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After 'Epic Mickey' fizzles, Disney shuts down game studio

January 29, 2013|By Ben Fritz
  • Walt Disney Co. has shut down the studio behind its unsuccessful "Epic Mickey" franchise.
Walt Disney Co. has shut down the studio behind its unsuccessful "Epic… (Disney )

Walt Disney Co. has shut down the Texas game studio behind "Epic Mickey," the Burbank media giant's  unsuccessful attempt to reinvent Mickey Mouse for the interactive age.

Disney confirmed Tuesday that it has shuttered Austin-based Junction Point. A spokeswoman declined to confirm how many staffers have lost their jobs, but on a recruiting trip to a college in 2011, the studio reportedly claimed to have about 140 employees.

Many in the game industry were shocked in 2007 when Disney acquired Junction Point, which is headed by revered designer Warren Spector. His decision to join a traditional media company was widely considered a validation of Disney's strategy to invest heavily in console video games.

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The company then handed Spector the keys to its most iconic character, allowing the designer to create the first original Mickey Mouse story in decades, in which the squeaky rodent saves a twisted version of the happiest place on Earth called Wasteland.

2010's "Epic Mickey" performed relatively well, particularly given that it was available only on Nintendo's Wii console. It sold 2.8 million copies worldwide, according to the site VGChartz.com.

But 2012's sequel has been a flop, according to two people close to the game. The November release has sold just 1.1 million copies so far, according to VGChartz, despite being available on every major console. The "Epic Mickey" sequel also received worse reviews than the original.

Disappointing sales for "Epic Mickey 2" come as Disney is reshaping its video game strategy, focusing much its resources on a new platform called Infinity that launches in June and brings together a broad array of characters.

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In an interview earlier this month, Disney's top video game executive John Pleasants confirmed that the company does not plan to produce any other console titles beyond "Infinity," though he wouldn't comment on the future of Junction Point.

A spokeswoman for the company issued the following statement Tuesday:

"It was with much sadness that we informed our teams today of changes to our Games organization, which include the closure of Junction Point Studios. These changes are part of our ongoing effort to address the fast-evolving gaming platforms and marketplace and to align resources against our key priorities. We’re extremely grateful to Warren Spector and the Junction Point team for their creative contributions to Disney with Disney Epic Mickey and Disney Epic Mickey 2."

Spector did not respond to a request for comment. His Facebook page features a photo of the game designer sitting on a bench at Walt Disney World alongside statues of Minnie Mouse and former executive and animation guru Roy E. Disney.

The designer lists his occupation as "job seeker at unemployed."

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