What is Disney's Parks and Universal's Parks Real Competition?

December 27, 2018, 11:36 AM

I wanted to bounce off of Robert's recent post about Disney and Universal helping a fan on Twitter. Now before I get started, I want to elaborate, yes, Disney parks and Universal parks are competitors, but what happens when you start stepping away from the theme park battle. Yes we can discuss all day long who is earning our hard earned dollar we make at work in the theme park world, but when you look at it, theme parks are only one piece of the pie when it comes to disposable income. There is another slice of pie on here that has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and is seeing no end in sight. The industry I am talking about is video game consoles.

When we talk about theme parks on various websites, one very important factor often gets brought up and that's how well did the attraction/theme park tell its story. It's what separates a Six Flags to a Busch Gardens, and a Busch Gardens to a Universal. Stories is what keeps us theme park fans coming back to these various theme parks year after year (roller coaster enthusiasts is a different story). Yes, theme parks have gotten better with time on how well they can tell these stories. One can say that a theme park really hits is on the head when they are able to immerse their guest. The better the immersion within the story, the better the theme park because after all, we all want our own story within a greater theme park story. This is why different alternate stories within an attractions has become so important. The biggest question a guest wants to answer when they come out of an attraction, or multi million dollar land like the Wizarding World, and Pandora is, "what was my story within that area?" If one feels that they have no personal experience to what is happening in the story, then that attraction will be ranked mediocre at best. This is why Peter Pan's Flight is so much better than the Little Mermaid attraction. So this leads me to my biggest question for this discussion, and that is when is the last time you have picked up a video game controller?

According to business insider, "Playstation 4 has sold over 75 million consoles worldwide since launch in November 2013." On average a Playstation costs $399.99. When doing the simple math, that equals $30 billion dollars. Also, trust me in saying that the rest of this year has gone very well for Playstation considering games like Spiderman , and Red Dead Redemption 2 have come out. Not to mention, Sony (makers of Playstation) gets a cut for every Playstation game sold. So, lets take that exclusive Playstation only game, Spiderman and see how well its done in sales. Spiderman has sold 3.3 million units during just its first three days on the market (according to Eurogamer). At $60 a pop at least, that is a lot of money. It made an estimated $198 million that first weekend. That is surpassing even how much Spiderman Homecoming made on its opening weekend with $117 million. Not to mention this was a Playstation only game. It was not a cross counsel game. It was not made for Xbox at all. So, why are these games doing so well. When playing todays games there is only one answer for that, and that's immersion and story.

When I was growing up in the early 90s, I loved video games. I had the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. I was a very lucky kid to have both. I love how addicting they were, and the worlds they were set in. The stories were very loosely based, but I was a kid and was very easily entertained. I think this is were a lot of people keep their idea of what a video game is. Just a weird world trying to save animals or the princess. I did end up getting a Playstation 2 later in life and played roughly 20 games on that as well. Loved the stunning graphics, and how stories were finally progressing, but something happened around this age that got me away from video games. I was in my early teens, I started going to theme parks more often. This is when I started riding rides like Tower of Terror with a perfect blend of story and thrill (perfect mix for teenagers), and Spiderman at IOA. It was also during this time I went head first learning the various histories of all theme parks. Learning everything about Walt Disney and his dream for the first modern theme park. I fell in love with how theme parks told stories and how they went about immersing me in them. Now this was the early 2000s. This was the perfect time to be growing up with theme parks. Not only was the attractions getting better and better, but the shows were hitting an amazing stride as well. Shows like Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, and Wishes debuted. A story in the sky is you will. Those blew my mind. It was during this time, I put down my controller, and set out on immersing myself in these parks. This ultimately culminated to the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I thought things couldn't get any better than this when is came to story telling.

While away from gaming Sony came out with two new playstation during that time. Playstation 3 debuted in 2006, and Playstation 4 debuted in late 2013 (sorry Xbox fans I am a Sony guy, but I have nothing against Xbox. The Xbox One X is the best console in the industry today I will admit.). It was during this time, the gaming world was not only pushing the boundaries of graphics, but also in what they could do with storytelling with those graphics. This year I finally picked up a Playstation 4 to see what everyone was talking about (also, I am keeping it low key with theme parks right now, so I can pay off some student loans). What happened next was something I was not expecting. I got the same feeling playing the games for PS4 as I did going to theme parks. Needless to say not only did consoles get better at storytelling, they surpassed theme parks with storytelling and immersion. It's very hard to explain why on an article, but if you are ever curious, and one of your favorite rides happens to be Indiana Jones at Disneyland, do yourself a favor and play Uncharted 4. You will not be disappointed. I walked away from that game thinking about how amazing that Adventure was. These new storytelling games have something attractions will never have.....time. These games are given time to breath. Now I know some of you are thinking that "well doesn't that fall under more of a movie then?" The answer is no. The excitement I felt while playing games like Spiderman and Red Dead Redemption 2 is on the same level as attractions at theme parks and lands they are built around.

