Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom

One of the trends we’re watching is the growing crossover between real and virtual. I got an interesting tour of Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom a couple of weeks ago, and it surely drove this point home.

Now, to start off with, most Radar readers are likely to be unfamiliar with this site, since it’s aimed at kids 8-12, the so-called “tweens,” not at folks like us. But it’s a dynamic virtual world with users who’ve created 1.4 million avatars, and 3-4 million “rooms.” Not too shabby. But what’s really interesting is the way that Disney based the structure of the world on the real-world theme parks, and how rooms and avatars are modeled on real-world Disney attractions. Games allow kids to experience — and by their reactions, even help to design — coming attractions. It’s a world in which Paul Yanover, the head of the group that developed VMK, says “people swim around in our iconography and brand.”

Paul noted how kids show up at the theme parks already knowing their way around, and when they recognize some feature, say “Look, Mom, there’s the xxx from VMK!” seemingly not realizing that it’s VMK that’s modeled on the real world (if you can consider a Disney theme park the real world) and not the other way around.

Particularly impressive were some of the ways Disney has integrated video of an upcoming ride, Expedition Everest, into a game that participants played in order to be rewarded with more and more detail about what the ride was going to be like. Thus marketing becomes content.

Even more, they have a feature in some of the parks where you can earn spiffs at the park that enhance your status in the games. But perhaps most impressive of all is a forthcoming game, in which the activity of online game players actually affects the experience of real-world players at the park, while live webcams feed images of the real-world players into the game. And we thought this kind of thing only happened in Second Life :-)

(P.S. If you like Phil’s VR rig shown at the link above, here’s how to make your own.)