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Image: Square Enix

Disney-owned characters and franchises were all over E3 this year, signaling the resurgence of a powerhouse that has struggled in video games.

Why it matters: Gaming has been one sector of entertainment that Disney doesn’t dominate — for now.

Driving the news: Three major gaming showcases prominently featured a Disney-owned series.

  • Xbox showed a surprise "Pirates of the Caribbean" crossover (out Tuesday) with its pirate game "Sea of Thieves."
  • Ubisoft ran a show-closing trailer for its game based on James Cameron's "Avatar" series.
  • Square Enix spent half of its showcase on a new "Guardians of the Galaxy" game.

Between the lines: Disney has done fine with mobile games, but stumbled for years with big-budget console and PC titles.

  • The mid-2010s saw Disney shut down its biggest internal studios, including Blackrock Studio, Junction Point, and Propaganda, which had worked on original games and games tied to characters as popular as Mickey Mouse.
  • In 2016, Disney ended its "Disney Infinity" gaming series and switched to a licensing model.

What they’re saying: "It wasn't 'getting out of games' or 'downsizing' from an ambition perspective around video games," Disney’s senior vice president of games, Sean Shoptaw, told GamesIndustry.biz in a recent interview. 

  • He says the company has  “a new ambition to go into this space in a more robust way.”

The big picture: Disney's current approach ties its biggest franchises to acclaimed mega-studios across the industry.

  • Marvel gaming is exploding with "Guardians" from Square's Eidos Montreal studio, "Spider-Man" games coming from Sony's Insomniac, and more.
  • "Star Wars" is expanding beyond EA for big-budget games, to include an upcoming project from Ubisoft's Massive team, who are also on "Avatar." Zynga has a mysterious "Star Wars" game coming to the Nintendo Switch and mobile, too.
  • "Indiana Jones" is in the works at Microsoft/Bethesda's MachineGames.

What’s next: We just might be entering a gaming era that resembles that of modern cinema and streaming, where major Disney releases are constant.

  • But consider last fall’s “Marvel Avengers,” which merged Disney-owned characters with top studio Crystal Dynamics but floundered thanks to bland level design and tedious combat that undermined an enjoyable story.

Go deeper: Co-op games are having a moment

Go deeper

Hands-on with Nintendo’s new Switch

Photo: Stephen Totilo/Axios. Courtesy of Nintendo

Nintendo’s more expensive model of the Switch is impressive at first glance, thanks to its bigger, brighter screen. But the unit’s improvements are subtle and mostly won’t be relevant to people who play the machine hooked up to a TV.

Why it matters: The Nintendo Switch OLED model, to be released Oct. 8, has been a head-scratcher since it was announced, given the limited improvements offered for its $350 price tag, $50 more than the standard model.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

4 hours ago - World

Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Melbourne's stay-at-home orders will end five days earlier than planned, officials in Australia's second-biggest city announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The capital of the state of Victoria has had six lockdowns totaling 262 days since March last year. That means Melbourne spent longer under lockdown than "any other city in the world" during the pandemic, Reuters notes.

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