Let's imagine more entertaining, and useful, official theme park apps

January 13, 2017, 3:22 PM · Are theme parks getting as much as they could be from their official mobile apps?

Most parks' apps provide a lot of useful information for visitors. You can see where you are on an interactive park map, look at current wait times for rides and see the day's schedule for shows and other in-park entertainment. The better apps also work as park tickets and might even allow you to manage any reservations you have in the park.

But theme parks could learn a few things from other app developers, too. What if official theme park apps provided more than an interactive guidemap and maybe a ticket? What if they became virtual tour guides, encouraging visitors' movement around the parks? That's the question I ask in my Orange County Register column this week, How about virtual online prize games while visiting theme parks?

"Gamified" apps might make a visit to a theme park even more entertaining for fans who are used to collecting badges and other virtual rewards from the apps they use. But the potential benefit is even bigger for the parks themselves. As I mention in my column, one of the big reasons why Disney invested so much in building Fastpass+ was to create a system that better distributed guests throughout its theme parks. By encouraging guests to schedule more of their day — instead of just wandering into the nearest queues all day long — parks can use schedule availability to make sure that one part of the park isn't getting overloaded while another stands relatively empty.

But schedules and Fastpass+ return times aren't the only ways to get people to move around in a park. The effective use of rewards and targeted messaging can encourage people to bail from one place and try another in the park, too. And seeing what rewards people choose to pursue — and ignore — gives parks even more information about the individual preferences of their visitors.

Yet parks haven't done much yet to take advantage of these opportunities. Cedar Point introduced an interactive game on its app last summer that encouraged visitors to go to various sites around the park. But that's been about it for major parks in the United States. Walt Disney World has created multiple game experiences within its parks, such as Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, but it hasn't enable gameplay through its app.

As parks continue to look for ways to make more money from their visitors, it seems to me that developing an app that could both steer some people around the park while helping them to better enjoy their visit could be done for a lot less money than building a new ride to achieve the same redistribution and guest satisfaction. So it surprises me a little that we haven't seen parks do more to get this type of value out of their apps.

Yes, parks should keep building new rides and creating fresh shows. Fans want well-themed restaurants and shopping when they visit, too. But if apps can add some additional entertainment for the people who use them — and give the parks another tool for better crowd control — why not?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (11)

January 13, 2017 at 3:42 PM · The Six Flags app is actually pretty good. It's got accurate wait times, it's easy to use, it doubles as my annual pass and soon they are going to start doing food pre-orders.
January 13, 2017 at 6:55 PM · I would like to see an app that disables smart phone usage on rides. I hate to see the glowing screens on dark rides. They could use a reward system like some "theatre mode" apps from places like Cinemark.
January 14, 2017 at 3:35 AM · What about full compatibility of Snapchat so that guests can report a problem within the park, to park management?

See it, Snap it, Solve it.

The premise: snap management a problem that you see (i.e. poor toilets, rubbish bin overflowing, fallen rope from a queue line) and the deal is that park management have a certain amount of time (10 minutes) to fix the problem and snap you back to prove it.

This is great customer service and shows the visitor that management care.

If management cannot snap back within the timeslot, then they will instead snap you a £10 off voucher for use on F&B in the park (perhaps in the form of a QR Code).

January 14, 2017 at 8:46 AM · Unless they can really improve the cell service or juice the WiFi, I think it is some ways away to do "games" in the park.

Good concept though. Certainly can save EPCOT some cash with Agent P.

January 14, 2017 at 3:16 PM · For me it's heartbreaking to see people all the time watching on or trough their phone. No attention for the details, no fun conversations with other people in line or quality time with the family.
January 15, 2017 at 10:46 AM · OT - I agree fully. Let's encourage less time for people with their heads down, focused on their phones & devices, clicking, poking, scheduling, playing, snapping and sharing. Theme parks should encourage you to keep your head up to enjoy and really share the experience with those around you.

The most useful theme-park application? Joyful human experience. And it can't be duplicated or augmented through an ipad.

January 15, 2017 at 10:49 AM · I have nothing against people who want to use apps during their park day, but I paid and travelled to be in the park, not to have my nose in a device.
January 15, 2017 at 2:05 PM · Love the idea of earning badges. Why not do a go "old school" like national park passports? Sell printed book,
January 16, 2017 at 9:44 AM · Why not add universals parking reminder to the my disney experience app?
January 17, 2017 at 9:53 AM · Disney might take a leaf from Pokemon's book. If there is a slow area of the park, a virtual character might appear there! People could move over to that area to do something like take a picture. If the characters are used sparingly I bet it could be an effective method of crowd control.

You're about to get into line for Splash Mountain when you get an alert on your app that -- say -- Pecos Bill is appearing over on Big Thunder Trail for fifteen minutes! You don't have a virtual picture of Pecos Bill yet. You might wander over there instead.

HOWEVER I agree with the other commenters who want people looking around rather than at their screens.

January 19, 2017 at 3:58 PM · Hi, Robert! Excellent article.

Vail Resorts here in Colorado has an app similar to what you're describing; it gives you batches and levels depending what Ski Resort you visit or what day and even how often you visit the resort, keeps track of your "vertical feet," even tells you who is skiing on the mountain from your friend in your network, it also stores pictures taken by the photographers that work for the resort similar to "Disney Photo Pass." It connects to your Season or Day Pass very similar to the Magic Bands at WDW (RFI I think?). there is no too much need for wifi or cellular data since it is limited and mainly at the base of the mountain(s). Every lift or area in the resort has "radars" that detects your pass and links it to your online account or app. In my own opinion, it is very addictive and keeps you motivated to come back and earn more "Virtual Online Prices."
If Disney can do something like this for its app it will be so much fun and can link games like "Sources of the Magic Kindom" or the "Pirate's game" at WDW Adventureland.

Here is the link for its website www.epicmix.com

Jon R.

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