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Longtime Disney video game chief Graham Hopper latest to exit interactive group

November 22, 2010 |  3:04 pm

GrahamHopper-3The longtime head of Disney's video game business who championed next week's highly anticipated release Epic Mickey is leaving amid an ongoing shakeup at the company's struggling interactive unit.

Graham Hopper, who built Disney Interactive Studios from a small division focused on licensed titles for children into a significant video game publisher with big-budget releases and original properties, is exiting after a recent change in management at the Disney Interactive Media Group. The company announced his departure in an internal e-mail Monday afternoon.

Though he has expanded Disney's presence in the video game world and had some hits, several original titles launched under Hopper have sold poorly, including the recent racing title Split/Second and the 2008 music game Ultimate Band.

His biggest bet was Epic Mickey, a new video game based on the classic character produced by game developer Warren Spector, whose studio Disney acquired in 2007 under Hopper's direction. The game comes out next week.

Hopper's departure comes as Disney is shifting its emphasis in video games away from consoles and toward emerging online and mobile platforms. The Burbank media giant recently acquired Facebook game producer Playdom for $563 million and installed its chief executive, John Pleasants, as co-president of Disney Interactive Media Group, above Hopper.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger discussed this change during a recent call with Wall Street analysts.

"By putting John Pleasants in to run games, not only will he focus on turning those businesses into profitability, but diversifying our presence in the business, so we’re not reliant on one platform that’s obviously facing challenges," he said. "It’s our goal not only to be profitable, but obviously to get there by shifting our investment."

The company recently canceled development on one of its highest profile console games, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, on which it had already spent millions on production. Instead, it is releasing a licensed children's game, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, along with next year's fourth movie in the series.

Hopper, a South African with a background in accounting, joined Disney's consumer products group in 1991 and was appointed head of the video game group in 2002. He could not be reached for comment.

In the internal e-mail, Hopper said, "The time has come for me to move on from the company and set my sights on new horizons."

Hopper's announcement marks the second high-level departure at the troubled interactive unit in recent months. Steve Wadsworth, who was president of Walt Disney Interactive for more than a decade, abruptly left the company in October. He was replaced by Pleasants and former Yahoo executive Jimmy Pitaro.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz

Photo: Graham Hopper. Credit: Disney Interactive Studios

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