double digit growth over the next few years.
It plans to invest $130 million in product development during 2007. The division just acquired Junction Point, the Austin studio of respected, innovative designer Warren Spector, which suggests Disney Interactive is interested in more than standard family fare. (Donald Duck meets Deus Ex?)
While I like the idea behind DGamer, I don’t trust Disney to pull it off. Still, assuming the company leverages that solid IP like it should, kids just might flock to it.