The lights are on
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It's been a tough few years for Disney Interactive Studios. What started out with the promising acquisition of Warren Spector's Junction Point Studios in 2007 for Epic Mickey has turned into a mass of firings, studio closings, and a philosophical shift for the entire Disney video games operation. What was once going to be an empire is now rubble.Disney Interactive Studios acquired studios like Climax (who would become Pure and Split/Second developer Black Rock), Propaganda (the people behind the cancelled Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned), and Junction Point to form the backbone of its efforts to bring quality to its licenses and elevate the publisher into prominence.While it seemed like Disney was going about its plan the right way, the cards just never seemed to fall right. Split/Second and Pure were liked, but the sales weren't there. Epic Mickey sold over a million copies, but it was clear that Disney wanted a much bigger splash from the Warren Spector/Junction Point title. Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned was promising, but by that time, Disney seemed to have suffered enough losses that it probably felt like it had no other choice but to pull the plug on the project.In the end, the about-face was so sudden that the entire executive structure of the company was re-organized, Propaganda and Black Rock were closed, there were layoffs all around, and the company bought social gaming developers Playdom and declared that it was focusing on casual titles instead.I imagine that the explanation for all of this is simple: Disney wasn't making money. While this seems a clear and valid enough reason to change course, I find Disney Interactive's response to its predicament troubling. While it's patently ludicrous for me to sit here and play armchair quarterback with millions of dollars of Disney's money, I think the company quit just when it had already done a lot of the hard work.Disney had good studios putting out good games that had recognition with the public. With that kind of heavy lifting out of the way, it's not hard to imagine Pure 2, Split/Second 2, or another Junction Point Mickey title (this time for all the systems) building off its predecessors and selling well. I bet there are plenty of publishers out there who would have killed to have the portfolio and studios that Disney did.It's also unfortunate that this sea change at Disney Interactive cost hundreds of people their jobs at studios around the world. It's an inevitable part of the industry, but it also shines a light on the cost the developers – the lifeblood of all games – have to pay for circumstances with a publisher that aren't necessarily their fault. It's hard for developers to be truly independent these days, but it's just as bad to see them have to be in this kind of position and absorb the collateral damage.The situation at Disney is neither a mystery nor a surprise, but that doesn't make it any less unfortunate.
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