May 24

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

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.)

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Comments: 25

  Kevin Farnham [05.24.06 10:09 AM]

The integration of virtual worlds and the "natural" / "real" world that is occurring today reminds me of some of the science fiction I read long ago. As often seems the case, what was forecast is happening, but not in the form that was predicted. For example, on our refrigerator we have a picture of a 1950s vision of the future, which shows a big clunky approximately human shaped robot holding picnic basket in one claw and a little girl is holding the robot's other claw. I got the picture from an article in the Economist titled "The gentle rise of the machines". Yes, robots are everywhere today, but not in the form that was imagined 50 years ago.

From our investigation of MySpace and especially teen attitudes toward it, it appears that a medium for communication that consists of a keyboard, screen, and Internet cabling is not "lived" as though the communication was indirect. I mean, my daughter smiles as she chats with her friends using IM, as though they were right there with her.

In our introduction we suggest that MySpace is "the World's biggest role-playing game" -- gaming within the virtual world seems to be a fundamental manner of interaction. My son (college age) is an avid fan of anything that flies, and he participates in an online game where an entire world of air traffic controllers and pilots interact (more than 100,000 participants, according to the Wall Street Journal). Each person has their own domain, for example, air traffic controller at a specific airport, and apparently the airport controller stations are supposed to be manned 100% of the time, in case any planes show up. One time my son thought no controllers were active, and started taking off his airplane, and was abruptly contacted by a very disapproving back-up air traffic controller (who had been notified that a plane was at his airport, I think).

The integration of the "virtual" and "natural" into a new "real" does indeed seem to be happening in many ways, at an accelerating pace, and in a "seamless" manner that does not feel at all uncomfortable to the participants. It's just amazing to watch it all unfold!

  tony sheng [05.24.06 02:33 PM]

My wife has been playing VMK for a few months now and loves it. She started just toying around with it because she is a big Disney fan.
There is this huge sense of community with the players, they meet up in rooms, talk on forums and connect all the time. Also kind of interesting that there are a lot of moms that seem to play the game too.
I believe its an interesting connection dynamic akin to blogs, MySpace, etc.

  Greg Stratford [05.25.06 09:38 AM]

I believe the most important part about the mix between the virtual and real worlds is that it creates a new experience that can not be replicate in the real or virtual world if they isolated.

The creation of this new experience will lead to completly unique experiences for the users and visitors which have not been available in the past.

  Joe Hunkins [05.29.06 11:41 AM]

>>move the government into the Web 2.0 era

  John Fix [06.03.06 01:54 PM]

My experience with VMK has been less than stellar. My 12 year old daughter loves the site, but she was recently banned for ten years for violating one of the rules. Even though Disney has both her email and my email, we received no notification of the ban and support requests submitted via the website have gone unanswered. I expect better from the Disney organization...they may have recreated the look of the Magic Kingdom but they fall far short of the attention to customer service.

  Lisa Johnston [06.04.06 05:22 PM]

My 11-year-old daughter is enthralled with VMK. After catching a glimpse of the "emporium" I began to wonder a little about the game. The emporium houses a fortune teller, sports tarot cards on the wall and is decorated with astrological signs. I was wondering if there was more of this type of "magic" involved in the game. Anyone have more information?

  Rebekah [06.07.06 12:33 PM]

hi, i go on vmk. ( virtual magic kingdom )i have been on it for about six months. and i want to know if you made a user because i would love to be your friend.

p.s. ( off toppic ) the kids factor book you wrote, i just bought it and so far i love it! Great Work!

  Clara [06.12.06 06:03 PM]

I'm 12 years old, and I've been playing for a little longer that 8 months. I looooooooove it! And it's interesting to me on how parents are now playing it and getting Myspaces and Xangas etc. etc. My mom was kind of joking, but she was saying how she was gonna try it over the summer! I would actually feel better if she did, then I would feel more safe, like that way my mom knows what kinds of things I do and use.

  VMK Disappoints [06.13.06 04:55 PM]

I think the game is awful. My little girl is devastated the impossibility to acquire princesses’ dresses and other assorted items. Not all little girls are skilled on the fine art of the deal (aka trades) and so many items are out of reach. My daughter has left the game crying out of frustration and has many times stated that she HATES Disney.

