The MyMagic+ program is one of the most controversial ideas in the history of Imagineering. The Walt Disney Company built a bridge toward Tomorrowland. In the process, they took bold steps to secure the future of the world’s most popular theme park, Walt Disney World. There were many goals in their ambitious stratagem: they wanted to correct the flaws with the existing FastPass system, they preferred to ease the purchase process for Disney guests, and they desired total integration of all Walt Disney World functionality in a single device.
The results have revolutionized not only the theme park industry but also many other fields. However, building a system this revolutionary didn’t come without substantial struggles, though. Here are five hurdles Disney overcame in introducing MyMagic+.
1. Who’s the boss?
You might believe that Disney’s Imagineers controlled the entirety of the developmental process, but that's actually a common misconception. The Walt Disney Company embodies forward-thinking innovation as a rule, and Parks division of the company demonstrates such loyalty to the ideals of the man himself, Walt Disney, that they are notoriously conservative with regards to the theme parks.
That's why Bob Iger chose to outsource a part of the project. Along with a team of special advisors, he evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of Disney’s vaunted Imagineers. Appreciating that their loyalty to the ideas of Walt Disney himself were thoughtful yet occasionally problematic, the company’s decision makers brought in outsiders. The plan was to allow people with fresh eyes and no connection to Disney play in the theme park sandbox for a while.
Suffice to say that internal politics became an issue. A San Francisco business appropriately named Frog started on the ground floor of what was then referenced as NGE, Next Generation Experience. From 2009 until the debut of the Magic Band in 2013, several other companies came onboard. HP and Synapse were two of the most famous of them. Every group enjoyed the lucrative contract they signed with Disney, but a core issue persisted. No one definitive entity controlled the final MyMagic+ product. Infighting became the law of the land as everyone had their own distinct idea about how 21st century Disney theme parks should evolve.
2. What could MyMagic+ do?
In the face of several adjoining developers, Disney’s Imagineers were resistant to change. It’s this passionate dedication to the original ideals of Walt Disney World that caused problems with MyMagic+. Rather than include all of the suggested ideas, some of which would prove revolutionary, the technology behind the MagicBand became a series of compromises and half-measures. It speaks volumes about the daring and bravado of the ideas that even a reductive version of the Magic Band is still a jaw-dropping piece of technology.
In a moment we’ll discuss the included ideas, but some of the ones that didn’t make the cut are symbolic of the overall innovation of the project. One of the most famous is the pre-booking of meals. In this version of the Next Generation Experience, guests would not only pick a restaurant ahead of their visit but also decide their entire menu ahead of time.
Originally intended as a launch product, the technological hurdles and divisiveness of its utility prevented its inclusion. Instead, Imagineers famously tested the idea at Be Our Guest. Originally, Disney selected random guests to participate in the program, and I speak from experience when I say that the results were disappointing. Cast members informed me that they lost my reservation, and they bluntly stated it happened more often than not. Disney expects total accuracy with their services, not coin flips.
Despite the lackluster early performance, Disney opened their Be Our Guest trial to the general public, which Theme Park Tourist chronicled earlier this year. Suffice to say that it too could have gone better. Perhaps this example is the best one to show that Imagineers are on to something when they hold true to Disney standards in the face of hallmark technological change. Not all brilliant ideas are practical, at least not in their first iteration.