Theme Park Insider

Walt Disney World Wish List: The Next Step for MagicBands

August 13, 2015, 4:33 PM · Disney World's MagicBands can be much more than a high-tech ticket. With RFID and NFC connectivity, these wristbands can put wearers into a real-time information grid that reacts to visitors' presence by doing much more than simply lighting up a Mickey-head logo when they're good to go into a Fastpass+ return queue.

Disney's MagicBand

But up until now, that's pretty much all Disney has called upon MagicBands to do: To serve as a ticket, hotel room key, and charge card for visitors inside the resort. In these roles, MagicBands have been performing as little more than wearable versions of the key cards that Disney used to distribute to its on-site hotel guests.

No one who's paid much attention to Disney's MyMagic+ project expects this to be the final extent of the MagicBand project. They've dropped hints about a much more engaging role for the wristbands, one that would allow attractions and themed spaces to transform in response to the presence of individual visitors.

Theme park fans first saw a glimpse of such interactive possibilities two decades ago, when E.T. began saying riders' names near the end of that Universal Studios dark ride. That feature provided a cute novelty, but in an era when video games have become the dominant form of entertainment for millions of fans, theme parks need to develop more interactive attractions to remain relevant. Shooter rides such as Six Flags' award-winning new Justice League: Battle for Metropolis have helped fill this need, but as video games offer fans much more than shooter titles, theme parks ought to be developing a wider range of interactive experiences, as well.

The trick, of course, is defining and managing user input in a theme park environment. Universal did this 20-some years ago by having a team member type in visitors' names and hand them each a card to present for scanning at the ride's loading station. In a modern environment, input needs to be a lot simpler and more intuitive than that.

That is the value of the MagicBand. By placing wearers into Disney's information grid, the MagicBand provides input to Disney's systems that allow them to read and react to the wearer's presence, without the wearer having to do anything buy show up. The rewards can range from simply recreating Universal's "say my name" feature to completing changing the behavior of animatronics or show scenes based on visitors' age, interests or past experience with an attraction.

Imagine a Toy Story Midway Mania that becomes progressively harder as you ride more often, with the opportunity for new levels and higher-scoring challenges in return. (And that keeps track of all your scores on the ride!) Or a Star Tours ride that doesn't simply choose alternatives at random, but does so by selecting options that the fewest number of visitors in the Starspeeder have seen before.

From what we've heard, Disney's Imagineers have been working on creating next-generation applications for MagicBands in Disney's new Avatar land, now under construction in Disney's Animal Kingdom. Given that we expect to hear more about Avatar at the D23 Expo starting tomorrow, perhaps this wish list item is one that we really hear about at D23. No matter what Disney does or doesn't announce at its official fan event, though, we're putting a more creative role for MagicBands on our Walt Disney World wish list.

Replies (23)

August 13, 2015 at 6:35 PM · The worry that I have is that Disney parks are turning into meet-and-greet machines, and the real rides and artistry that was associated with Uncle Walt will be downplayed over seeing your name in Toy Story Mania (still not convinced that TSM will age well, but that's another discussion).
August 13, 2015 at 7:40 PM · This is good news for the future, but the Magic Bands in their current state really are a great convenience. My family and I will be in Orlando in May and during our Universal portion we'll each have to keep track of season passes, hotel room keys, and Express passes. For 4 people that's 12 small items that can get wet or lost or damaged as opposed to 4 wearable bands while at WDW.
August 13, 2015 at 10:40 PM · This does nothing for me. I'm perfectly ok with ET or any other character not knowing my name (How egotistical are we really) And random scenes in Star tours is part of the fun. Would it really collect our data everytime we ride for years at a time just so we can see the rarer scene in a ride vehicle of 30 other people? Absurd, given that you surely would have seen all of the variations by that time. Toy Story Mania changing the gaming experience would benefit maybe the 1% of hardcore riders who probably visit the park too much anyways. It would be better that those folks visit the lesser attractions the park offers.

Looking at the most rerideable of Disney classics such as Pirates or Indy Jones they have not needed any such variety and have lasted decades as fan favorites. We heard of these "special experiences" years ago while Magic+ was being developed. But disney didn't really invest this billion dollar bracelets for guest experience did they? It's all to data mine and get guests to spend more money. The fact that it costd 30$ for an accessory that at this point does nothing for you that you couldn't do before says it all.

