Prognosticating the MMO the Mouse Built

I love Disney. Not the company, which is increasingly reaching to foul and loathesome depths in its push to get marketoys into the hands of little girls. Not even the man, though obviously he was a person to respect. I love Disney the gestalt, the overall combination of customer service, ambition, creativity and innovation that lets places like the happiest place on earth exist. Their Walt Disney World resort in particular is fascinating, a microcosm of a country all within the space of a few former swampy marshes.

Particularly engaging is the idea that - in almost every way - Disney is the ultimate MMO developer. Though their forays into the genre have been tentative so far, the house of mouse is poised to be the designer of the happiest places on meta-earth as well.

It should be noted, first and foremost, that the company is already very interested in getting gamers on-board. Though their closure of Virtual Magic Kingdom may have left fans of that space disappointed, they’re pushing forward on a number of fronts. ToonTown Online and Pirates of the Caribbean Online are already established entities in this space, but there’s even more here. Disney folks have been showing up in droves to game conferences. There have been buyouts, announced plans, and numerous rumors. They’ve even publicly let slip the fact that they view gamers as a growing population - ripe for co-opting.

The people Disney should be turning to when they want to craft a virtual world are the same people they consult when they want remake our own: the Imagineers. In truth, Disney’s well-known group of theme park designers, artisans, and builders are probably the single greatest world-building team on the planet. Their numerous disciplines are meshed just so, and you can already see their results in the greatest Massively Multiplayer Offline Game ever built: Walt Disney World.

Branding

Disney has always been skilled at creating new concepts, not just stories or individual products. Anybody can do that. Disney concepts a brand before it does anything. It takes strong products and turns them into far more than that. The amorphous concept of the Princess, for example, is now a lifestyle choice among a certain segment of young women. In the same way we’ve seen World of Warcraft become a board game, card game, miniatures game, and clothing line, Disney would leverage a game world into every home in America. The folks who taught us to love colored movies might just make gamers out of all of us.

Theming

Theming and branding are two very different things. A brand is a line of products or services. A theme is the coating on the outside of whatever it is you’re branding. The WDW park is best known for theming in line queues. Visit any given park attraction and you’ll be wrapped into its ‘story’ long before you set foot in a ride mobile. Whether it’s the crazy imagery on the outside of the Muppet Show building or the banking planes just outside Soarin’, Disney knows how to pull you in. Just imagine an MMO where they actually pay attention to the little details. One aside from World of Warcraft, of course.

World of Warcraft's theming is legendary. Originating in the launch game's polish, players cheered at little touches like the plaques in the IronForge Explorer's Guild or the far-seeing orb in the Tower of Azora. The modern game offers even more highly developed tweaks, like a quest that has you going back in time just to beat someone up and steal their hat or the ongoing construction presaging the upcoming expansion. A Disney MMO could take this to the Nth level, offering the degree of verisimilarity the designers of Warhammer Online are currently hoping to obtain in their capital cities. The key here is that this appearance of reality would be only as deep as would be needed to prop up the fantasy - just as in the theme parks, where false fronts project an image of high adventure or far-off lands.

Flow

Flow is all about crowd control. Not the game mechanic kind, where the Warlock keeps the second monster at bay while you kill the first. The actual physical movement of people (or, online, avatars) from point A to point B is a damned tricky project to tackle. Engineers have spent billions working to get the flow right at Disney World, and they’re still working to get that perfect frission just so. In an online space this background would translate into well-designed player cities, and an intrinsic understanding of how a zone should be laid out. No more running back and forth for you.

Elemental

Each and every one of Disney’s attractions is about one single core concept. An Elemental idea that - almost always - is conveyed effortlessly by a given ride. Even just walking through the theming is likely to prepare you for a ride’s central element. Space mountain rockets you through a trippy version of ‘space’, for example, while the Rock’n’Rollercoaster is all about basically crawling inside music. In an MMO, think of each game subsystem as a ride. The ‘crafting’ ride would convey one thing and one thing alone to the player. What we know about Warhammer’s crafting is probably the best example of this: it’s all about utility, nothing more.

Community

A given, right? MMOs are all about people getting along and having a good time? Just throw them all online together and a community will form? In fact, there are precious few games out there that are doing a good job with this. Disney exudes community from the moment you step on property to the moment you see the waving Mickey hand. Employees are friendly, encouraging others to do the same. Paths and sitting areas are arranged to offer spontaneous chatting opportunities, and there’s nothing like getting to know the guy next to you as you scream through the Tower of Terror’s drops. Even just the term Disney uses to refer to employees - “Cast Members” - speaks volumes about how they view their jobs.