Is that what Walt really wanted?

  Trinity Phannenhour [06.21.06 10:16 AM]

VMK is the best.

Currently we are in Pirates month. Details on vmk homepage. You can play a game to get exclusive pirate loot!! I really love the game. And if you dont have a lot of skill on games and trades remember the following:

1. YOu don't have to trade anything! Just back out!

2. If it looks like you are giving one of your items, automatically decline. This is an unfair trade and should be avoided.

3. It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, its about having fun and playing the game!! Make lots of good friends and enjoy yourself and you will have an excellent experience you won't forget.

Anyway there is also this free software you can download called vmkpal and it is a really neat program that you get to view a calendar of events, take screenshots and magnify your screen without having to log out!! It is really cool and totally free!!

  Chillechille [06.26.06 03:53 PM]

I love VMK, it's so cool and safe. I would never go to a different chatroom in my life!! My guest name is chillechille and I am so super about it. I want to become the best I can on vmk and even try to be staffs, or VIP's. I love you VmK inventor!

  Chillechille [06.26.06 04:01 PM]

Oh, and for them people who do the "taken thing" I know I'm cute but I'm too young for boys, I'm sorry..bust ask me to make me feel pretty..WHICH I IS

  chelsea [07.13.06 06:50 AM]

i met a girl on vmk and she was very mean to me.she took all my stuff then delete me off her friend list!!i want her ban her name is sweet_wilber

  llamasrcool [07.13.06 02:46 PM]

hey i LOVE vmk it is the best game i have ever played online. ive been playing for little over a year and im so glad i found the website in a disney mag. bc i got my nephew and neice hooked on the game and we all love it...btw im 14 hehe :) play vmk!!

  chillechille [07.14.06 07:54 AM]

" hey i LOVE vmk it is the best game i have ever played online. ive been playing for a little over a year and im so glad i found the website in a disney mag. bc i got my nephew and neice hooked on the game we all love it...bwt i'm 14 hehe :) play vmk!! "

that is the most stupidest thing i have ever heard. And hey my name is chelsea!! I ain't stupid though : lol :

  chillechille [07.14.06 07:58 AM]

Oh i got hooked on vmk by... Well I was on a chat room chatting with a 14 year old and i was only 10, and he kept asking me questions lik " where do you live? How old are you? what's your b. day? " I didn't feel safe so i looked up " disney chat rooms " in google, and i saw VMK and i went there, and it was So cool!!
ps. my guest name on vmk is chillechille :)

  Anonymous [07.14.06 08:02 AM]

Wow chillechille you must be a little over your head.

  Chillechille [07.14.06 12:36 PM]

No i ain't

  Chillechille [07.14.06 01:22 PM]

Oh yea I forgot to say how long i've been on VMK!! It was February 22nd when I got off of that weird chat room i looked up : disney chatrooms " and i saw VMK! i've been on vmmk for 5 months now... AND I STILL AIN'T RICH!! bootleg

  Chillechille [07.14.06 01:26 PM]

But I'm workng on it. I hav nice good friends to help me. they are.. Aceslice, fantasyhannah...I have too much i can't name them. I also have a sister on VMK. we are twins and she owns : The Sweet Store. I help her!! her guest name is crytalcrytal. And boys ask if i'm taken alot. No one has my face on VMK!! no one. So i'm cute and unique. Good to know :)

  Jojo [07.14.06 01:32 PM]

hey are you taken??

  Jojo [07.14.06 01:34 PM]

bc you sound kinda cute

  chillechille [07.14.06 01:34 PM]

leave me the hell alone

  Paiton [05.01.08 08:10 PM]

VMK is a very fun website, and many users play it! But they are closing VMK and we wished they wouldn't. Unfortauntly, we can't stop it. But it closes May 21, 2008. Find more comments at the VMK Newsletter explaining why, Have fun.

  mizmouse [05.08.08 12:15 AM]

Please help us Save VMK!!! It is closing...visit my blog to read hundreds of posts regarding Disney's decision to pull the plug on this virtual community. They built a community and now they are telling us it was all a promotion. There has already been a lot of press coverage, but we need more!!! Save VMK!!!

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