Disney's $1.5 billion gamble is Fortnite meets Disney World, and it could be gaming's next big thing

 The Mandalorian in Fortnite.
The Mandalorian in Fortnite.

In 2009, Disney paid $4 billion for Marvel and, not long after, spent the same eye-watering sum to acquire Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars. Over a decade later, the House of Mouse is making a similarly seismic move in the world of gaming by spending $1.5 billion on a stake in Epic Games and creating a "persistent universe" that is, essentially, the virtual Disney World of your dreams.

For those looking to immediately dive into a Disney-verse in Fortnite, however, all that we have right now is market-speak. But it's important to lay out exactly what Disney is promising at this early stage.

"The Walt Disney Company and Epic Games will collaborate on an all-new games and entertainment universe that will further expand the reach of beloved Disney stories and experiences," The Walt Disney Company's press release reads.

It continues: "In addition to being a world-class games experience and interoperating with Fortnite, the new persistent universe will offer a multitude of opportunities for consumers to play, watch, shop and engage with content, characters and stories from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, Avatar, and more. Players, gamers, and fans will be able to create their own stories and experiences, express their fandom in a distinctly Disney way, and share content with each other in ways that they love."

So, amid all the word salad, should we be excited? In many ways, the early elevator pitch smacks of the Metaverse, Facebook's catastrophic attempt to bring virtual worlds crashing into the real one. But this billion-dollar gamble has several aces up its white-gloved sleeve.

Disney's collection of iconic characters and properties is its most obvious selling point. You don't have to look far to see the boundless potential: a world where you can cross paths with Indiana Jones and Buzz Lightyear just as readily as you can watch Disney Plus with your friends before taking on Thanos has a clear appeal to multiple generations of fans.

It's a Fortnite world after all

Disney x Epic Games
Disney x Epic Games

"Interoperating with Fortnite" (a billion V-Bucks to whoever can figure out what that means) also gives Disney a head start on the competition. In addition to the likely millions of gamers – and non-gamers – who would have their heads turned by such an idea, Fortnite has over 230 million active players in 2024 alone. That baked-in audience will allow this virtual Disney World to thrive and possibly help it grow to the next big thing in gaming. Where others have to roll out years-long roadmaps just to ensure long-term interest and success, Disney has decades of experience and, crucially, trust from its audience on being able to deliver.

That sort of social space is also something that this console generation – and, frankly, everyone – has been crying out for.

In a bot-filled internet where messageboards and forums are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, an interactive space for gamers built on Disney's values of decency and connection is only ever going to be a net positive. It might also finally realize the potential held by the likes of Sony's PlayStation Home, a living, breathing world that always felt like it was a little too ahead of its time.

Excitingly, there's also the chance to revive the childlike wonder of one of Disney's more misguided attempts at chasing trends. The 'toys to life' phenomenon of Activision's Skylanders – which grossed over a billion dollars – eventually led to Disney trying their hand at Disney Infinity. The idea? Sell a bunch of real toys that would form part of a sandbox world on consoles, bringing together the sort of joyously realized crossovers only reserved for fan fiction and playground debates.

Did it work? For a while, yes. Disney reported that it made over $550 million in its first nine months, per Reuters. Like all trends, though, it soon fell by the wayside and ceased production after just three years.

Disney Infinity
Disney Infinity

The concept, though, was a strong one and, now, Disney is putting a serious wedge of money down to ensure a similar idea shouldn't fail. It could even go one further and start building fully-fledged games in the Unreal Engine. At a time where the industry is seeing unprecedented job cuts, a thriving, bountiful online space with infinite room to "create experiences" could be healthy for everyone in the industry.

So, yes, we probably should be excited. If this virtual Disney World can bring together the magic of Disney with an all-encompassing entertainment and gaming space, it could be an obvious winner. Throw in the early spark of Disney Infinity, the social stylings of PlayStation Home, and the relentless machine of Fortnite and it's difficult to see how it could go wrong.

After all, Disney doesn't just spend billions of dollars on ideas that aren't, at least on paper, surefire bets. The MCU changed movies forever. Disney's brave new world could do the same for gaming.

For more, check out the new Disney movies coming your way over the next few years. Then dive into some old classics with the best movies on Disney Plus.