Disney’s MyMagic+ Good or Evil?

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Disney Parks, Walt Disney World

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Published on March 05, 2013 at 4:04 am with 64 Comments

Online reception to Disney’s NextGen initiative, called MyMagic+, has been far short of what one could charitably call lukewarm. In fact, the more appropriate term is, probably, outright hatred. I’ve done my share of moaning about the wretched possibilities with this new system, particularly when it comes to the one-two punch of privacy concerns and shafting the annual passholders. But vitriol seldom tells the whole story, and on this topic, like so many others, I think there are two sides.

Disney has been quick to point out the main advantage to MyMagic+: it enables advanced planning for people who prefer that level of preparation, and removes a whole lot of uncertainty from the typical vacation formula. Think about it this way: imagine planning a trip to an amusement park that you do not often visit — Universal in Singapore, for example — would you be so completely opposed to advance reservation system that would guarantee you access to the top five rides in prearranged reservations? I would probably find that comforting. Admittedly, it’s only a small section of the population that can truly be called ultra planners, but it is also absolutely true that a vacation with the big question marks removed can mean more relaxation for a wide slice of the population. I’m not the biggest fan of all-inclusive vacation packages, because I think they usually save no money at best, and might make you spend more money at worst. But it’s also true that I absolutely enjoy myself on the Disney Cruise Line, which is an all inclusive vacation. I have noticed, and remarked upon, the relaxation factor that can kick in once you realize that all the bills are taken care of. It’s very likely that advanced ride reservations will have a similar effect on the overall vacation. It may calm and soothe those parts of the trip that were previously fraught with tension and anxiety. I’m not saying that the system will be perfect or nirvana for everyone, but I *am* saying that the opposite extreme reaction — thinking that absolutely everyone hates to plan minute details of the vacation or that a planned out vacation is not any fun — should not be taken as gospel either. This is one of those topics where both sides have validity because the spectrum of travelers is actually that wide.

At one point, Disney was not going to require a PIN code for purchases under $50 made with a MagicBand. Possibly in reaction to the online uproar, wiser heads prevailed at Team Disney Orlando and now a PIN code will be required for every purchase. With that fix in place, I don’t really have any complaints about using RFID for purchases. My 10-year-old assures me that he will absolutely hate it if he has to wear the band full-time while in the park. Disney has not explained the policy either way yet, but my plan is to stuff the bands into a pocket once inside the park. Otherwise, the resulting tan lines would be irritating indeed for us frequent visitors.

It’s apparently relatively easy for bad guys to scan and read RFID chips, even at a slight distance. Because a PIN is required for all purchases and the bad guy would only get an ID number, I wasn’t that worried at first. This ID number can be disabled server-side as soon as the guest notices it’s been compromised (and again, the thief can’t make purchases with it). But then I realized the number *can* be transferred onto a fake MagicBand and used for park admission. I shrugged at that one.  Only Disney would lose in such a transaction, not the guest. But then I realized a PIN is not required for entry into hotel rooms, either. That has me worried. Your stuff will be a LOT less safe in your Disney hotel than was true even last year. Couldn’t a bad guy watch you leave your room, scan your RFID from a distance, wait until you leave the area, and then enter your room?

Privacy is a hot topic with lots of questions. I’m not going to go so far as to say that I am completely convinced Disney will be responsible with its data, nor do I think it is inconceivable that the system can be hacked. I’m guessing it’s less likely that an outsider would breach the defenses and be able to crosswalk the data with identifying information about the visitors. But it may be more likely that data misuse could come from within Disney’s own ranks. Are they making it absolutely impossible for a cast member in the right department to track a guest for dishonorable purposes? We know that a small percentage of people will give into cyber stalking if given the opportunity — the regular Internet is proof enough of that. So what will happen when you marry big data and personally identifiable information in an environment where the stalking victim can be seen and observed?

So I am at least a little concerned about privacy. But I promised this article would look at the flip side of everything, and there is a flip side here as well. Namely, there could very well be advantages to the individual guests in the privacy compromised world. It’s not just Disney that benefits, there are some for us little guys too. Let’s assume that Disney knows how often we ride certain attractions in the future. Let’s say you typically ride Space Mountain three times on every visit to the Magic Kingdom. Disney may not have known that before, especially if you sometimes used standby instead of FASTPASS. But they will know it in the future. It’s true that Disney could use this information to take actions that are unfriendly to guests, like closing attractions early or manipulating staff levels so that people really only get on eight rides per day and not more.

