We are now 30 days into the beta of Disney's (NYSE: DIS) brilliant Virtual Magic Kingdom game. Given that it's intended to be a free community-based experience that Disney hopes to parlay into real-world theme park experiences, I've been impressed with what I have seen so far.
After a painless registration process, online users are whisked to a simulated Magic Kingdom, where they deck out their avatars with garb and a collection of pins, prizes, and abilities that they accumulate along the way. Not much has changed since the site was launched last month. Tomorrowland and Frontierland are still under construction. The three available games have grown to four. It's in beta, so it's still a little buggy here and there.
However, user innovation has improved. Despite the cumbersome text interface (it is Disney, after all -- quite a few common words are off-limits), it didn't take long for guests to take matters into their own hands. For example, the online experience gives users the ability to create their own room and stock it with things like posters and furniture. Some have taken that a step further, manipulating furniture to host a game of musical chairs, or inviting fellow Disney fans to gather around for Disney trivia. Winners get to trade some of their virtual goodies for new ones.
It's a bit like Stock Advisor recommendation Electronic Arts' (Nasdaq: ERTS) The Sims and a bit like Disney's own Toontown Internet-based game. The difference with Virtual Magic Kingdom, for now at least, is that it is completely free.
That's why it was a shame to see just a little more than 700 participants strolling about last night. That number may increase next month, when Disney plans to integrate the game with actual kiosks at its theme parks. Real-life visitors will be able to complete quests to collect virtual goodies. It could be the start of a spectacular online venture that marries the theme park experience with the Web, helping to subsidize a rich and viral online playing area while heightening excitement about the company's real-world attractions.