Can 'Magic' scale? That's Disney's billion-dollar question
Disney's MyMagic+ system isn't working as the company planned
, and that's beginning to affect to Disney theme parks' plans for the next few years.
The company is spending more than a billion dollars on its NextGen initiatives in the theme parks, the largest of which is MyMagic+, a new system for visitors to manage their Walt Disney World vacations. Under the system, visitors are supposed to use Disney's website and mobile apps to book reservations times for restaurants, rides, and shows, while they'll use RFID-enabled "MagicBand" wristbands as their admission media, hotel room key and "credit card" during their stay at the resort.
MyMagic+ has led Disney to create a new ride reservation system, Fastpass+, to run in parallel with its existing Fastpass system. In addition, Diseny's had to merge this new Fastpass+ system with its existing restaurant reservation system to create MyMagic+ profiles for all participating visitors. The system also has to hook in with Disney's hotel reservation system, including managing charging privileges to visitors' resort bills from the MagicBands.
Disney's had all the pieces of this puzzle before, with Fastpass, ADRs, and Keys to the World cards. But MyMagic+ puts them all together and expands the system to all Disney World hotel visitors, some of whom might not have used all those systems together in the past. Eventually, MyMagic+ is supposed to accommodate all Walt Disney World visitors, including local annual passholders and even visitors staying off site.
As it stands now, MyMagic+ represents a massive increase in scale for Disney's vacation management and reservations systems, with another massive increase in scale to come as annual passholders and "day" visitors come into the system. And, as Disney is learning, scale is the natural enemy of information technology applications.
The federal government illustrated this lesson with its Healthcare.gov system, which was intended as a federal back-up in case a few states declined to create their own health care insurance marketplaces, but instead became the primary exchange for the majority of Americans as most states elected not to develop those marketplaces. In addition, Healthcare.gov had to service millions of low-income Americans who were supposed to have gotten health insurance through an expansion of Medicaid, but who were left without coverage when their states declined to accept federal money to pay for that coverage. (A general rule of IT is that as your audience's age gets older or its income gets lower, your user interface must get simpler.) A system that was designed for a relative handful of middle-income consumers instead had to serve millions more users across a wider economic spectrum.
That's a massive change in scale. Throw in a DDOS attack at launch and the system crumbled, forcing the government to scramble its private contractors to recode it. Fortunately, that seems to have worked, and the federal website now is enrolling people at an ever-increasing rate.
Disney would be fortunate to turn around MyMagic+ as quickly. Before MyMagic+, Disney World theme park visitors used a couple of Fastpasses a day, on average. In practice, many visitors used many more Fastpasses than that, but they were balanced by individuals who didn't use the system at all. Under MyMagic+, everyone gets three Fastpass+ reservations a day, which are assigned by the system if the visitor doesn't choose his or her own selections.
Fastpass+ also covers every attraction in the park, including parades and even some counter-service restaurants — locations that never had anything to do with Fastpass before. The old Fastpass system also didn't account for families. You stuck a ticket into a Fastpass machine, and got a return time back. Every once in a long while, you'd put, say, four tickets in a Fastpass machine and get three passes for a 3:10 return, then one for a 3:20, as the 3:10 return time "sold out" while you were submitting your ticket cards. The system didn't know that you were trying to get four times together.
MyMagic+ tries to associate multiple visitors' profiles, to help families traveling together to stay together. This starts with ensuring that people can all get into their hotel room. But it extends to managing control of kids' charging privileges and Fastpass+ times, as well. From visitors' reports, Disney's Guest Relations staff has had to accommodate thousands of park guests who've had problems with MyMagic+ not being able to manage properly the various selections and profiles of families and groups visiting the resort. It's just another layer of complexity that Disney's IT systems haven't had to manage before.
Add up all the flaws, flubs, and bugs, and Disney's not been able to expand the system on the schedule it had planned. In addition, Disney's still spending money on fixes and implementation, instead of earning money from the increased guest spending it had anticipated with a full roll-out by now. That means the Disney Parks have to make up the difference somewhere else in its budget.
