Feature Article

Play Disney Parks App Gamifies Your Disney Vacation

Play Disney Parks arrives on June 30.

When you visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, there's a couple of things you probably expect: thousands of people standing between you and a Dole Whip, and, of course, a lot of time spent in line for various rides. Though theme park technology has advanced as far as cutting-edge visuals and over-the-top thrills go, a way to get rid of lines simply hasn't been invented yet.

A new app from Disney aims to make the experience much easier to handle, though. Play Disney Parks, which will be available on iOS and Android devices on June 30 with support for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, introduces games to play while waiting in certain lines, music to listen to while you roam the parks, location-specific trivia challenges, and even a bevy of achievements to add a competitive edge to your adventure.

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For the developers behind the app, Play Disney Parks is all about giving those who want to play a deeper and more interactive experience while visiting the parks. "This app allows our guests to feel a powerful and emotional connection to their favorite parks in a whole new way, which is always our goal," Dan Soto, Vice President, Digital Experience, Disney Parks and Resort Digital, tells GameSpot.

Ahead of the app's release, GameSpot was given the exclusive chance to test out Play Disney Parks and speak with the developers to find out how exactly it works, and what it brings to the theme park experience.

What does it look like?

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The experience starts with the launch of the app. After you select the park you're visiting, a map will appear--the game board--which looks very reminiscent of the style of art seen in the ride It's a Small World. "Mary Blair is a Disney Legend and one of the original Imagineers--she created the iconic style for It's a Small World and her work was absolutely an inspiration to the design team," Walt Disney Executive R&D Imagineer Josh Gorin says.

Game on

The biggest feature of the app is the introduction of a series of mini-games themed to specific rides and areas of the park. "A major transformative aspect of Play Disney Parks is turning wait time into play time," Soto says.

At launch, there are four different games designed to help pass time in line, each themed to individual ride queues--unlockable when near the queues thanks to Bluetooth connectivity. Peter Pan's Flight, Toy Story Midway Mania, and Space Mountain each have new games park-goers can play at both the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. Additionally, Walt Disney World's new Toy Story Land gets an added game themed to the Slinky Dog Dash Roller Coaster.

GameSpot had the opportunity to play the Peter Pan's Flight game--Off To Never Land--at Disneyland, and it really does keep you engaged while waiting in line. It's not a particularly difficult game--none of them are--but they take your mind off of the wait and keep you engaged with whoever is in your group. You search out physical items in the line queue, answer questions with your group, and ultimately unlock a small animatronic experience in line just before boarding the ride.

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To make this happen, the app team didn't just rely on what already exists in the intricately-designed queues. Instead, it added new physical elements to the area, ranging from items hidden throughout the queues that are specifically tied to the app and lanterns that are part of the finale experience. They won't stand out if you're not using the app, though. It came as a surprise to learn that these new touches weren't always part of the queue.

The other games, which are pinned to Space Mountain and Toy Story Midway Mania, are similar in that the goal is more for a fun experience, rather than a difficult challenge. They're designed to keep you busy and engaged in whatever story the ride is about to tell, rather than browsing social media or staring into space. The added incentive of the in-line physical experiences--Space Mountain has you race spaceships you build against others in line, while the Midway Mania mini-game unlocks a physical effect near the front of the queue--acts as your reward for making it to the front of the line.

The app has also integrated games previously available in various Disney parks, including Agent P's World Showcase Adventure at Epcot Center and the Colorwheel Challenge at Disney's California Adventure. Additionally, there are a series of trivia challenges included in the app throughout all of the parks, themed to different lands. They're not easy, though. Still, if you don't score well--I didn't--it'll just make you want to try again or give another test a try elsewhere in the park.

How to prove you're the best

With so many games and challenges throughout the app, you might be wondering how you keep track of your score or progress. That's where the achievement system comes in. Users will get achievements for completing games, winning trivia challenges, riding rides, and even simply walking through various places within the park. The app will track them, but users can also share them via social media. Earning ride achievements is as simple as having Bluetooth enabled on your phone and the app running in the background.

While the app is launching with an initial set of achievements, Gorin says the Play Disney Parks team is planning a more complex set of achievements in time, which will allow repeat Disney parks visitors the opportunity to battle it out with each other to see who can unlock the most. "We have a lot of ideas," he says.

Songs in the key of Disney

A big component in setting the mood when it comes to Disney parks is the music. Whether it's songs associated with Disney movies, music from rides themselves, and even unique audio specific to the parks--like Walt Disney's dedication speech for Disneyland, which is the first track of the Main Street USA playlist.

Thanks to a partnership with Apple Music, users on iOS devices will have access to playlists in the park that are customized to whatever land you happen to be in. "The Disney Music Group and Imagineering music teams were able to tap into Apple Music's massive library of songs to create a ton of unique playlists of tracks from, inspired by, and evocative of our park lands, attractions, and characters," Gorin says. There's even a road trip playlist to listen to on your way to the parks.

Looking to the future

While Play Disney Parks is launching with mini-games themed to rides like Peter Pan's Flight and Space Mountain, the team is already working on updates to introduce more in-park experiences. While that includes existing rides and lands, Play Disney Parks is also looking toward the future--or rather a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, the Star Wars-themed section being built in both Disneyland and Disney World, is being designed with the app in mind. "The Play Disney Parks team has been working side by side with the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge team to build these kinds of interactive layers from the very start," Gorin teases. "We have some very special things planned for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge."

And it's not just the new Star Wars land that will expand the app's functionality. "This launch is only the beginning, as we have plans to continue evolving the experience with more content, new technology and expanded experiences--including more in-queue games, new challenges, and achievements," Soto explains.

The bottom line

Play Disney Parks is launching on iOS and Android devices on June 30 and they are available for pre-order now. To connect to the majority of the games and experiences, you'll simply need a data connection and Bluetooth capabilities. It's also not a requirement for enjoying your day in the park.

While it brings a new shade of fun to waiting in line or passing time until a parade begins, the standard park experiences also are not dependent on it. Instead, the entire goal of the app is to bring a new layer of interactivity to those who want to play along--especially as the parks move into the future and continue to integrate it. Just make sure you bring a spare phone charger with you--or you can rent them in the parks.

Images proved by Disney Parks.

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Chris E. Hayner

Chris E. Hayner is an entertainment editor at GameSpot. Prior to his work at GameSpot, he contributed to a number of outlets including The Hollywood Report, IGN, Mashable, CBS Interactive, Tribune Media, and Nerdist. Beyond writing about TV, movies, and theme parks, Chris co-hosts and produces GameSpot's wrestling podcast Wrestle Buddies with Mat Elfring. Chris loves all movies, but especially Jaws and Paddington 2.

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