Kingdom Hearts: Benefits of Joint Venture Franchising

Kingdom Hearts was a huge success when it entered the market in 2002 and has since then been followed up by six more titles over a variety of gaming platforms. The venture is a collaboration between Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studios, capitalizing on their combined creative library to provide a new product to be packaged and sold over various media platforms. In his book Media Franchising Derek Johnson, argues the way in which franchising has emerged of the years and how the relationship between companies, platforms and technologies have shaped media franchises. Johnson proposes that “the franchising of media content production came to be understood as ‘something that creates value across multiple businesses and across multiple territories and over a long period of time,” which will be explored through Kingdom Hearts (Johnson 6).

The success of their media franchise can be attributed to their easily recognizable, trademarked creative characters but both companies uniquely exploit one another. Disney has found its brand identity through defining your childhood; capturing its essence and selling it back to you through films, clothes, etc. Square Enix, in regards to the Final Fantasy franchise, marketed exciting video games, films and graphic novels to a gamer audience that spans many ages.

Kingdom Hearts Game Cover with main characters. Mickey comes from Disney and the main character's concept and design is Square Enix in origin.

Kingdom Hearts Game Cover with main characters. Mickey comes from Disney and the main character’s concept and design is Square Enix in origin. Image via Google Images

First lets address the overload of cultural resources found in the franchises provided. Kingdom Hearts contains both Disney content and Square Enix content, which allows players to consumer two separate cultural artifacts simultaneously at the same time. The audience plays these games with characters designed by Square Enix in locales and storylines similar to Disney films.   The player is engaged in gameplay that immediately requires them to consume existing Disney and Square Enix creative content. Johnson writes that “…franchised production offers a shared creative context in which many different individuals and communities can draw resources and contribute in kind,” which provides both companies with creative freedom and exploitation (Johnson 108). This manifest itself as the ability to exploit existing creative material and the freedom to refashion popular media artifacts without alienating established consumers. The genius behind this is that while Kingdom Hearts is a game that is arguable meant to promote other products, films and franchises. Of course there are merits to the game and of course as a fan I wouldn’t begrudge any fan to disagree with me.

Second, these overload of cultural resources are not disregarded and does not mean that they don’t contribute to the creative works of either companies or the video game industry. Kingdom Hearts takes those characters and those settings and does not reestablish their narrative for the gamer but rather allows them to play through the scenario with their own sense of the game’s structure. Johnson writes that:

“Worlds generate difference amid repetition through their potential for elaboration, spun into “what if?” scenarios and other new improvisations of the core series architecture.” (Johnson 113)

Disney is able to invite its fans to relive their childhood in a more user friendly way. These new “texts and scenarios” that generated by the user exploit nostalgia by asking the user to directly challenge the concept of their famous childhood films. To repeat an earlier claim, there is no sense of alienation from the user/gamer because the original film is intact and can be viewed at any time.

To take it one step further, I will consider the ways in which the mutually beneficial relationship between Disney’s and Square Enix plays out. Square Enix has already engaged in an aggressive business model in which their video games are spread out over a variety of gaming platforms that enables them to reach gamers who have select devices. That being said this isn’t the only way that they have intuitively attracted gamers. Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series attracts primarily an older audience filled with more mature content. Most of their titles get a Teen rating from the ESRB. The joint Disney Interactive Studios and Square Enix Kingdom Hearts series attracts a younger audience with age appropriate themes of friendships and courage and the series is rated Everyone.

It may look like Kingdom Hearts is a precursor to Final Fantasy and in some ways that is true. Square Enix has increased its reach into a younger audience with whom they will establish a “brand bond” which will travel through their gaming life and benefit SE later on when these older gamers are buying games. Additionally it functions to take an older audience and provide them with the chance to relive their childhood gaming experiences or play new content. This plays back into Johnson’s comment about franchising in a modern context. Kingdom Hearts has been running for over 12 years and has been extremely successful and Final Fantasy has running strong since 1987. Regardless, they have been able to reap benefits through the creation of a joint media franchise that just builds off an already successful one.

'World" of Final Fantasy

The “World” of Final Fantasy which showcases the wide range of platforms that the series can dominated.   Image via Google Images

Johnson, Derek.  Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries.NYU Press, 2013. Print. Postmillenial Pop.

Featured Image via Google Images


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