Disney’s Bart Decrem On “Where’s My Water?” And Their Approach To Mobile

Disney’s alligator-centric Where’s My Water game made a bit of a splash when it launched in Apple’s App Store this past September, and not for the reasons you may be thinking of.

Sure, it turned out to be a popular mobile pastime (it unseated Angry Birds from its perch atop the Top 25 list for three weeks), but there’s more to it than that. Swampy, the game’s reptilian hero, is the first original character that Disney has developed specifically for a mobile platform.

The company still has high hopes for Where’s My Water, not only because it’s the company’s first original IP for the mobile space, but also because of what its success means for Disney’s vision for the mobile gaming experience. According to Disney Mobile GM Bart Decrem, more and more “guests” — Disney’s name for their consumers — are turning towards smartphones and tablets as their primary source of entertainment.

Disney’s new job then is to create compelling stories and characters that fit not only onto smaller screens, but also into more hectic lifestyles.

“We want to create engagements within the span of a minute,” he said. That isn’t to say that those engagements should lack depth: most Where’s My Water levels can be completed in around a minute, but Decrem’s team has added secrets and easter eggs to reward users for spending more time with the game.

I’ve alluded before to the fact that Where’s My Water was never intended to stay solely on the small screen, and Decrem confirms that the multimedia push is coming.

Swampy’s popularity both inside and outside Disney has paved the way for his migration into other media. According to Bart Decrem, Where’s The Water merchandise will soon see the light of day, and Disney.com and YouTube will be partnering up for a string of Swampy backstory videos. He offered no specifics on when that multimedia push will kick off, but he did mention in passing that he appreciates Rovio’s sense for “doing things at the right time.”

That could be the rationale behind the company’s recent announcement: Disney wants to push Where’s My Water into a whole new set of eyes today with the release of a free version of the game. Far from just being a trimmed-down “lite” version of the original app, Disney Mobile instead designed ten new levels for the free version, and will be rolling out another ten as a promotional campaign over the next few days.

As it turns out, the decision to design a free version from the ground up was an easy one for the team to make. Decrem feels that “lite” versions of games are tacky and too focused on the upsell. Developers should focus on creating quality products without business considerations — your mileage may vary on that one, but it’s a formula that he ultimately feels led to a better product. For a company that has looked to mobile as an incubator for new IPs, keeping those burgeoning franchises in people’s minds can be crucial.

So what’s next for Disney Mobile? They’ve got at least one more original IP that will debut on Android and iOS next year, and Decrem says he wants to create a “how did they do that?” experience. If Decrem and Disney Mobile can prove that the mobile space can help nurture new brands, Rovio may have to keep their eyes peeled. Everyone wants to claim their crown, but Disney may have enough money and manpower to really do it.