If you think that you need to trek out to Anaheim or Orlando to see Cinderella, engage enemy pirate ships in a cannonball fight, or go on a Jungle Cruise safari, click again. Last week, Disney (NYSE: DIS) began beta-testing its new Virtual Magic Kingdom online experience.
Think of it as The Sims -- the popular role-playing simulation by Stock Advisor newsletter recommendation Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS) -- with mouse ears. You simply register, flesh out your character, and then explore the dozens of animated areas throughout the online theme park.
Is it buggy? You bet. It's still in beta. However, it's easy to see how this new multiplayer adventure has a ton of potential. Sure, Disney has tried its hand at virtual communities before. Its Toontown software won Computer Gaming World's award for the best massively multiplayer online role-playing game in 2003, and Disney's Blast has incorporated Disney characters into a premium subscription service for young Internet users since the 1990s.
Disney continues to support those early services, but Virtual Magic Kingdom is where the real cyber-promise lies. For starters, it's a Web-based experience that also promotes its theme parks. So even if the Jungle Cruise game feels an awful lot like all the other video games where players accumulate points and gadgets by exploring various lands, user familiarity is almost the point. It extends the theme-park experience past the turnstiles and onto the computer screen