August 14, 2015 at 12:34 AM · They should put little LED lights in them so they can act like the glow with the show ears instead on your wrist.
August 14, 2015 at 12:43 AM · I agree entirely with Daniel, the Magic Bands have so far done absolutely nothing to heighten the guest experience, and are just another cash grab and data mining tool. For what the Magic Bands can currently do, Disney could have created an app and blanketed the parks with wi-fi. That would have been a much better use of Disney development money than this boondoggle band nonsense. Do we really need Jack Sparrow to know our names? Selfie culture of narcissism run amok.
August 14, 2015 at 3:31 AM · While I somewhat agree with a few of Daniel and Tony's points. I think for kids the magic will be when they go up to meet the fairy godmother and she can wish them a happy birthday or can magically guess their age. After all it is the most magical place on earth right? I know this was something that was in a Wall Street Journal write up back before launch of the Magic+ and some people don't want the friends of characters knowing that much information but it would be easy for Disney to add on the MyDisneyExperience App how much information you want out there of your kids or even yourself.

And Daniel you can't honestly say that if you had the ability to visit the parks more often that you wouldn't. I mean maybe I'm wrong but most people here would jump at the chance to visit the parks more often.

August 14, 2015 at 4:28 AM · Response to Brandon; You and your family will be able to eat wherever you decide you are all in the mood for as you freely roam about without a series of appointments to keep while at Universal and IOA.
Your family will be able to ride any ride at anytime and as many times as you like with the exception of 3 rides. Your max wait for any ride will probably be 10 minutes.
Your family will ride a very nice boat through a beautifully landscaped, mile long canal to the front of the parks and Citywalk. Much nicer than standing on a WDW bus.
I hope you are taking your family to Universal after WDW. Our friends and family members who have visited Universal first and then WDW have been very disappointed in the Magic band and WDW lack of freedom. Universal and IOA makes everyone feel like they have an uncle that works at Uni who gave them an "all access" pass. WDW feels like Magic Handcuffs.
August 14, 2015 at 5:54 AM · Hmm, sounds like big brother will be watching us at Disney.....closer than we might imagine.
August 14, 2015 at 7:30 AM · They can't make Toy Story Mania harder unless they offer up something for that difficulty. Otherwise, people will trick the system by getting new MagicBands or different accounts. Of course, Disney probably won't mind people buying new bands just to refresh their experiences.

Disney needs to serve a lot of people so the Avatar rides will have to serve up a slightly difference experience to each person. A person sitting on the next seat should not inadvertently get another person's experience. I wonder how this will play out.

I think they should fix the dining reservations and Fastpass+ hassles first.

August 14, 2015 at 8:46 AM · I think people are looking at this wrong. This is essentially the same RFID technology used (as far as I'm aware) in wands in Diagon Alley. The opportunities for interactivity of this are quite immense, from "casting" spells, to group games (as Disney trialled in Frontierland last year) to altering interactivity for people with special needs.

Whilst not as tactile or as immersive as a wand, there's no reason why these arm bands couldn't be paired with another RFID object (like a wand or a lightsaber) for special interactivity in certain areas.

If done correctly, use of these things could hold incredible possibilities in engaging themed content. Whilst some of Disney's oldest attractions hold up as all time classics, they were initially lauded as cutting edge, innovative attractions. Like Universal has shown, the future of theme parks goes beyond great rides in nicely themed areas and I think this technology could be the stepping stone to some great attractions.

August 14, 2015 at 8:53 AM · My wish would be much simpler. Have a scanner like on the rides that you don't have to touch at the park exits so that if you leave the park three hours before closing, it automatically cancels your fast passes for the night so others can use them.

They could have a big sign that says "Coming back tonight, scan here" next to a scanner (The kind you have to touch) on the way out so you can scan it if you are coming back and it would know not to cancel your plans.

this way at the end of the day, there would be lots openings on the rides for people who couldn't get them before because they were booked.

August 14, 2015 at 9:12 AM · i personally liked the magic bands on our last trip. I dont think they added a whole lot but did have some conveniences for sure. They certainly dont take anything away from the experience as some claim. Could they do more? Yep. and im sure they will in time. Disney moves at a snails pace on everything unfortunately.
August 14, 2015 at 9:22 AM · I had assumed, obviously incorrectly, that these "Next Gen" applications would be slowly rolling out in the parks as the systems came on line and the FP+ bugs were worked out. I more than expected the talking Mickey at the front of the park to say our names during our meet and greet last fall. However, it looks like they're still behind in getting this technology working.

I think the opening of Avatar, still 2 years away (ugh!), will see the most widespread application of this Next Gen technology.

August 14, 2015 at 9:44 AM · Is MyMagic+ worth the $1.5 billion that Disney reportedly spent? The average E-ticket attraction costs $100 million. That $1.5 billion could have paid for 15 new E-ticket attractions instead.

