The Patent and Trademark Office recently published one of the principal utility patents applications Disney filed for MyMagic+. Publication of a patent application typically occurs about 18 months after it is filed which means Disney filed the patent application in July 2011. Let’s get the legal terms out of the way. Upon filing, patent applications are maintained in the strictest confidence until the patent is issued or the application is published. Publication of a patent doesn’t mean the patent has been issued. It provides the patent holder certain rights if the patent is eventually granted. So far as I can tell, the Patent and Trademark Office has not issued the patent to Disney (nor, for purposes of this blog post, does that matter). Keep reading to find out more about this patent.
The patent application reveals slightly more about Disney’s plans for My Magic+. We already know from prior Disney releases that MyMagic+ (and its sibling app titled “My Disney Experience”) will attempt to allow guests to better customize their vacations while at Walt Disney World. The smartphone app will allow visitors to make plans both before and during their stays, whether it be for dining reservations or FastPasses (the latter can be done through the FastPass+ technology).
We know a little more after listening to the DIS Unplugged Podcast episode “FastPast+ and What we Know” of February 12, 2013.
The patent application provides a few more hints about Disney’s long-term thinking for MyMagic+, at least its thinking as of July 2011. The application explains that MyMagic+ will be receiving “information from a guest, determining a guest strategy based on the information received from the guest, and generating a schedule for the guest visit based on the guest strategy. The schedule for the guest visit may include attendance at one or more experience areas.” (“Experience area” means theme park, a resort hotel, golf course or spa.)
The application explains the problem that Disney hopes to ameliorate:
One disadvantage at many theme parks and amusement parks is the long lines that guests face to enter the park, at the attractions within the park, and when purchasing food at mealtimes. Long wait times for attractions in particular detract from the guests experience, not just from the time spent standing in lines, but also by causing the guest to rush from attraction to attraction to maximize the number of popular attractions, without taking time to notice or enjoy the other offerings of the theme park such as music, live entertainment, restaurants, shops, etc.
Additionally, guests that rarely frequent the park are typically unfamiliar with the layout of the park as well as with the peak times for more popular rides. This can further decrease those guests enjoyment, as they may take circuitous routes in order to try and visit as many attractions as possible, and may cause them to experience even longer lines by failing to visit the most popular attractions at off-peak hours.
Different methods have been used to try and minimize wait times in theme parks and amusement parks, including limiting ticket sales on a given day to prevent overcrowding and allowing guests to purchase more expensive express tickets that allow the guest to use shorter express lines for popular attractions. These methods are limited and more prevent overcrowding in the theme park itself, but do not guarantee guests that they will have shorter wait times.
Similarly, other methods to try and minimize wait times in theme parks include allowing guests to appear at the attraction and reserve a specific time in the future when the guest can return to the attraction and enter through an express line. This method is also limited in that it does not allow guests planning their trips to know ahead of time what attractions they will be able to visit on a given day, and what is the best route through the theme park for those desired attractions. Moreover, such systems will typically not allow the guest to make multiple appointments (manifested as flexible return windows)s at the same time. Thus, if the only available appointment times for a popular attraction are late in the day, the guest must either make the appointment and forgo the opportunity to make appointments at other attractions, or risk missing the popular attraction entirely.
Accordingly, there is a need for a method and system that better manages the guest experience and the wait times at theme parts, amusement parks and resorts.
The reference to “more expensive express tickets” certainly seems to reject Universal’s Express Plus pass system which charges an additional $20 to $56 per guest per day for guests who want to bypass lines on some of the popular attractions.
Not surprisingly, the process starts with a computer program, which Disney refers to as a “guest experience manager” (a phrase that typically denotes a position in the hotel or entertainment industry). As described in the patent application, a guest would use a personal computer, smartphone or tablet to “communicate with a guest experience manager.” The communication could be through the Internet, a computer network, or even radio-frequency links. It could also include “kiosks located at or near the experiences.”
Before arriving at the theme park, the guest could “select the desired experiences areas and/or resort areas, as well as desired experiences for visits for visits on one day, or over multiple days.” The system would generate a schedule for experiences based on the input from the guest and various applicable “business rules” (more on this below). The schedule is designed to sequence the experiences in a manner to optimize the guest’s route through the theme park. Alternatively, the application contemplates guests creating “wish lists” of attractions and the system will generate one or more schedules.
The schedule can include appointments, which includes flexible return window appointments, or passes for the guest for each selected attraction for a time period or window of time. By having the schedule ahead of time, this avoids, Disney optimistically believes, guests “having to rush to an attraction to obtain one appointment or pass for a later time” while “minimizing the waiting time at each attraction and allowing the guest to take more time and enjoy the surrounding events, sights, shops, etc. as the guest follows the route.” Another stated strategy would be to expand the time windows to keep guests on a one-day pass at the park longer and create schedules that place the guest near popular restaurants at mealtimes. (If I use MyMagic+, please don’t tell Disney that I expect to be taking photographs, not shopping, for the time I would save not waiting in line.)
These are fascinating goals, but I’m finding it hard to believe that Disney, even if it removes all the traditional FastPass dispensers, will ever be able to eliminate the mad rush at rope drop to get to the front of the line at Toy Story Mania.
The “business rules” are very sparsely defined in the application. Generally, the rules “manage and plan the guest’s experience in his visit to the desired experience areas and/or resort areas” based on information received from the guest. The application gives several examples. Scheduling of events may narrow or widen time windows “depending on whether the guest is planning to visit a theme park for one day (widening the time windows to maximize the time the guest sends in the park) or for multiple days (narrowing the time windows in order to allow the guest to take return to their room during the day).”
Different rules may also apply “based on whether the guest will be staying on site at a hotel located at one of the experience areas, or will be driving each day to the experience areas.” Other rules may apply “depending on who the guest is, how many people are in the guest’s party, the ages of the members of the guest’s party, whether there are records that the guest has visited certain experience areas or experiences in the past, whether past records indicate that the guest desires to see certain characters at a specific experience area, eat at certain restaurants, etc.” Other rules would take into account “databases, or other storage medium for information about the guest from previous visits.”
I expect it would impossible and unwise to publicly list all of the “business rules.” The number potential combinations would have to be considerable, Disney likely considers the specific rules to be proprietary.
Some, all or none of this may actually occur. The patent application shouldn’t be read as committing Disney to do all or any of the items described in the application. It simply outlines what Disney anticipated for MyMagic+ in July 2011. Disney can always make substitutions and alterations to refine whatever MyMagic+ system it ultimately creates.