Going back to the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s and into the 2000s, Disney's studios have been training grounds for the Annettes and Britneys of their generation.
Now the mobile gaming platform may serve as a farm team for company franchises. The company has high hopes for a new game app called "Where's My Water" that stars a cute gator named Swampy who just wants to take a bath.
The game is a simple puzzler for iPhone and iPad. The player must choose which mounds of earth need to be moved to get water to Swampy's underground tub. But Disney apparently has its sights aimed higher than just collecting 99-cent app fees.
According to an Associated Press report, Disney Mobile is hoping Swampy has longer legs than the usual alligator and will have a place in animation and other typical Disney vehicles.
Disney Mobile GM Bart Decrem says that the unit is looking to germinate new ideas and characters that Disney could use elsewhere. He takes as a given that a new generation is relating to mobile media in the way that previous generations related to film, TV and comics. Why shouldn't this be a venue where characters and storyline get tested? It certainly is cheap enough.
As Decrem points out, a mobile game might take a staff of a dozen six months to make, a bargain compared to the high costs and high risks in animation and film. And of course, with the "Angry Birds" having graduated to plush toys and pistachio nut endorsements, the path from mobile to franchise success has been opened.
Well, OK, I get the premise. But I have been playing "Where's My Water" for a bit and I have yet to identify the character in Swampy. The Angry Birds are at least, well, angry. Swampy is a gator with a rubber duck, made to seem adorable and cuddly (insofar as man-eating reptiles are cuddly) in contrast to his predatory fellows. The situation has some promise.
The alligators are not of the Florida backyard invaders variety. Instead they are the living in the sewers brand of urban legend. We like that, but otherwise Swampy just grunts in disapproval and weeps when the water fails to make it down the pipes. Maybe there was Disney focus group that told the developers Swampy offered a psychological safe haven, and that was good enough.
But of course it all does beg the good question of whether -- and how -- mobile media can incubate cross-platform franchises. And it all comes down to emotional involvement. Is the smartphone a rich enough experience to support a character or a setting that really resonate beyond the medium's own confines? In other words, can a game app make you sigh?