But it’s not hard to imagine ways that Disney could use the information for good as well. Now that they know you are a Space Mountain junkie, might it be possible that they will use CRM software to invite you and visitors similar to you to purchase a ticket for a special Space Mountain event? Before you dismiss that it is something you would never pay for, remember the target audience here. If you’re a frequent visitor, you might not pay for it, but the very infrequent visitor might. I go to Disneyland Paris only every few years. But when I go, I ride the Phantom Manor an awful lot, probably more than most visitors. If Disney knew that, they could send me an invitation to an upcharge party involving the Phantom Manor. And I’d probably pay it.

Think about merchandising opportunities. If your favorite ride is Splash Mountain, there has always been merchandise available for you to purchase. That’s less true if your favorite ride is the PeopleMover. Disney is likely to be able to suss out new nuggets of information from all this data, such as who exactly is riding each attraction. Disney presently knows that 1800 people may ride PeopleMover from 3 PM to 4 PM, but they have no idea who those people are. I suspect they will discover some patterns that will be useful in identifying new product lines. Many of the locals that I know, for example, love the PeopleMover. I’m guessing Disney will discover that repeat visitors really enjoy the ride. If they compare that data set with the data set of people who spend on merchandise — something else they will know due to the MagicBands — they can create a Venn diagram of people who like the PeopleMover and typically by theme park merchandise. Then they can send e-mails or physical mail to just that sub-population. I’m sure that sounds like Big Brother to some of you, but it’s not necessarily negative. It’s possible that this will create a win-win situation. You get to buy merchandise that you’ve always wanted and Disney has never yet created, and Disney gets to make the sale.

Will the Seven Dwarfs coaster inspire such loyalty?

It’s important to keep in mind that we may be dealing with a paradigm shift here, perhaps big enough to call it an epoch. Just as there was an Age of Computers, followed by an Age of the Internet, Western society may be moving toward an Age of Big Data. Futurists and prognosticators are already claiming that many of the jobs in the coming decades will involve analyzing big data and evolving appropriate marketing strategies. In other words, Disney may be merely leading the pack, though certainly there are other companies already doing with Disney is proposing on a smaller scale. What I find most intriguing about the possibility of an Age of Big Data is that these epochs tends to evolve organically without much rhyme or reason, lurching from side to side and latching upon new concepts so quickly that no one could have predicted the direction eventually followed. Computers were just a toy at first, until they weren’t. The Internet was of limited value initially for most users, but that of course didn’t last. No one can predict at the start of one of these eras just what will prove useful and what we will find indispensable in the future. It may be a great big beautiful tomorrow after all.

What do you think folks? Will Disney use all of this data for good? Evil? Or some purpose in between?


More information and updates

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations:

About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He is a founding member of MiceAge and has written numerous books about Disney parks (see http://bit.ly/kevinyee).

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  • chesirecat

    Here what MagicBands will make Disney:

    Theme Park Revenue is about $3.2 Billion. Of that, let’s say that $1.5 Billion is food/merchandise bought in the parks. A 20% increase would be about an extra $300 million in revenue each year, plus increased return business from folks who like MagicBands (folks who don’t won’t use it).

    $300 million extra revenue, if 1/6 of that is profit, then you’re looking at an extra $50 million a year, but it is probably higher as the infrastructure to sell merch/food is already in place (adding more ODV locations is cheap), so could be an extra $80 million a year in income, so within a decade, 15 years?, it would, more or less, pay for itself.

    PLUS you got cost savings. Namely the maintenance on hotel room locks (touchless RFID much easier to maintain than the old types), plus Disney is hoping that folks who buy MagicBands will be hooked on the technology angle, and it will be a competitive advantage over other parks, I would say that this is true given that new tech that makes life easier is usually embraced. No waiting in line for FastPass, (also less FastPasses to print), less hassle sounds good to me.

  • Gregg Condon

    I don’t get all the concern over this system that’s not even implemented yet. It would be amazing if just once the online community would say “Let’s just wait and see” before jumping to conclusions.

    COULD a band get stolen. Sure. COULD somebody get in your room, I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility. But just like the room-key they have now it’s quite easy to get a replacement at ANY hotel and get it deactivated at ANY hotel or in-park guest services area. I can’t imagine the bracelet wouldn’t be the same.

    For once, let’s just just take a wait and see approach. I know I am.

  • Kevin Yee

    Gregg, I agree that a wait and see approach is best for attractions. It’s what I’m doing on Avatar, for instance – so much matters in the implementation.

    But for *policies*, a wait and see approach might lead to a situation where it’s “too late” to change anything if people just wait. They do send out trial balloons sometimes to see if there is uproar – so uproar is justified.

    Disney was going to have no PIN required on purchases under $50. If everyone just did a wait and see, that would have been the policy at first, and then it’s harder as a company to do an about-face (it looks like weakness and lack of leadership). People *did* pipe up, and the policy was changed before it was ever implemented.