Customer Service

Even if you’ve had a terrible experience in a Disney park, I’d be willing to bet you left smiling. The reason is insidious: Cast Members at Disney are nice. And not the polite-but-secretly-hating-you-nice we’ve grown to expect from the retail industry. They’re really, really nice. Everybody smiles at you, greets you with respect, holds doors for you, and generally goes above and beyond the call of service every chance they get. MMO companies fail utterly at this right now. Even ‘the good ones’ only have good customer service in comparison to other MMO companies. It seems sort of straight-forward that a hacking and the deletion of a much-loved avatar is a moment for “people skills”, but generally the response is somewhere just north of “you deserved it, lolz.”

The ideal MMO for the Imagineers to craft would take the best parts of the Disney World concept and translate it into a living, breathing world. Why not have multiple 'themes' all within one world? Really explore them, rather than just having 'zone props' as we so often see. Instead of the "snow zone", give us activities, quests, and challenges that really pit players against an arctic environment. In "DesertLand", have us riding camel mounts and interacting with ancient cultures.

Disney is going to make a truly standout MMO someday. It already runs a pretty convincing one in the southern half of Florida. The park even abbreviates like an MMO: WDW. Whether you’re a fan of the mouse or hate every order Walt’s preserved head has given since the 50s, it’s hard to deny they have the chops for the virtual world racket. It just remains to be seen what virtual ‘adventureland’ they deliver us.

Comments

I love Disney the gestalt,
I think you meant the Disney gestalt. First paragraph.
Good article.

I, for one, welcome my Disney overlords. I had hoped that Pirates of the Caribbean would be attempting what Pirates of the Burning Seas failed at.

But yes... you are right.

My mom got addicted to Toon Town, so much so that I found her using a mouse script to train her "doodle" automatically, and this is coming from the parents that told me, "gaming is a waste of time." I should probably keep her away from WoW, it wouldn't be pretty...

boogle wrote:
I love Disney the gestalt,
I think you meant the Disney gestalt. First paragraph.
Good article.

Actually, as he's constructed it, he's accurate: Disney the Company, Disney the Man, Disney the Gestalt.

Man. Everyone's a critic.

I'm right there with you on the "Disney Way." I can tell you that as a parent, Disney is a mixed blessing. I LOVE Disneyworld - I got married there. I love the schtick, I love the Gestalt - the way it's put together. And I like SOME of the things they do as far as targeted media - the Disney Fairies series, for instance, was really positive for my daughter.but I find most of their team, and tween stuff to be completely odious. Hannah Montana the Suite life of Zack and Cody, Blech

If I never seen another mention of Hannah Montana or High School Musical again, it'll be too soon. Who's with me?

You can't take 2 steps in Disney World without seeing yet another product from those two lines.

This article just reminds me of how much I want to go to DisneyWorld. It's been 10 years for me and I want to go as an adult now, unchaperoned.

rabbit wrote:
I'm right there with you on the "Disney Way." I can tell you that as a parent, Disney is a mixed blessing. I LOVE Disneyworld - I got married there.

You can get married at DisneyWorld?!

I'm sure if I had given it some thought that it would have occurred to me, but I never have so this is news to me.

The Pixar labeled movies and the original Winnie the Pooh movie are the only Disney items allowed in the house and we sure as hell didn't pay for them. I was so glad to see that Milne's granddaughter or whatever won her lawsuit against the bastards that are Disney.

As long as they are major backers for F'ing up the IP rights in this country they can do it without my dollars.

McChuck wrote:
You can get married at DisneyWorld?!

Oh yeah, you can. Easy to keep the guests entertained. I went to a great wedding their, had a weekend full of fun. However, you gotta be into Disney or it can seem pretty over the top. Great time though was had by all the adults hitting the rides en masse.

rabbit wrote:
boogle wrote:
I love Disney the gestalt,
I think you meant the Disney gestalt. First paragraph.
Good article.

Actually, as he's constructed it, he's accurate: Disney the Company, Disney the Man, Disney the Gestalt.

Man. Everyone's a critic.

Oh, I thought Disney was being used as an adjective. I would have put a comma there, but yes, I was incorrect.