Many of the current benefits of MyMagic+ could have been obtained for a fraction of the price with existing technology. Why did Disney need to spend $1.5 billion on this technology?

Silicon Valley is advancing technology so rapidly that within a few years, MyMagic+ will be viewed as what it really is - a colossal misallocation of resources, and another bad business decision by the greedy numbers people at Disney.

August 14, 2015 at 10:14 AM · I think that the RFID interactive elements that allow guests to engage with an attraction are cool, but they are decidedly the low-tech application of this technology, at least from a corporate standpoint.

The real reason that Disney ponied up 1.5 billion dollars involves both data mining and consumer tracking. This is the Minority Report stuff that’s truly amazing about the investment.

Take this one step at a time. Let’s say that Disney has a year of data, and on a giant map they note that 85% of the time between 2-4 pm, a choke point develops between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. They can then either focus FastPasses on the other side of the park, launch activities on that side of the park, or build a wider, better path system to relieve that.

Go a step further. Let’s say that two parents, their kid, an uncle and two grandparents all go to the park together. Disney will have all of their ages and group classifications in a database (Caregivers, Unattached Singles, Grandparents, whatever,) and can then MARKET to that group as a whole and the chunks within it – offering guests a more personalized experience, a more ‘custom’ experience (based on data mined about these classifications,) and for the company, a more profitable experience.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say that this group is at Epcot for the day.

From the data mine, Disney knows:
- that most Caregivers and their young charges go down for the count around 2pm for a nap, and then return to the park for dinner a few hours later
- that the Grandparents go with them back to the hotel
- that the Unattached Single typically keeps tooling around the park until they return.

With that knowledge, what’s to stop Disney from “personalizing” this vacation for these guests?

To the Caregivers and Grandparents, they make an offer via pre-trip email or via in-park text, for a Grandparent’s Dinner & Storytime Experience held at one of the Disney Resorts. For just $XXX, “generations come together and bond over great food and classic stories told only as Disney can.” It gives Grandparents a more relaxing evening (and a chance to meet and mingle with other Grandparents,) and it opens up the Caregivers to a night off.

The Caregivers, now free for the night, are offered a Mickey & Minny Romance Package at one of Epcot’s restaurants, perhaps with an included laser-globe show viewing location. This is, again, where the data mine comes in, because Disney will look at their restaurants and note that Restaurant Marakesh and the seafood joint at the front underperform, so, of course, this is where they offer the dinner package to “parents looking for a perfect Disney night out.”

That leaves the Unattached Single, now alone in the park at 2pm. With the Caregivers and Grandparents now occupied, he or she is basically on his/her own for the rest of the night. Let’s say Disney has an underperforming ‘café’ location, like that Spice Market Café outside of Morocco, or perhaps they have traffic issues with the bulk of visitors heading to World Showcase for the evening. So they send a text to all Unattached Singles visiting the park at or around 2pm, inviting them to a Special Singles Mixer held at a repurposed location in one of the Innoventions Malls. They MyMagic Band their way in, get a free drink, on average buy three, and maybe “connect with another Disney fan for great times.”

So, what just happened here?

From the guest experience, they got their specific needs catered to, resulting in a more enjoyable vacation, and the illusion that Disney really cares about their family in this remarkable, personal way, knowing what they want or need when they wanted or needed it.

From the corporate experience, Disney got their guests to spend more money at these ‘personalized’ suggestions, and because the guests were happy and felt catered to, they got the guests to spend more overall during their experience. To put this another way, all Disney has to do is ‘cater’ to their existing guests (at about 50 million unique days in a WDW theme park, or roughly 20/10/10/10,) and elevate their spending by $30 per person, per day (illustrated above, and no doubt, those guests spent MORE than $30 MORE for their ‘enhancements’ at Epcot,) and MyMagic+ pays for itself. A year later, even with NO attendance increases, Disney banks 1.5 BILLION DOLLARS.

THAT’S the true “magic” at work here.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a total cash grab by Disney, couched and disguised as a guest enhancement (which is to say that whether or not the guest experience is enhanced is almost entirely beside the point of the implementation of MyMagic+.) And it’s totally 1.5 billion dollars that could have/should have been spent on new goodies at the parks (to put this into perspective, MK could have gotten New Tomorrowland, New Frontierland and New Adventureland expansions out of this, with 600 MILLION DOLLARS left to play around with.) But is it amazing all by itself as a consumer-revenue innovation. YES. Totally amazing what they can (and will) do with this investment, and no doubt, will totally be duplicated or attempted to be duped elsewhere. It’s a HUGE DEAL.

Sorry it’s so long!

August 14, 2015 at 4:41 PM · Response to 72.64.65.32

Do you work for Universal or something?

