Last year, Disney cancelled its toys-to-life game Disney Infinity, and, along with it, its entire console publishing division. Other than licensing to other developers and mobile games, Disney is out of the games business.
And yet, somehow, it still manages to screw up how it does games.
People are not happy with what we’ve seen so far of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. As a long-awaited follow-up to the much-loved MvC series, Capcom and Disney had a lot of work to do to win over fans, but even then most conversations of the game have been dominated by criticisms: the art-style is ugly, the simplified gameplay doesn’t gel with the rest of the series, the story is nonsense, and, most importantly, the roster just isn’t up to scratch.
The Marvel side of Infinite is entirely comprised characters found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not a single member of the X-men is anywhere to be seen, and there’s no Shuma-Gorath, Taskmaster, or She-Hulk from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, either. Instead we get Ant-man, Rocket Racoon and Groot, every member of the Avengers (except Black Widow, funnily enough), and even baddies like Ultron and Thanos. Even Captain Marvel, whose film isn’t even out yet, gets a slot.
And this is where Disney’s major failing with games lies; it sees them entirely as vessels to promote their newest IPs instead of a celebration of what makes it so great. When it comes to games, Disney very rarely looks back more than a few years, and just picks whatever it’s trying to sell tickets and Blu-ray copies of at the time of launch.
This is more than likely what killed Disney Infinity, beside the exorbitant cost of producing a toys-to-life game. The very first edition of the game launched with a tie-in for its hot new film, The Lone Ranger. That Lone Ranger film that was godawful, commercially tanked, and is never spoken about these days, but had a decent amount of funding dedicated to cramming it into Infinity.
The future expansions did this even more, with Disney Infinity 2.0 dedicated to showing the world “hey gang, we own Marvel now!”, and 3.0 being all things Star Wars to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens. While each update did come with a few classic characters, they were generally centered on whatever Disney was doing at the time. In 2.0 if it wasn’t Marvel, it was Maleficent (another film nobody cares about anymore) and Big Hero 6. 3.0 was accompanied by a literal landslide of Inside Out, Zootopia, and even more Marvel to tie in with Captain America: Civil War.
While this decision to sell the new, unproven characters instead of long-established and well-loved ones was probably a major factor in Disney Infinity’s death, Disney’s been doing this for years before the Infinity series even came along. Kingdom Hearts, a wildly successful set of games, still has themed worlds that coincided with new releases at the time of their launch – Kingdom Hearts 2 had a Pirates of the Caribbean world, Dream Drop Distance had a Tron: Legacy world. While there is a larger gap between the film’s release and it’s Kingdom Hearts outing than there was for Disney Infinity, it still felt incredibly advertorial when a game generally focused on revisiting the classics would suddenly drop us in that big film of last summer that nobody really liked.
As a smaller example, Capcom releasing the Disney Afternoon Collection, which includes a release of the DuckTales NES games, the same year we get a reboot of the DuckTales cartoon, probably isn’t a coincidence.
And so here we are at why Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite will probably fail. The rest of the games felt incredibly reverent of its source materials, both on the Capcom and Marvel sides. But now, with its full character roster potentially leaked, it feels like an empty shell fit to be crammed full of characters you can then go and see on the big screen.
It turns the game into a cynical cash-grab, a tie-in game as opposed to the celebration of Capcom and Marvel it should be. Every character on Disney’s site of the screen comes with the unwritten note of “from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, in cinemas now!”, and I really hate that. Cinematic tie-in characters are fine, but when they’re at the expense of series regulars like Storm or She-Hulk, it very much isn’t fine. I’d love to see Capcom stick Wolverine back in, in his yellow superhero suit, calling everyone “bub”.
Except they can’t, because Disney can’t sell that.