Disney Playdom Staffs Up at Dream Castle for Social Games Based On Disney IP

The Walt Disney Corporation is ready to release social games based on its core intellectual properties through Sorority Life developer Playdom, more than a year after the $563.2 million acquisition.

Ever since the buy, it’s been a question of “when” Playdom would release Disney branded games more so than “if.” At the time of the acquisition, brands hadn’t seen much success on Facebook in the form of social games, but in the last six months they’ve come onto the platform from almost every direction — film, TV, music, core video game franchises, etc. During this time, Playdom was active on Facebook with big releases like Gardens of Time and ESPN Sports Bar & Grill, plus under-the-radar games like Deep Realms and Gnome Town. It didn’t, however, release any social games based on original Disney IP.

“As you can imagine, The Walt Disney Company is very protective of certain assets,” Playdom CFO Christa Quarles tells us. “There are things that have to have the right artists and art direction that can actually fit within [preset] standards. There’s an appreciation of that particular IP that’s required.”

Quarles explains that Playdom’s current development structure is what she calls a “federation of startups” that contains almost a dozen different studios, each working on different projects — not all of which are Disney-branded. Of this group, the San Francisco-based Dream Castle is likely the first that will make it to Facebook with traditional Disney IP. The studio already has ESPN Sports Bar & Grill under its belt and is now staffing up to tackle an unnamed social game that will leverage a familiar Disney brand.

“We’re not talking about specifics yet,” DreamCastle Vice President & Executive Producer Kenny Dinkin says. “We’re trying to get the word out there, though, that if you love Disney and you want to work on social games and you’re in San Francisco, there’s a team doing some really cool stuff here.”

Dinkin comes to Playdom from PlayFirst, where he worked on the Diner Dash casual games franchise. Through that IP, he developed a passion for storytelling in the casual games space — which is something he brings to Dream Castle’s unnamed Disney project. Currently, about half of his team at the studio is made up of existing Playdom employees and he tells us that the company is structured in a way where he can reach out to other Playdom producers at other studios for guidance on social game development.

“For me this is a really seductive opportunity to work with Disney, the mother lode of intellectual properties,” Dinkin says, “and to learn from Playdom, the experts in business analytics and social gaming.”

The appeal of working on a Disney video game has attracted several developers in the industry, most recently Deus Ex creator Warren Spector with Wii game Epic Mickey. Despite the draw of the brand, however, it’s difficult to create a product that both leverages Disney’s IP while still standing on its own as an enjoyable gameplay experience that consumers want to pay for. Brands are a stigma in the traditional video games industry where consumers have come to expect poor performance from games based on movies and comic books — which is why the success of games like Batman: Arkham Asylum or the original Kingdom Hearts comes as something of a shock. In the social games space, the marriage of branded IP and games is only barely consummated as brands based in film, TV, and even other video game franchises are just now finding success on Facebook with titles like The Smurfs & Co., The Sims Social, and the slew of newly-launched TV-based social games.