Disney Infinity 2.0 Reveals Its Strategy for Reaching iKids

Today’s release of Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheros is a watershed event for Disney. For years they have tried to figure out how to crack the billion dollar gaming market. With last year’s successful launch of the Disney Infinity video game, they finally found a winner.

If you are not familiar with Disney Infinity, it is at the forefront of the toy-to-life format, where gamers buy toy characters that come to life in a video game. Skylanders by Activison was the first to pioneer this concept which has generated over 2 billion dollars in sales for the company.

What gets iKids excited about the Disney Infinity video games is the ability to collect their favorite Disney toy characters (which sell between $12 to $15 dollars each) and to then play them in the game. Characters like Violet from the Incredibles, Mater from Cars, and Elsa from Frozen became popular choices to add to the original game.

But in Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Superheros, we see the culmination of a strategy Disney has focused on over the last ten years. After their successful collaboration with Pixar movies like Toy Story, Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, they discovered what sells in today’s marketplace are the characters and their stories.

So in 2004 they bought the Muppets. In 2006 they bought the full rights to Pixar. In 2009 they purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Then in 2012 they bought Lucasfilm and the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Just last year they continued their buying spree as they obtained the rights to Indiana Jones.

Disney’s goal to own all the characters and stories of our pop culture is readily seen in Disney Infinity 2. Rather then staring characters from Disney movies or Pixar, it includes Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow from Marvel in the starter set who play in an Avengers themed game.

But this is just the start. What makes Disney Infinity 2.0 unique is the Toy Box mode in which you can mix and match your characters and create your own games, sets, and designs – think Minecraft combined with Angry Birds. In the new version characters get their own stories in the Toy Box Mode and they get to play with characters from all of the Disney owned franchises.

So what is our take-away:

  1. Disney through its old and new franchises is the most influential company in the lives of iKids. Besides the Disney Channel, it also owns ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, and DisneyXD. Along with its movies and theme parks it has the capability to make its products wildly popular among children (think Frozen).
  2. Disney has always understood the power of story. In today’s culture, stories and strong characters impart wisdom and meaning.
  3. Disney’s ability to think long-term it now paying off. Its strategy of buying up the pop culture has positioned it to have even more influence than before.
  4. By purchasing properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, they are able to rekindle the love adults had for these movies when they first came out. As a result, their goal is to create experiences that children, teens, and their parents can enjoy together.
  5. The Disney Infinity Video Game franchise has the opportunity to fully exploit its strategy. No one would be surprised to see Disney Infinity 3.0 based on Star Wars next fall, just before the next movie of the series is released.

9/11, iKids, and a Culture of Fear

I want it to stop, but the images keep coming:

  • A journalist in orange with his executioner in black ready to cut off his head
  • A woman in an elevator being knocked unconscious with one blow to her jaw
  • A video of a drone launching a missile at convoy of trucks
  • The body of an unarmed youth laying in a puddle of blood in the middle of a street
  • The special broadcast of our President telling the American public we have to fight on another battlefield to protect our freedom

And these are the images that have been streamed into our digital screens just in the last month as we consume the latest news.

Mary Piper in the classic book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, talked about how the images in the wider culture are the “wallpaper” of our children’s lives. When we put wallpaper up in a room, we take great care to make sure the patterns match along the edges. But after a couple of days it recedes into the background. What was new becomes normal.

It’s hard to image it, but today’s iKids, those born since 2000, have no memory of 9/11. For them it is just an historic event. But for those of us who experienced it, who watched it unfold before our very eyes – it signals to us a loss in the way we are living our lives.

Many of the things that are now normal have a direct link to the airplanes being flown into the twin towers.

  • Taking off shoes and belts as we go through security at the airport
  • Surveillance cameras on every street corner and public space
  • Passwords that must have a number, a symbol, and at least 8 characters
  • Soldiers fighting an unending war with no end in sight.

But these are the symptoms of a much greater issue, we live in a constant state of fear, especially when it comes to our children that is seen in a number of ways:

  • Giving our iKids smartphones at age 8 so we can get in touch with them when they are not with us. Why? If an emergency happens, we want to know they are safe.
  • Making sure they are always under adult supervision whether at home, school, or play. We wouldn’t even consider letting them loose in the neighborhood to play with their friends. Why? We don’t trust our neighbors or our society.
  • Making sure they are outfitted with the latest safety devices when they ride their bikes, go on their skateboards, or play team sports. Why? We are afraid to let them take risks.
  • Driving them from this class to that activity at all hours of the week in a constant state of activity. Why? We don’t want them to fall behind the other iKids. And we certainly don’t want to take the time to think, to feel, and to…breathe.

