Disney Stakes Claim as U.S. Leader in ‘Toys to Life’ Games

Walt Disney Co. said its Infinity video game for kids outsold a key title from competitor Activision Blizzard Inc., the company that invented the combination toy-and-video-game category.

The product is crucial for Disney, which only recently achieved profitability in its interactive division. Its claim as industry leader in the category called “toys to life” spurred an intense rebuttal from Activision, which created the business in 2011 with its Skylanders franchise.

Disney said data from researcher NPD Group Inc. showed U.S. sales of the Infinity franchise increased 16 percent in November and December from a year earlier.

“We’re outselling our previous year and we’re outselling our competition,” James Pitaro, president of Disney’s interactive division, said in a telephone interview.

Activision Publishing Chief Executive Officer Eric Hirshberg disputed the claim, saying Skylanders “continues its leadership position as the No. 1 kids video game franchise globally as well as in the U.S. by wide margins. As the creators of the ‘Toys to Life’ category, we are thrilled to continue to lead it, in the face of increased competition.”

The Skylanders franchise as a whole was 30 percent bigger than its nearest rival in 2014, Hirshberg said, and the latest version outsold the competition by 17 percent worldwide.

Infinity and Skylanders combine video game play and collectible figures. Nintendo Corp. entered the market last year with its Amiibo games.

The interactive division of Burbank, California-based Disney earned $116 million on sales of $1.3 billion last year, in part due to Infinity, which was introduced in 2013. The division didn’t make money the five years before that. To increase profits, Disney Interactive sharply reduced the number of games it produces to focus on titles with the most potential.

‘Morale Booster’

“This will be a tremendous morale booster because it really continues to demonstrate that our strategy is working,” Pitaro said.

Pitaro attributed the increased sales to a “toy box” feature that allows players to have characters from different Disney movies interact with one another. He also cited new characters tied to hit Disney films last year, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Big Hero 6.” He declined to say whether Disney would introduce “Star Wars” characters this year.

“They’ve done a good job at producing figures relevant to the cultural phenomenon,” Liam Callahan, NPD’s games industry analyst, said in an interview.

Amazon.com Inc. and GameStop Corp. have been selling the Disney Infinity 2.0 starter packs, which include the game platform and three characters, for as little as $40. The kits have a list price of $75. Additional characters typically sell for $13 each.

Starter Packs

Disney said it sold almost 1.2 million of the starter packs to its most recent version, Infinity 2.0, in November and December, an increase of about 10 percent from a year earlier.

Infinity 2.0 scored a 6.5 of 10 by industry publication Game Informer. “None of the play sets deliver big game play thrills,” the review said. Skylanders Trap Team, the most recent version from Santa Monica, California-based Activision, received an 8.75, with the reviewer calling it “the best Skylanders game to date.”

Nintendo said it has sold almost 2.6 million Amiibo figures and will introduce more this year.

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