    So while I agree about attractions, when it comes to policies it matters more to speak your mind when the trial balloon is in the air.

  • robbalvey

    I’m not exactly sure how someone can write such a lengthy article with so much negativity on a system that hasn’t been rolled out yet. Personally, I’ll wait to hear from someone who has actually USED the system first hand before I would take any criticism with more than a grain of salt.

    And this – “My 10-year-old assures me that he will absolutely hate it if he has to wear the band”
    YOUR 10 YEAR OLD GETS TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD!!! Poor baby, having to wear a wristband at a place many kids dream to go to and never will.

    Kevin, I really think you should take your 10-year old to Six Flags America or Walygator Parc for an entire summer of theme park visits, and then come back to Walt Disney World and see how much complaining you feel there REALLY is.

    • Fredly

      I think you should go back to your forum.

  • billyjobobb

    I’m kinda surprised nobody has mentioned this already.

    My biggest concern is that this will cost me more money.

    We just got back about a week ago. At the airport Southwest announced that our flight was full and that they still had priority boarding for only $40! Yes, some people took them up on it.

    What’s to stop Disney from doing the same? We went to Disney studios and didn’t know that you had to run and get fastpasses. By noon the fastpasses were all gone for Toy Story. Wait times hit 200+ minutes. Will Disney offer “special” passes for a premium?
    If they see that you don’t have a fastpass and that you keep checking the standby time……. Will I get an offer to get a pass for $5?

    The same thing with food purchases. Will you notice how much you’re paying for a soda? Or will you just go to check out and be shocked by your bill?

  • billyjobobb

    What will happen when the system is down?

    We checked in at 2 am. Guess what? No computer. We were taken to our room and let in. They told us to come back in the morning and do the actual check in.

    At Epcot we tried to buy a snack. The system was down. Cash only? Sorry, our scanner isn’t working? We also had that problem when I was trying to buy a pin. The system wasn’t responding. I ended up getting the pin for free since there was no way to charge my credit card.

    And don’t get me started on how many of the people in front of us couldn’t figure out how to use the system to get in. They stood there like deer in the headlights trying to figure out where to stick their ticket. They had to have extra cast members there to show people.

  • robbalvey

    To billyjobobb –

    QUOTE: “We just got back about a week ago. At the airport Southwest announced that our flight was full and that they still had priority boarding for only $40! Yes, some people took them up on it.”

    And I’m one of those people. I don’t have an issue paying extra as long as I’m getting an extra service. I’m also guilty of staying in a deluxe resort, sometimes at concierge level. It’s a “choice”, and I love having a scalable option when it comes to service. And yes, at theme parks that offer it, I always buy the “upcharge virtual queue” system. When I’m flying across the country to spend a day in a park, an extra $100 is nothing, especially if it guarantees I can get in a much higher percentage of attractions.

    QUOTE: “We went to Disney studios and didn’t know that you had to run and get fastpasses.”
    Let me get this straight. You’re a member of MiceChat, you booked a trip to Walt Disney World, you’re smart enough to use the new entry system, but you didn’t know you had to run at get fast passes for one of the most popular attractions? Something doesn’t add up here.

    QUOTE: “What will happen when the system is down?”
    According to your story, sounds like the same thing that would happen at any hotel where they had a system failure. They took as good of care of you as they possibility could considering the circumstance. We’ve had hotels where the power was out the ENTIRE NIGHT in a hotel. We’ve had parks where we’ve been rained out. You make it sound like issues ONLY happen at Disney World. Guess what? That’s not the case. Sounds like they did everything they could to help out, and you still weren’t happy. What a shame.

    QUOTE: “The system wasn’t responding. I ended up getting the pin for free since there was no way to charge my credit card.”

    You got a free pin…. and you’re COMPLAINING!?!? *facepalm*

    QUOTE: “And don’t get me started on how many of the people in front of us couldn’t figure out how to use the system to get in.”

    Try standing by your average ATM at your local bank. Funny how I’ve used the exact same system to enter the parks, and sure, while people are still figuring it out (I mean, the system hasn’t actually been rolled out yet), Disney is learning from these tests and tweaking the system. I’ve already seen changes in the past few months. And if you just stand at a normal turnstile. People still have issues there too, and that system has been in place more than ten years.

    This whole article…and the responses… *shocked* The only thing “Declining by Degrees” at Disney parks are the attitudes of some of the bloggers and die-hard fans that visit them.

    • Fredly

      Don’t you own a forum that is nothing but pro Disney? Some people have a problem with what Disney is rolling out. Why don’t you cower back to your website where you are Lord and Master, and are ragging on Kevin. I don’t think he goes to your site and badmouths you. Just go away.

  • physics teacher

    The problem I have with this is that with the amount of money they are spending on this they could have built a TON of new rides or even a whole new park.