But fear has it costs – Innocence. Peace. Security. Hope.

Perhaps that is why the song from Frozen made such an impact in the lives of American parents. “Let it go” is something that we desperately want to do. But the cycle of violent events seems to keep us from finding that space where we can be free.

As I wrestle with these thoughts, these words from Jesus come to mind: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.”

The antidote to fear is not anger or hatred but love. Is it possible for us to discover this love, a love that can only come from God?

5 Back To School Tech Trends that are Impacting iKids

As children K-12 are in the first month of the 2014-2015 School Year, here are 5 things every parent, teacher, and member of a church staff need to know:

  1. Throw Out Those #2 Pencils
    In 43 states the educational program called Common Core will be in its first year of implementation. Started in 2008, leaders in state governments banded together to generate a new set of standards in reading, writing, math, and logic so students across the United States could be judged on the same material. One the most profound effects on students is how online testing via computers and tablets will become the standard for all students. Instead of bringing #2 pencils, iKids will have to know how to type and click their way through Common Core’s standardized testing. Depending on your state, students will be taking the Smarter Balanced Test or the PARCC Test.  The end result is students in public schools will be spending a lot more time in classrooms using tablets and computers so they will be proficient in using these devices when it comes to testing time in the Spring of 2015.
  2. Excessive Screen Time Impacts Health
    Those screens we love to stare at during all times of the day emit blue light, a narrow band in the light spectrum that may have long-term health effects on children and parents. Researchers already had reported that blue light delays the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells our body to go to sleep. Now they have discovered other medical issues such as retinal stress, diabetes, lupus, and migraine headaches maybe linked to lower levels of melatonin.Dr. William Harrison, an optometrist in Laguna Beach gives this definitive statement, “Here’s what doesn’t need research: 415 to 445nm is super hot light, and if it’s really focused and brought up close – when you’re talking about a tablet six inches from a kid’s face – it’s got to be significant.”
  3. Early Start to School Days Nixed by Doctors
    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics teenagers are going to school too early. Their recommendation, start middle school and high school at 8:30 am or later.  In a strongly worded policy statement they maintain that insufficient sleep for teens is a national health epidemic. Teens need 8 ½ hours or more of sleep to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but early school starts, overwhelming homework, and the use of screens at night severely impacts a teen’s ability to get a good nights sleep and to do well in their studies.   Some of the consequences of a lack of sleep for teens include increased risk for medical conditions like diabetes, strokes, and obesity. Anxiety, depression, stress, and increased risk-taking behaviors are also increased by a lack of sleep.
  4. iKids Need to Disconnect to Learn Social Skills
    A recent study by UCLA researchers of 6th Graders found that the use of digital media decreases a child’s ability to read other people’s emotions.   A group of 6th Graders were given a test to determine their ability to read emotions. After the test half of them were sent to camp with no media available to them. They hiked, went swimming, and talked to each other. The other half went about their everyday regular routine in which they averaged about 4 ½ hours on digital media in a typical school day. After five days the students were given a test to determine their ability to read emotions. The campers showed a significant improvement in their social skills.The learning from the study is that building social skills is a vital component of a balanced life. The good news was that after five days of being media free, the students showed a marked improvement in social skill development.
  5. The Family Meal as the Antidote to Bullying
    A new report from JAMA Pediatrics on cyberbullying found that teens who took part in a regular family meal were less likely to be negatively impacted from cyberbullying. A one-year study of students aged 12 – 18 in the Midwest found that cyberbullying has a wide range of effects on the teenage life. Of the 834 students in the study, 19% were cyberbullied. Anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, binge drinking, drug misuse, and fighting were common outcomes.   One of the most interesting results of the study was that students who had a regular family dinner were less likely to be negatively impacted by the negative behavior of their peers.The study states, “The results suggest that family dinners (ie, family contact and communication) are beneficial to adolescent mental health and may help protect adolescents from the harmful consequences of cyberbullying.”

Here are three takeaways to consider as iKids start the school year:

  •  As schools increase the amount of time they are asking iKids to spend on screens and techgear at school and for doing homework, parents must monitor the amount of time their children spend during their informal time. If they are on screens two to four hours a day for schoolwork, than its important for them to spend their free time off-screen. Also, shutting down screens well before bedtime helps them get a good nights sleep.
  • Face-to-face time is a critical component of learning to become a well-rounded person and is critical for positive mental health.
  • Rather than focusing on having the latest technology, churches can have the greatest impact on family life by providing opportunities in worship, Christian education, camping, and youth groups for iKids to develop face-to-face relationships with others and to develop an interior spiritual life free from the screens that seem to dominate so much of our lives.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and Director of Congregational Development at GBOD with the United Methodist Church