This comes back around to how I believe gaming is a much bigger competitor than the theme parks themselves. I want you to think about this. While we were all debating on which resort was better at that moment (WDW vs. USO), both resorts have continued to see rises in attendance and increase in per capita. They simply have increase their part of the pie as a whole (i.e. market share). They are both amazing resorts bar none. While our eyes are on them only (this is a theme park website after all and that's what we do here), I believe that their eyes are not on each other, but are on other entertainment markets looking to take away more disposable income to increase their market share. I believe since how Disney and Universal already compete in the theme park, TV, and movie markets (yes I know there's more than that technically), I believe the theme park industry is looking hard in places like the video counsel market to see how their version of telling stories is now eclipsing them and I would dare say starting to pass them up. This is the real reason we got the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Pandora, and the soon to be opened Star Wars Lands. This also includes the updating of two of WDW theme parks EPCOT, and Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the eventual open of Universal's 3rd theme park (I don't count water parks sorry). Video games are simply cheaper per game compared to theme park vacations and are currently more immersive. This is the competition the theme parks face today.


Next time: How one console maker, Nintendo, went its own way and decided that fun is the greatest ingredient and that graphics were not the most Important element, and how theme Universal is looking to mix the two brands of entertainment to potentially open the greatest theme park land ever.

These opinion articles are strictly my opinion. I know everyone else is entitled to their own opinion. By all means let me know what you think. This is my first essay article I have written in three years, so I do know I am rusty. Please let me know your feedback. Thank you and have a magical day.

Replies (4)

December 27, 2018, 12:05 PM

In my opinion the only competition most major parks have is themselves to not screw it up. People want to get out of the house and spend time with their friends and family, if their local theme parks offers affordable and fun way to do that people will continue to flock. At this point most parks are so big, and have waterparks, so it would be very difficult for a competitor to move in. It would take so much money to build something that can compete that no one has been willing to do it for decades.

In regards to Disney/Universal I feel the same way. There are millions of people all of the world that see "Disney World" (/Orlando in general) as something that they need to do. It's Mickey Mouse, it's Star Wars, it's Harry Potter...if they continue to do what they do and do it well they will be fine. There is huge worldwide demand for that kind of stuff hence why they can charge an arm and a leg, keep jacking up prices, and more and more people keep flocking. They just need to make sure the product that they are giving people lives up to the hype, that's really the only thing that could hurt their business.

I do not think video games or VR or anything like that will hurt their business at all. If anything it will help them because more people will become aware, more people will become fans, and more people will want to come see the real thing.

December 27, 2018, 3:32 PM

At this point in time I don't see the 2 industries as direct competitors. But in the not too distant future I think they very well could be. With VR technologies' growth both in regular households as well as in regional commercial centers/malls, a VR experience can more effectively replace a theme park experience.

But I think that if theme park operators are smart over the next couple decades they can actually benefit from this. I can envision a scenario, say 15 years from now, where you can go to your local mall and experience a VR game or walkthrough or drive thru that emulates visiting the Eiffel Tower, Venice, and Rome all in one day with authentic meals and everything. This could cut into market share of global tourism, but actually help proprietary resorts like theme parks where real life experiences are unique and exclusive and can't be replicated by any VR company. The desire to go on actual travelling vacations will hardly wane (and will probably continue to grow along with the global middle class), so if park resorts are able to effectively maintain a unique experience, unlike those non-proprietary destinations, they can take over market share that VR opens up for them.

Obviously this is a wild guess about some industries that technology promises to change in many ways we can hardly begin to imagine.

December 28, 2018, 8:14 AM

I read an article a few years back, I believe in the Orlando Sentinel, which read the biggest competitor to Orlando, ie Theme Parks, is Myrtle Beach, SC. Now they are talking about a very broad theme of just getting people to Orlando, but I thought that was interesting

December 29, 2018, 2:03 AM

I have been counteradvising the use of VR since over 8 years, for all location entertainment facilities and theme parks, as VR WOULD enter the home market.
I said that already in 2008-2010, everybody laughed it away (professional discussion groups on Linked In), and now it IS invading the home market already...
There is one golden rule to observe for theme parks : NEVER introduce a technology that will enter the private living room (or bedroom .. :-) ) soon ! It's a fatal loss. And given the development time of an attraction (from first idea to opening date), "soon" is anything earlier then 10-12 years...

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