The problem with a Disney MMO wouldn't be design or theme. The problem would be depth. After only a few rides, you'd begin to realize the worlds are made of fiberglass and painted to look the part, albeit with loving attention to detail
MMO's are designed to be ridden several times a day, every day. Disney Theme Parks only work on a once a month basis, if not quarterly.

But then again, I maintain that WoW is the best you'll get for a Disney style MMO. You'll find no better if done internally at Disney and quite probably it will be much more shallow.

I will hold out for a Six Flags Magic Mountain MMO. Less flair and more thrills, the excitement is in the experience, not the paint coat. Disney may have more atmosphere, but Magic Mountain has atmosphere enough and evokes emotions by the shear scope and mechanics of its rides.

That Disney Fairies link just about ruined my evening. I didn't even know there was such a thing and yet as soon as I saw it my inner critic forced me to do what a critic must always do when faced with a group - identify the "best." I could care less about these things and yet I am compelled to pick a "favorite."

I have no idea where this compulsion comes from. Bleah!

p.s. Fawn.

p.p.s. For that matter: Batman, Dr. Pepper, Neville Longbottom, Faramir, Coffee Ice Cream, NVidia, Starbuck (new), Micronauts, the Northeast, Kerrington & Twitch... aaarrgh!

I'm waiting for the World of Warcraft Theme Park to open up. Just imagine an entire theme park with rides and characters. I mean what WoW playing kid wouldn't want to see the Queen of the Underworld or the Orc Highwarlord etc. Make roller coaster rides mimicking the Flight Path rides, perhaps a ship ride. Have shows and themed foods. The list goes on and on. People are already talking about the concepts just do a google search for "World of Warcraft theme park" and see the results of people comparing the game itself or it's experience to a theme park. So when it become a reality? I don't know but once Blizzard figures it out I'm certain it will become a reality in short order. You could even make it something called Blizzard World and add different themes within the park from Starcraft themed areas to Diablo themed areas for scary factor. The sky is the limit.

Yew wrote:
p.p.s. For that matter: Batman, Dr. Pepper, Neville Longbottom, Faramir, Coffee Ice Cream, NVidia, Starbuck (new), Micronauts, the Northeast, Kerrington & Twitch... aaarrgh!

I sense a T-Shirt in the making:

"Conan, what is best in life?"

"Batman, Dr. Pepper ..."

and so on.

Call threadless, stat!

MICRONAUTS!

( I recently re-read the whole run of the comic... that was damaging to my internal sense of past value )

Having recently witnessed the Disney park phenomenon for the first time as an adult, I can absolutely see where you're coming from. I'm not really a fan of any Disney IP, but I found both Disneyland and Disney World astoundingly well-realized. Like the product of some superior race. There's nothing like it. Game designers could learn an awful lot from Disney's Imagineers.

Warren Spector spoke a lot about the opportunity to work with Disney IP back when Disney acquired Junction Point. I wonder if the Disney qualities you mention will have any bearing on the development of his yet-to-be-announced project.

Loved the article.

weswilson wrote:
MICRONAUTS!

( I recently re-read the whole run of the comic... that was damaging to my internal sense of past value )

I was thinking of the toys when I wrote that. Never read the comics except for the X-Men / Micronauts crossover. (Super Geek!)

Yew wrote:
That Disney Fairies link just about ruined my evening.

Could someone describe this section? it can't be seen if you're out of the US.

thanks!!!

I worshiped those toys... thus my interest in the comic book. I would have told a tale about me revisiting the toys of my youth, but my mom made me give away my micronauts when I grew older.

How I hate her.

Hobbes2099 wrote:
Yew wrote:
That Disney Fairies link just about ruined my evening.

Could someone describe this section? it can't be seen if you're out of the US.

It's just a new marketing campaign built around Tinkerbell and introducing a bunch of fairy friends with names like Fawn, Silvermist, Rosetta, etc. It's saccharine and just... bleah. You're not missing anything, trust me.

weswilson wrote:
I worshiped those toys... thus my interest in the comic book. I would have told a tale about me revisiting the toys of my youth, but my mom made me give away my micronauts when I grew older.

Ouch.

There is still a (possibly) functioning Rocket Tubes set in my parents' attic.

IMAGE(http://www.bugeyedmonster.com/toys/micro/micro/rockettubes.jpg)

My 5-year-old son now plays with my Baron Karza. Sadly, all that remains of Force Commander is his head, though I suspect Karza had something to do with that...
IMAGE(http://www.toymania.com/columns/spotlight/images/s1microkarza1.jpg)