MiceAge reported thais morning that's happening as Disney delays, cuts back, or cancels almost all upcoming capital expansion projects at its theme parks in the United States, Paris and Hong Kong. (Remember, the Tokyo parks are owned and operated by Oriental Land Company, which has its own budget.) That means no Monstropolis at California Adventure, and delayed Star Wars lands at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's worth noting that Disney's dealing with two issues simultaneously: a reduction in planned profits due to the MyMagic+ scale issues, and a rapidly approaching deadline to get Shanghai Disneyland completed.
If MyMagic+ had been delivering the cash the company had anticipated, Disney could have dealt with Shanghai by staffing up to get that project completed on time. But under a budget crunch, the numbers work better by diverting existing staff to Shanghai instead. That means a delay in their current projects. It's not a given, however, that even if MyMagic+ had been an undisputed success that Disney would have spent that money to staff up to overcome Shanghai delays. It could have chosen to bank that cash and reassign existing staff to those projects anyway.
Of course, plans and budgets change constantly, especially in companies the size of Disney. But with more than a billion dollars on the line, Disney's facing some tough choices the longer that MyMagic+ takes to get running smoothly.
If the planned expansion delays are true.... there will some very unhappy mouse fans.
This is definitely not good news. If the changes in park visits from Fastpass Plus weren't enough, the rollback of expansions makes it even worse. What a mess! I hope that all the rumors aren't true.
I take delay/cancellation reports with a large block of salt, until I hear from my own Imagineering/Disney Parks sources. Also, remember that we were looking at 2018 at the earliest for Star Wars land, given a 2017 launch for Avatar.
The healthcare.org comparison is perfect! I feel there are many parallels between the two. I think the issue is that if my family, who are both Tech and Disney savvy, has slight problems, the brand new Disney guests are going to have a nightmare. My family actually liked the fastpass+ as it's an expansion including shows. I think Disney should stick with it!
Can someone explain to me the benefits of the Fastpass system? What is the benefit of allowing guests to get a pass to skip a ride's line at a later time, therefore creating a regular line that take twice as long to go through?
I completely agree, Nick!! I can't help but think the line would move more efficiently for all without the constant glut of Fastpass users. Plus the stress it adds to get the pass, to make your assigned time, etc. etc.
As others have written, if (and that is a big IF) these rumors are true, then it is time for Disney to scale back MyMagic+ (for now, at least) and refocus on upgrading the customer experience through new attractions. I was all in for NextGen when it was moving forward concurrently with rumored park expansion, but if that progress is no longer happening, then NextGen should be halted, not attraction development.
We used the MyMagic wristbands a couple of weeks ago and for the most part they worked well. The phone app was my biggest issue as I found it clunky to get to where I wanted to be at on it. The other issue was that if I park hopped and used it at MK then went to DHS, it was a real pain to get the current wait times at DHS as the app still thought we were at MK.
"Fortunately, that seems to have worked, and the federal website now is enrolling people at an ever-increasing rate."
"Technically speaking, Disney has not changed any of their plans - because they haven't announced any of their plans!"
^Disney just reported profits of $6.1B in 2013. That amount is above and beyond bonuses and all the other
All these recent articles about Magic Plus ruining Disney plan theme park attractions just enforces that Universal Studios theme parks are the place to be. Universal is building rides, hotels, more rides, expansion lands, more attractions, 3rd gate rumors, Lord of the rings & Star Trek rides rumors, Water Park rumors, more rides again. Starting to see the pattern there. Where Disney got a magic band accessory for the whole family for $100 a piece. Which would you recommend, unless you one of those puff-piece Disney fans that prefer to look at a paint job as part of an attraction show. Ha!
@RN I really have to wonder if the company's resources are such that they are interchangeable. The whole "we'll take some out of Star Wars and move 'em to China" seems a bit simplistic.
Nick and Melanie:
"I really have to wonder if the company's resources are such that they are interchangeable. The whole "we'll take some out of Star Wars and move 'em to China" seems a bit simplistic."
