It has been two months since Disney's all-in take on video games hit stores.
Disney Infinity was conceived not as a single video game, but an ever evolving platform. Launched with three "playsets" based on Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredibles, the developers plan to expand their game regularly with new playsets, each essentially standalone games that play within Disney Infinity.
But the developers can only create so much content. Keeping up with the voracious appetite of invested gamers is a challenge. That's where user-created content comes into play.
Disney Infinity is really two types of games in one. The playsets are standalone creations that deliver high-production campaigns based on Disney properties. But everything a player owns gets dumped into the game's toy box, a virtual environment where players can create their own mashed-up experiences and then share them with friends.
User-created content is an incredibly important element of Disney Infinity because the free content can keep players interested in the game during the gaps between new playsets.
And John Vignocchi, executive producer for the game, says that content is doing better than expected. Shortly after the game's release, the developers behind Disney Infinity started holding weekly themed-contests to get players to create and share toy boxes. The best of those free toy boxes were then made available to anyone who wanted to download them.
In the first two weeks, Disney Infinity's players downloaded more than a million of them across all platforms, he told Polygon in a recent interview.
That's in part because for the first few weeks that content was actually created by the game's developers using the same tools that players have access to.
"What we wanted to do is show the community that it is our intention that Infinity will continue to grow and live over time with user-generated content," he said. "We wanted to start putting content in that channel so people could see what could be created."
Those first few weeks of developer-created toy boxes were impressive; they included virtual worlds inspired by Tron, Up, the Disney attraction Jungle Cruise, and perhaps most impressive: a BioShock Infinite map.
In the weeks that followed, the team shifted to player-created content. Each week the team at developer Avalanche put out a call for specific sorts of maps, like race tracks or mazes, and then posted the top five the following week. All of these are available for download to your console. The creation process was made a bit easier with the release of the Toy Box for iPad. And a PC version is coming next month.
Vignocchi said the team has been surprised at how good the user creations are.
"There is a perspective that you have as a developer that the creations that will come from our team are going to be the most spectacular made and in fact what the community has made has completely blown away our expectations," he said. "It's amazing to see the guys who are good at Minecraft building things in Infinity."
While friends can share toy boxes with one another, the only way a creator can get their creations to a wide audience is through the weekly contests right now. And those are always based on themes.
And that's likely not going to change, Vignocchi said. They do try to tell people who make amazing creations to hold on to those until a theme rolls around that matches what they made.
The push for user-generated content has had a significant impact on the main game as well, Vignocchi said.
"Our data shows that the players who are engaging in user-generated content are ten times more likely to continue to play Infinity than those who don't," he said. "It's wild when you look at the data and you can see that direct correlation."
And that continued interest in the game helps justify the creation of new playsets. Those new playsets, in turn, then bring new content to the toy box world, which in turn fuels players interest in making things. It's a powerful cycle.
And it's one that's keeping Vignocchi and the Avalanche team very busy.
The Nightmare Before Christmas figure, and a single adventure, launched earlier this month. The Toy Story in Space playset hits on Oct. 22. Characters from Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen hit next month with a handful more planned for early next year.
"In a general sense, my calendar is completely booked for the next three weeks," Vignocchi said. "We're coming up with all of the new content digitally and physically."
While Vignocchi declined to say how many copies of the game has sold, according to Disney they sold about 300,000 in the first two weeks in the U.S. And Disney chief financial officer Jay Rasulo said recently that the company was "extremely happy" with the game's early days.
That's in part likely because the game has a wider demographic than Disney originally expected it would have.
"The primary demographic is kids," Vignocchi said. "But we are completely blown away by the teens and adults that are into the platform and are part of the community."
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