"Universal and IOA makes everyone feel like t hey have an uncle that works at Uni who gave them an "all access" pass."???
Yes, the nice uncle from Uni benevolently gave them an all access pass, then charged them an arm and a leg for the privilege. Say what you want about Disney's fastpass system's flaws, at least its fair and equitable. Universal's express system costs a fortune for a family on any day its worth having, or you have to stay at one of their premium hotels (ie - you pay for it). Then if your one of the unfortunate majority who can't afford this you have to wait in queues all day long whilst the more privileged people skip past you.

I'd be interested to read some of the forum comments on this site if Disney tried to introduce such a system. They could easily do it and make a fortune from it, and it would be an easier thing to implement than what they have done.

I hope that you've tried the new Disney system and are speaking from some experience rather than going off other peoples reports. Because it would be a bit silly to offer someone advice to go to Universal and see what its like there if you're not willing to offer Disney the same courtesy.

August 14, 2015 at 4:45 PM · Accidental repost
August 15, 2015 at 4:57 AM · Response to Grant. No, I certainly don't work for Uni or Disney.
My wife and I were engaged to be married at Disneyland castle. We honeymooned at WDW. We visited Disneyland Paris 4 times so far including the year it opened.
This Disney of the last 10-12 years is not the same Disney. I can't pretend to get excited over new themed trashcans, restrooms, sidewalks, and plants. Can you?
Our family has happily switched to Uni because they've earned our vacation $'s and we always have new cutting edge E Tickets and new lands instead of waiting 3 years for a themed kiddie coaster and NO E tickets at WDW for over 10 years.
We can stay in a 900 square foot suite with 2 full baths at Portofino for under $200 + per night, skip 99% of the lines as often as we want every day, take a boat to the front of the parks and citywalk, and eat wherever we decide we are in the mood to eat every day.
New Kong E Ticket, New Themed Waterpark, Hulk Coaster upgrade, and new 4 star resort will open at Uni before WDW finishes the Avatar (giant yawn) soarin ride in 2-3 more years.
We haven't been WDW suckers now for 4 years and more people come to this realization on these sites every day. We felt a little alone at first but now we have lots of company. Just read the comments above.
If you can pretend to be excited about new planters, trashcans, signage, etc, then more power to you.
August 17, 2015 at 2:42 AM · Grant, the interactive wands don't used RFID. There is a camera that picks up the wand tip and the motion you make. It's close to the XBox Kinect system.
August 17, 2015 at 2:51 AM · Peronally as well I would like a bit more of the more interesting stuff with MagicBands.

Just when you are personalising your bands in MDE add a checkbox of "share my first name and celebrations with Disney Cast". Then offer a selection of celbration reasons to choose (Birthday, anniversary etc). Then characters, waiters, etc can get the info when you arrive and great you buy name and suprise with a birthday gift.

August 17, 2015 at 8:43 AM · Thanks Jon, I didn't realise that I thought they were RFID with an accelerometer, I guess they'd need a power source too then. Does that mean the original wands from Hogsmeade work in Diagon Alley? I didn't get one when I went simply because I figured they'd be made obsolete by the new ones.

I think the RFID does have powerful application, and with the correct development could be great. I personally don't need to have my birthday and stuff remembered (although it may be nice for the kids), but interacting with the environment, particularly with Avatar land looking so gorgeous (from the art), as well as Star Wars coming, that's exciting.

As for staying at the Portofino, the best prices I can find on their site or Trip Advisor for a standard room, mid week in mid January is $290 a night. For the 900 foot room its $600 a night. You may have a way of getting it less than $200 a night, but that's not realistic for most people booking in the least popular time of year. Universal has some awesome attractions, but selling it as some budget option with no queues is crap.

Criticise Disney World for their lack of big development in recent years, sure. Having to take a bus around, sure. I personally like Disneyland much more for that same reason. But seriously, calling the Magic Band "handcuffs" when the only criticism that someone has made of Universal is that having to carry too many pieces of cardboard that can get damaged by water or lost is less preferable. The magic band is lighter than a watch. I don't get excited about signs and trashcans, but not having to worry valuables when I'm in a theme park, that's a good thing. And just because its at Disney, isn't a reason to auto-hate. If it was at Universal, many people would be marvelling at the convenience.

August 18, 2015 at 4:02 AM · Grant, No the new wands have a clear tip which is what the camera/reader picks up on. Photos here http://orlandoinformer.com/page/articles.html/_/universal/harry-potter/interactive-wands
August 18, 2015 at 6:59 AM · Thanks again Jon. I have to say, I prefer the look of the older ones. I guess the trade off for the functionality is the aesthetic.

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