If you haven’t heard about the MagicBand+ that was recently introduced at Walt Disney World, a quick Google Search will tell you that the bands have technical issues. The batteries were advertised to last three days. But for some, they’re dying after just a couple hours. And the show elements are not responsive. It’s clear that some work needs to be put in to improve technology side. But aside from the tech issues, the features are weak and need some work.
Disney is clearly aiming to replicate what Universal did for their Harry Potter and Nintendo areas. The biggest issue with Disney’s implementation is that it’s not creative enough. The MagicBand+ itself gives them the right tool, but they need some creative investment to follow through on it.
In the Harry Potter areas, you can buy a wand that can be used for interactive elements in the land. Looking through the land, you’ll find displays with a card showing you how to perform a spell. If you perform the spell correctly – by moving the wand in the right pattern – the display will come alive in response to your magic. Some of the movement patterns are tough to figure out, and need some practice. But once you’ve got it figured out, it works consistently. And Universal has placed witches and wizards in the area specifically to help you figure it out. The approach they take is totally story driven. They are teaching you how to cast a specific spell. It’s a fun way to augment the land.
In Super Nintendo World, the gizmo that makes the elements work is a wrist band, called a Power Up Band. At first glance, it’s pretty similar to the Magic Band. If you’ve got one, then you can smash pow blocks, grab coins by hitting a “?” block, turn crank handles, play games on giant touch screens, or turn off alarm clocks to keep the giant piranha plant asleep. Each element is something that you would expect to see in the Mario Universe.
Why Universal’s Approach Works
The big reason that Universal’s approach works is because it’s natural and story driven. The spells are a natural extension of being in Diagon Alley or Hogsmead; you practice and cast spells with a wand, the same way that a wizard would. In Super Nintendo World, the Power Up Band fades away. After activating the game, you interact with the show the same way Mario would; you jump and hit the “?” block with your hand.
The second reason behind the success is that it’s not repetitive. Each of the show elements is different. And there’s no reason to have to go back to a central hub to make it work. You can stumble upon the elements, use them if you want, and then keep going. You can really explore the land by playing these games.
What MagicBand+ Got Wrong
The problem with MagicBand+ is a lack of creativity. There was no effort to make these fit into a specific story or area. At first glance, the Bounty Hunter game in Galaxy’s Edge looks close, but it fails to deliver. In order to start the game, you have to go to a central location to receive a bounty assignment. Then you spread out around the land, and return to the central location. This discourages exploration. You can’t just wander around the land, see something interesting, and then discover that you can interact with it. Instead, you’re being told that you need to go back and forth between target locations and the central hub.
It will help when more Bounty Hunter return stations are opened. But even then, the drive to go somewhere will come from watching the color of your MagicBand+. It makes you stare at your arm instead of the land, and that’s bad for exploration. It’s the same problem with the band being synced to a night time spectacular. Yes, it sounds cool that you’re part of the show. But holding your wrist up to see a few extra blinky lights when you have literal fireworks exploding in front of you is a distraction from the show, not an addition.
The golden 50th statues – the Disney Fab 50 – come close to encouraging discovery, but it doesn’t give a reward like Universal’s does. The effects are flat, with many playing the same music clip. There’s no lights or animation. It comes across as a random audio clip playing in response to waving your hand. This could easily have been changed to be story oriented.
Disney Fab 50
These statues were introduced as part of the Walt Disney World 50th celebration. As they stand right now, they are just decorative statues. But what if instead of statues, these were supposed to actually be the characters? With a party as big as the 50th anniversary celebration, all the characters would want to welcome guests to the most magical place on earth. When you wave to them, they would answer with a bit of sound and animation, because they’re excited to see you and welcome you to the theme parks.
An approach like that would have been a minor shift. Rather than a gold statue, the characters would be painted, and they’d need simple animations programmed. I want to emphasize simple. I don’t mean to say that you need a state-of-the-art animatronic for each character. But if Sebastian and Flounder bobbed up and down like they were poking their heads out from the sea, R2-D2 and BB-8 spun in a circle, or Figment turned upside down, it would be in character. It would be a basic form of a meet and greet, and MagicBand+ would have felt like a cool way to interact with characters. The awkward wave that activates the statues now would fit, too, because you would waving to say hello to the character.
MagicBand+ Needs Some Creativity
At this point, hope isn’t lost. The tech that Disney has rolled out can be augmented. We’re sure to see games roll out to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and the Animal Kingdom. Hopefully each is a step up, as this is just an introductory problem. But as of right now, the MagicBand+ implementation feels sterile. It has potential to be fun, but was introduced in a way that makes it seem like a gimmick. And with the $50 price point, this gimmick needs a revamp. What do you think would have made the new MagicBand better? Let us know in the comments!