    All of which would have managed the lines and crowds a lot better then just adding a horrible fast pass system.

  • QPerth

    My pet cats have chips in them, it will soon be law in my (Australian) state that all pet cats have microchips. They have all their owners details attached to their chip. Am I concerned? Nope.

    Most of our bank cards here have chips in them. At the supermarket, get my few items, go to the self checkout, tap your card and go. Done.

    The major airline in Australia uses RFID. Frequent Flier cards have a chip in them, they tap the card at an illuminating post, done. All checked in. Got a bag to check in? Your FF RFID bag tag is hanging off your bag, place it on the bag check station, it weighs and laser scans your bag and sends it on its way. Done. Concerns that all the FF details are attached? None.

    It’s quite funny reading the panic and uproar over there with the ‘introduction’ of this tech. It’s old school.

    And I thought that the MyMagic+ FastPass+ cards only had to be swiped to access the FastPass+ queue, and not the standby queue. So how are they tracking people exactly? #confusedAussiehere

  • Kevin Yee

    QPerth, it’s true that customer activity is restricted to the FastPass lines.

    However, there is some indication from insiders that Disney will know the location of all the RFID cards/wristbands courtesy of scanners every 30 feet or so. So it’s possible for them to place you anywhere in the park, if that happens.

    Some people shrug about that level of tracking; others don’t.

    • QPerth

      Something I hadn’t heard yet, so thanks for clarifying that for me Kevin, greatly appreciated.

      I guess if people choose to take part in MyMagic+ in a group, one person could potentially be the caretaker of all the MagicBands and that would really screw up the tracking!
      But if Disney wanted to track people now they could to a degree, if they payed by bankcard, or used their annual pass, their room key, all of that gets fed into some Grid someplace. And Smartphones and Google…..let’s not even open that Pandora’s Box!

  • HauntedPirate

    Here are my problems with the MM+ system:

    1. “You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to” – For now, yes. But I would bet an enormous amount of money that this system becomes mandatory at some point.

    2. “20% more spending means more money for the parks” – Not on your life. There is no guarantee that any extra revenue will fund future attractions. Quite the contrary – Disney will undoubtedly take additional revenues realized from the MM+ system and funnel it into other business units (aka – Prop up the bottom line, just as the theme parks do now). And if they make extra money off the MM+ system, all that does is enable them to say, “We’re making more money without needing to spend any additional capital on new rides and attractions? Well then why should we invest anything into WDW?!?! It’s making lotsa money!!” Of course, Universal’s significant investments in new rides and attractions is probably going to force Disney’s hand on this, not guest satisfaction surveys. If guests don’t like lines anyway, and these sorts of complaints don’t increase post-MM+ implementation, what’s their motivation to improve anything? It will be The Rizzo Factor, live and right in your face each and every time you walk thru the entrance gates (can’t say turnstyles anymore) – They’re tourists, whadda they know? Considering that WDW seems to cater to more international and/or first time guests, what are the odds this will change anytime soon?

    The reality of it all is: This is not your father’s Walt Disney Company. Hell, it’s not even the Walt Disney Company *I* remember anymore. It is nothing but a huge marketing machine now, focused solely on stock analysts’ expectations and making stockholders happy. It churns out cheap “product”, like the 99.5% of programming on The Disney Channel that is utterly, mind-numbingly stupid (Phineas & Ferb being the lone exception in my mind). It markets the hell out of anything and everything it can (Synergies!!!!). It will squeeze every last penny they can out of a brand, character, show, et al. and then toss it aside in favor of their next new brand, character, show, et al.

    As for what will they do with whatever data they collect from MM+? I think it’s already been said – They will mine every last bit of data they gather from the MM+ system in an attempt to sell you more cheap crap. But maybe, just maybe, there will be a silver lining to all of this. Maybe they’ll start putting out decent merchandise like they used to. More than 10 years ago, I used to be able to find at least half a dozen t-shirts I wanted to buy every time I visited (trips were annually back then). I have purchased exactly 3 t-shirts in the last 3 years, over 4 different trips. I look at the shops and am just nauseated at the amount of cheap crap that has become the standard merchandise offering, but more importantly, it’s been accepted by 95% of guests.

    I am really trying to just enjoy my time in the parks when I get it and not be a Johnny Raincloud and point out all the flaws, problems, etc. But Disney is making it more difficult to even do that anymore.

  • HauntedPirate

    Oh, I almost forgot – Will Disney please use the MM+ system to figure out how to eliminate the utter insanity that they cause nightly around Main Street & the hub? Whoever thought that parade-castle show-fireworks-castle show-parade (or some variation based on park closing times) was a good idea needs to be flogged.