Inside Pulse 12

Disney Interactive’s Graham Hopper Resigns

VentureBeat reports that Graham Hopper, General Manager of Disney Interactive, put in his resignation on Monday, signalling an end to his almost nine years in charge of that branch of the company.

Mr. Hopper’s responsibilities will be taken over by John Pleasants, who was put over Mr. Hopper when the previous president of Disney Interactive Media Group, Steven Wadsworth, resigned in September. Mr. Pleasants was formerly the boss of Playdom, who Disney bought for a reported $563m in July. It also comes after Disney CEO Bob Iger called for changes to how interactive media was put out at the company after a poor first quarter to their fiscal year.

Two games – Tron Evolution and the Warren Spector directed Epic Mickey – are in the pipeline to be released still by the company. Other big name games included Split/Second and Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned. The former didn’t hold up to sales projections and the latter was cancelled. The company also co-developed the Kingdom Hearts games with Square Enix.

It’s hard to see this as anything but a casualty of the shifting games market. I loved what Disney was doing in stretching their portfolio out beyond platform games based on their tween shows, and am still looking forward to Tron Evolution and especially Epic Mickey. It takes guts to take existing, well known properties like those and do what DIS was doing with them. But it’s a numbers driven business, and when you’re a company as large as Disney, the beancounters tend to win more often than not, simply to keep shareholders happy. Split/Second and Epic Mickey are big-budget games, and the margins for success on those titles are getting slimmer and slimmer, so it’s not surprising to see Disney doing whatever it can to stick with current market trends.

Mr. Hopper and his vision will surely be missed. He took some gaudy chances and made some great games as a result. Unfortunately, that’s not what moves profits in 2010. Here’s hoping he lands on his feet.

The full resignation letter is below:

Dear friends and colleagues,

It seems like yesterday I was given the wonderful opportunity to lead the Disney Interactive Studios team and build a 21st century games business worthy of the Disney brand. Since taking on the challenge, I discovered we all enjoy a shared passion for great games, a vigorous creative environment and working together as a collective team which has made every day here worthwhile.

After more than eight years at DIS and 19 years at Disney, the time has come for me to move on from the company and set my sights on new horizons. During December I will transition my responsibilities to DIMG’s co-president, John Pleasants, who will continue to manage and oversee DIMG’s collective gaming strategy.

As I look back, I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished. Our global games business has grown dramatically, we continue to attract and develop some of the best creative talent in the industry, we create award-winning products, and we’ve reached our target to become a top-five publisher on Nintendo platforms. This was all accomplished by the hard work of every DIS employee and a strong collective belief in the vision we set out to execute on many years ago. We have put Disney on the map in video games, and for that, we should all be extremely proud. As we ship our upcoming titles Disney Epic Mickey and TRON: Evolution, we can be confident that we continue to create, market and deliver high-quality, best-in-class games that both entertain and delight players. My heartfelt thanks go out to all of you and I wish you much success.

Graham

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  • Peter Skerritt

    He got out while the getting was good. Poor release timing really doomed Split/Second to also-ran status as its sales were cancelled out by Blur and sales of both games were severely hindered by the runaway success of Red Dead Redemption.

    The POTC debacle and the uncertainty surrounding potential sales of Epic Mickey– which comes as a Wii exclusive at a time when the Wii popularity bubble has burst– will haunt Hopper for some time.

  • Peter, you bring up a good point, something that makes me wish I hadn’t taken a break last week: this means that two of the three developers of arcade racing games have been decimated in one way or the other, either at the executive level (Split/Second) or completely (Activision killed off Bizarre, who developed Blur). The latter one is even more frustrating to me. Someone at Activision should have been fired for deciding to take Blur head-to-head against Modnation Racers and Split/Second. Instead, hundreds of good people have lost their jobs.

  • Peter Skerritt

    Wow. ModNation Racers WAS at the same time. Too many games in one genre in a short period usually means one of two things: one game will outsell the others or the games’ sales will cannibalize each other and all of them will end up failing. At least Split/Second didn’t have the same Mario Kart feel that Blur and ModNation had… but all three fell victim to John Marston and Red Dead Redemption in May. And with disposable income being limited, consumers didn’t have the cash to partake in much of anything else… let alone a racing game or two.