Come Explore Disney's New Theme Park 'Metaverse'

November 16, 2020, 2:05 PM · Disney is working to transform its theme parks from a physical experience into a "theme park metaverse," the chief technical officer of the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products segment said today at the IAAPA Expo Virtual Education Conference.

"It's a shared magical world created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space," Tilak Mandadi, Executive Vice President, Digital and Chief Technology Officer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said.

"Seriously, what does that mean?" Mandadi asked. "Well, it all starts with having a connected part — a part where guests can truly interact with their physical surroundings using connected devices, wearables phones and other interactive digital access points. Then we seamlessly bring together the physical and the digital elements in the experience to create what I call converged experiences by using technologies like computer vision, natural language understanding augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and IOT.

"Our experience started a long time ago as classic linear storytelling. Then we transition to interactive storytelling. Then we went beyond that to immersive storytelling. And we are well on our way to personalized, and social storytelling."

Tilak Mandadi

"The metaverse experience will be designed right from the get go to be personalized. How do we do that? Well, that's where data comes into play. While personalized, these experiences are also social. You are part of a community, enjoying these experiences all together — sometimes collaboratively, sometimes competitively — but always with joy and fun.

"So, with the digital data and physical coming together organically with the story, we now have physical and digital convergence experiences that are personalized and social, creating that theme park metaverse. And because of the digital dimension of these metaverse experiences, they can be updated frequently, and they stay fresh and relevant. While I can't shed a whole lot of details on the work underway, these type of experiences are a critical focus for us, and we are ideating through many offers. Some will come to fruition, some will not. But we expect them to be core to the guest experience in the years to come.

"This has led us to explore new areas like, for example, artificial intelligence-driven virtual characters that could have a personalized interaction with a guest. Another experience guests love are the animal interactions found at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. Although it is still a pilot program — not yet available to guests — the Windows to the Wild program that we are working on brings these interactions to fans through augmented reality."

Mandadi also cited the Play Disney Parks app and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge as recent examples of the theme park metaverse that Disney has deployed already, noting that the Rise of the Resistance attraction alone has 15,000 IOT [Internet of things] sensors to enable its functionality. But the idea is to create functional platforms that allow Disney Parks to extend its market reach before its resorts.

"While the converged physical and digital worlds remain our primary focus, this magical experience is no longer completely limited to what we call 'inside the berm,'" Mandadi said. "Extending the magic of Disney parks to home is now a real, exciting possibility. Imagine a day where guests can explore with pirates, train with heroes, dance with royalty and visit a galaxy far, far away without ever leaving their home."

The IAAPA Expo Virtual Education Conference this year replaced the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando, which was canceled due to the ongoing pandemic. Earlier today, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro shared an update on new Disney theme park attractions, including a video first look at the new Guardians of the Galaxy "omnicoaster" carriages in action.

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Replies (11)

November 16, 2020 at 2:29 PM

I don't mean to be disrespectful to Mandadi, but we've heard this story before. Disney has use terms like "interactive", "seamless", and "personalized" in regards to new attractions almost non-stop over the past 5+ years, and not much has changed with additions not even coming close to what Imagineers have touted. Disney might be mining a lot more data than they used to, and attraction might be more geared around IOT, but the experience on the guest's end falls well short of the stated goals.

Mandidi references the Disney Parks App and the Galaxy's Edge Datapad, but as many have noted, they are nothing more than time-wasters while waiting in a queue or for the hardcore fan that has been to the parks dozens of times and desperate for something new and different to try while in the parks.

Sorry, I'm not buying this until they move beyond these vague marketing terms and actually lay out the nuts and bolts of how the parks are more interactive, personalized, and immersive. When it comes to something like Galaxy's Edge, Disney would probably get more bang for their buck by hiring actors and better engaging CMs to create an immersive role playing environment than they would by relying on oversold AI.

November 16, 2020 at 3:32 PM

Agreed, Russell. My family and I looked at their apps for all of five minutes before turning them off. I need another reason for my kids to look at the phone like I need a hole in the head--I mean, if there's one time you sure as heck don't need to be lost in your phone it's at Disneyland.

November 17, 2020 at 2:52 AM

What a load of waffle, couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs.

November 17, 2020 at 3:23 AM

If this means that experiences will somehow be enhanced because of a wearable device such as, oh I don't know, a 'magic' wrist band, then I'm all for it (although I share the scepticism of those above), however if it means I am supposed to walk around a park staring at my mobile phone the whole day then I can think of nothing less 'magical' or 'immersive'. Only by tearing people AWAY from their mobile devices will Disney succeed in transporting them to any kind of 'verse', meta or otherwise.

November 17, 2020 at 4:18 AM

Think we’re all in agreement on this. What a load of nonsense.

November 17, 2020 at 12:03 PM

At first, I thought that the metaverse was going to be a self-referential Disney theme park within a theme park, which is a pretty horrible idea, but I think this is even worse...

November 17, 2020 at 12:36 PM

Get your nose out of the phone and look at the theming, connect to your family or friends. I wish mobile phones wouldn't work in theme parks, it's a disease and another big downgrade Disney is pushing.

November 17, 2020 at 7:05 PM

So glad to see that I’m not the only one who hates the idea of needing to have your phone in your hand every second of a theme park visit. I prefer to leave mine in the room, and that’s why I hate the recent dependence on apps and virtual queues. I want to enjoy the experience without distractions.

November 17, 2020 at 7:09 PM

Swing for the fence! I absolutely support the idea of the park as a platform. And if they're unsuccessful I will still praise them for trying. The same way I praise UC for Fallon and F&FSC.

November 18, 2020 at 9:01 AM

Please nothing else with our phones, keeping it charged to obtain a boarding pass for RoR was hard enough.

November 18, 2020 at 12:47 PM

Blah blah blah - put a chip in my hat if something great can be achieved but I’m not gonna have my nose in my phone all day nor do I want those with me to not live in the moment and ignore human interaction!

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