TH: I don't know how fungible WDI resources are. But I imagine that there are some people who could be moved around from far-off projects to help bring an impending project to completion. I also have little doubt that such moving around happens all the time, at some level. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if such resource shuffling were "baked in" to project life-cycle estimations. For a large-scale enterprise, it seems inefficient to do it any other way.
I'm not sure whether what is said in that article is true or not, but one thing I am reasonably confident of is this: If Disney goes with MyMagic+ over new attractions, in 10 years Universal Orlando will be Florida's premier theme park destination and Disneyland will no longer have a passholder problem. I've never been the biggest fan of the NextGen technology, and nothing I've read since has changed my mind. As the system is delayed and overbudget, plus the reviews I've read of it so far seem to be mixed, perhaps it is time for Disney to put it on hold and focus on new attractions that are guaranteed to pull in more visitors than continue to sink money into something that might increase profits.
Russell, I guess my main problem with FP is that it takes all the relaxation out of a theme park visit for me. I’m borderline OCD and a planner by both nature and profession. A theme park is one of the few places I can let all that go and just enjoy myself. But if I were to get drawn into the rush to get Fastpasses, standing in line for that when I could be on a ride, then I would just obsess on strategizing FP acquisition vs ride location and on being back at a certain place at a certain time to ride the ride before my time ran out. I wouldn’t enjoy myself in the slightest. The FP+ idea just gives me nightmares -- I sure as heck don’t want to have to decide when I might want to ride a ride when I’m not even in the park yet.
I have a hard time understanding that article from MiceAge. The MagicBands have not even really been rolled out...so I don't know how they can be "not generating enough revenue" yet. That makes no sense to me.
Right off the bat, I was saying that this was a high tech boondoggle, a waste of money compared to new attractions and refurbs. I, and many others, said that this is not what we want. We want great new rides and plussing of existing attractions, and a billion dollars would buy a lot of that. Did Disney listen? Of course not.
I would agree with you both...I do find using Fastpass a bit frantic, and requires some serious dedication, along with the occasional perception from standby guests that Fastpass guests are being treated differently. However, where would Disney be without Fastpass? The reason it was developed was to curtail some of the horror stories from guests that waited hours on end for attractions. Parents dreaded going to Disney in the 80's because of the interminidable lines, and Fastpass was the answer. Clearly that still happens today on high crowd days, but the Fastpass system at least gives everyone a ligitimate shot at experiencing their favorite rides and attractions during each visit. Disney could very easily have developed a profit-based system like just about everywhere else, but they instead chose one that every single guest can use regardless of their financial means (assuming they can afford a ticket into the park).
Disney does have quite a few single rider lines, but it's a little tricky not only to manager, but can be difficult from a sociological level. Because many Disney rides are accessible by most younger children, there's a high probability that a single rider might get paired with a small child. We ran into this problem a few years ago on Toy Story Midway Mania at DCA. The single rider line was great (I don't even know if they use it anymore), but CMs had to constantly be aware if they were pairing a single rider with a small child since you sit back to back, and a single parent sitting next to one child would not be able to see their other child sitting with the single rider.
I just don't get it. You can go on 3 rides with no waiting time but the rest of the rides/shows have an extended waiting time due to created demand. What's the use for that? The problem is Disney only got (at best) 3 desirable rides per park but you can only choose 1 (at best) the others need to be lesser desirable rides/shows.
I just think that the new systems are just wrong. I don't agree with the whole bundle everything in one ticket or wristband thing. I prefer the old paper tickets, not these plastic things. I think the whole thing has been terribly thought up from the get-go. Bring back the old fastpass system!
Russell, specifically I was thinking of Space Mountain (and, honestly, I've never noticed them anywhere else.....). The last time I rode SM the line was awful, but I figured it would better once I got inside the building and could find the single rider line. But there wasn't one. I asked a CM and was told the ride didn't have one. Is there one now?? I'm going there next week, so I'd love to know to look for it :-).
