Disney Buys Marvel - what it means for online games and virtual worlds

So, Disney yesterday announced that it has agreed to acquire Marvel Entertainment. This gives Disney access to such famous brands as The Hulk, Spiderman, X-Men and Howard the Duck.

The comic books, graphic novels, TV cartoons, character merchandising and movies obviously fit in well with Disney's media portfolio, but there are some questions around videogaming. Why?

Marvel characters have appeared in numerous videogames from many different developers and publishers since the dawn of home consoles - ranging from the superb (Marvel vs. Capcom) through to so-so movie tie ins (Iron Man). The first question for some of these developers and publishers is where do they stand now? Disney has its own game studio, and while to date has generally focused on classic family fare (Hannah Montana games), it has also published slightly more adult titles like 'Pirates of the Caribbean:At World's End'. Inevitably over time much of the game development efforts around Marvel properties are likely to revert to Disney but this will take time to plan and ramp up for - and that is without considering the existing licensing agreements that Activision, and Blue Tongue have.

Even more potentially interesting though is the opportunity in virtual worlds - Disney, uniquely amongst major brands, has excelled in this space; Virtual Magic Kingdom, Toontown online, and Pirates of the Caribbean Online not to mention their successful acquisition of Club Penguin.

When it comes to online superhero worlds, City of Heroes / Villains was a big hit for NCSoft in the massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) market - Marvel was even suing the firm at one point for alleged copyright infringement -- naturally gamers personalized their characters to resemble classic Marvel heroes.

And yet a Marvel MMO - with the proper characters and locations ended up being canceled by Microsoft Game Studios in early 2008. Why? The perceived difficulty of making money up against the 800lb gorilla of the space: World of Warcraft. This hasn't stopped SOE and Warner bros from developing DC Universe Online -- DC being the  age old nemesis (the Galactus to Marvel's Fantastic Four if you will...look it up!).

So the superhero genre seems ripe for a Disney MMO -- but (as Microsoft Game Studios found) this is a major multi-year investment, so don't expect news around this any time soon from Disney unless they want to announce this before DC Universe Online ships next April.

'Nuff Said