Digitizing Disney’s magical empire

Shortcomings of the happiest place in the world

I recently felt the pain of a 3 hour wait for the new Avatar ride at Disney World. It gave me a lot of time to ponder some shortcomings of the “happiest place in the world”.

“New” in the physical vs. digital worlds

A “new” ride is anything released within the last 3 years. The Avatar ride took 5 years to develop! These massive physical undertakings bottleneck the pace of development, and can lead to a landscape that feels outdated in places. Even the marvel of “it’s a small world” loses its luster after 50+ years.

I’ve been to Disney a number of times, and while I’m still in awe of the wingspan of imagination that has enabled this whole experience to take flight, each repeated exposure dulls the magic a bit.

What would it look like if theme parks could ship a weekly update with new releases and fixes? Perhaps a lot more like the ever-evolving Fortnite universe.

Turning atoms into bits

Nobody goes to Disney for the multi-hour waits, they go in spite of it. Waiting in line is a necessary evil. But lines could be eliminated entirely if more of the experience were in virtual reality.

Part of the magic is seeing the physical manifestation of what’s shown in movies and shows, and there are elements VR can’t capture just yet. However, by turning more atoms to bits, Disney could innovate faster and, at the very least, stitch together a better “queue” experience in the form of entertaining immersions.

Timeless stories

The heart of Disney’s business model is the creation of timeless stories and characters. Mickey Mouse is still the most iconic star after nearly 100 years in the spotlight.

But Disney didn’t stop there. Their upfront investment in branded IP is monetized through a variety of avenues from merchandising to cruise tickets, park attractions and music. It’s remarkable how much of the chart that Walt Disney himself drew remains a directionally accurate depiction of the Disney flywheel.

When you’re in the business of monetizing stories over the course of a customer’s lifetime, it’s best to start as young as possible. A day at the parks is a fascinating case study of inducting babies in strollers into the Disney way of life. Furthermore, there are studies showing that our tastes form early and stay with us for life.

Necessity is the mother of invention

The Disney Parks app is used by people to check on wait times and book fast passes after they have bought their tickets. It’s a classic example of how product quality suffers when it is not necessary to a business.

The core use case of booking fast passes is terribly designed. First, it’s buried at least 2 layers down from any entry point. Every time you try to book a fast pass, you are forced to read the instructions, select participants, and pick a date before you can even see which fast passes are available. And when you can finally make your fast pass selection, you are limited to one at a time before having to start from the top again.

If Disney park attendance were gated on people trying out the fast pass experience, I imagine a lot of these problems would magically disappear.

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