NextGen takes its next step at Walt Disney World this week
Published: April 30, 2012 at 10:06 AM
All these would merge as a single card or wristband, under NextGen
Guests who have been invited in advance will be testing new "Fastpass" cards with embedded RFID chips. Participants will have pre-scheduled Fastpass return times at several attractions, and will use the RFID cards to check in at those attractions during their one-hour return time windows.
Disney's ultimate goal here is to use RFID technology to enable a single card or wristband to do everything for a guest - to be a hotel room card, theme park admission ticket, charge card, Photo Pass card, Fastpass ticket, and Priority Seating reservation card. Disney doesn't need RFID to do all of those things - indeed, current resort cards can do fulfill many of those functions. But Disney also wants its NextGen media to be able to trigger interactive animation at selected locations around the resort. Eventually, your card or wristband will be the ticket to an individual narrative experience that follows you around your vacation - think of a much more robust "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom"-type experience that's overlaid on top of whatever else you choose to do at the resort. It doesn't have to be a game, like Sorcerers. It could be any type of narrative experience you'd want to add to your vacation. As I wrote two weeks ago, theme park lands in NextGen will no longer just be settings for attractions, but become platforms for them.
Disney's introducing RFID room cards this month at the Art of Animation hotel. This week's test begins the process of bringing the Fastpass system into the fold. And Disney's quietly begun work to create interactive animations in the Magic Kingdom that can be triggered by RFID-enabled media. Eventually, Disney will put the various pieces together, and we'll have our NextGen experience in the Walt Disney World theme parks.
The challenge, beyond simply getting the tech to work, is load balancing guest capacity across the parks. Ideally, NextGen would allow Disney to do a better job of spreading crowds throughout the park, as it would give Disney the capability of more actively managing where guests go, and when.
I'm reminded of how One More Disney Day went at Disneyland on Feb. 29, before California Adventure closed for the day at 8 pm and the after-work crowd swarmed the resort. Since the park was filled that day with experienced Disney fans, many of whom were trying to do everything in the park in that one day, the crowds dispersed nicely, spreading throughout the park and keeping wait times next to zero on most attractions, even though tens of thousands of people were in the park. NextGen could allow a next generation ride reservation system to better distribute guests throughout the park, the way that the daytime Disneyland fans did on their own during daylight hours on Feb. 29.
The flip side of all this is the capacity problems inherent in creating individual interactive experiences throughout the parks. Consider the wait time we're already seeing at some Sorcerers portals. Imagine if every Disney hotel guest has a NextGen wristband, and they all were trying to trigger little animations and go on individual quests around the parks. The standby lines at Soarin' might seem quick by comparison.
So a huge part of the NextGen testing won't just be making sure that the cards let you on the ride or trigger an animation when you tap them at the check-in station. It will be developing the mathematical models to determine how many pre-determined ride reservations the "average" guest should get in one day. And how many individual interactive experiences Disney can support for each guest each day, without making the wait times for those experiences intolerable.
That's a lot of math.
Until then, if you see a component of NextGen being installed or tested "in the wild," let us know in the comments, or on the discussion board.