I give credit that the NextGen system had a lot of merit. It had potential. But it had a clear directive: sell more stuff. Not make stuff better, not make more stuff, but selling more of it. Between that transparency to the public and the technological glitches, it's really no surprise.
I can guarantee you that Universal/SeaWorld/etc. eventually will have a MyMagic+-style vacation management system for their guests, using NFC chips embedded in visitors' cell phones, and run by software programmed by ex-Disney developers, hired only after Disney's perfected its system.
I still don't see how a billion dollars could be spend on something like this.
I hate Fastpass, Fastpass+, MyMagic+, NextGen, and all this billion dollar plus initiative which is doing nothing but creating a have and have not day at a Disney theme park.
I have been a massive Disney fan for years and defended them here and on other forums against the 'Universal is the new God' arguments. I like Disney's pace, I like their style, I like the attention to detail and the gentleness of much of it - the opportunity to relax into a landscape or world and simply enjoy being there...
Not so much a "source" but more anecdotal. The two or three people I know who have gone to Shanghai were sent because they were waiting for their assigned domestic projects to commence and the company had wanted them to see construction management methods in China -- and not so much to contribute over the long term. And they were only in China few a week or so.
What an incredible waste of money. Instead of spending all this cash on a problem that didn't exist and wasn't already being addressed fairly well by other systems, Disney could have built more interactive queues to keep waiting guests placated and/or entertained, and new attractions. This psychological addiction to technopolic 'solutions' (i.e. Neil Postman) unfortunately is not specific to Disney but can be seen in fields, sectors and industries around the world. The era of big data does not necessarily mean a better life, or more profits. The human element is still key.
Optimization can be a great thing. The massive amounts of big data that can be collected automatically presents tremendous opportunities to do this optimization.
I think that the best part about the theme park experience, as has been mentioned earlier, is the spontaneity that is possible with a day to a park. Of course everybody puts in a certain amount of planning into a trip or dedicates a certain number of hours of a day to one or more parks, but at some point there is a level of excitement in not knowing what the day has in store.
Space Mountain at Disneyland does have a single rider queue, but it's not well marked. Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom is not practical to have a single rider queue because of the tobogan-style trains. It's difficult for CMs to match single riders to appropriate groups in the short amount of time needed before boarding. The Matterhorn, with the same style trains, does have a single rider queue, but I think that is a bit of a relic, and doesn't take up much space in the queue. A single rider line at MK Space Mountain would take up valuable queue space inside.
"Now I'm faced with having to select which attractions I want to ride months in advance if I want to experience the popular attractions and spending way longer in lines for others with no option to FastPass at all"
"I hate Fastpass, Fastpass+, MyMagic+, NextGen, and all this billion dollar plus initiative which is doing nothing but creating a have and have not day at a Disney theme park."
Russell, I don't think Space Mountain at Disneyland has a Single Rider Line. There's a Fastpass & Rider Switch, but no single rider line.
There was one when I was there in March, down the hall by the restooms. It was one of those double-sided signs that noted disabled access on the reverse, so it may not be in use at all times, like the one at Toy Story Mania at DCA.
Well MK is now turnstile free.
I'm a WDW local and the turnstile free conversion has been in progress for a number of months. While it's intended to eventually be used for Magic Bands & FP+, the new entrance technology works for anyone with a plastic park admission ticket currently; Annual Passholders, those buying a room & Park package, those staying off site, etc. While I'm not a fan of most of the Magic Bands "features" I like the new park entrance portion as each "station" allows 2 people at a time to enter. If there's a problem with one person admission, it doesn't hold up the entire line until resolved.
Here is the advantage of Fastpass+ that I have found.
I agree with you Robert, Universal has to be taking notes of the MyMagic and Fastpass+ rollout by Disney and what the glitches are. I wouldn't be surprised if Universal pays for some of it's people to "experience" a Disney World vacation using the MyMagic and Fastpass+ systems to get first hand knowledge of problems or what works within the system and parks.
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