Star Wars and Nintendo: Battle of the Parks

The big question is which will be the bigger draw??? Although it first debuts in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Universal Studios Japan’s Super Nintendo World is one of the most highly anticipated theme park expansions, rivaled only by Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) at Disney parks in the US debuting next year! Two enormous intellectual properties (IPs) that will undoubtedly drive up guest attendance by exponential amounts. But which will prove to be the more popular expansion? Arguably, both lands will significantly impact the attendance of, character meet-and-greets in, and merchandise of the parks. The competition is heating up between Universal and Disney parks and resorts–reminds me of the US and Russian space race of the mid-1900s. While there is no doubt that both lands will be major successes, therein lies a question of which one will prove to be more popular. Not that it truly matters in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of those things that is interesting to talk about and synthesize some research.

After the opening of both Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) lands at Universal Studios Florida (and subsequently the Hollywood expansion), it was no surprise that Disney World was running to catch up, hence the opening of Pandora: the World of Avatar. As amazingly beautiful and detailed as Pandora is, it has not managed to draw the continued crowds and fandom that the WWoHP has been doing since 2010. According to the website Touring Plans, the increase from 2015 to 2017 attendance at Animal Kingdom rose marginally on the average whereas the Miami Herald reports that the increase at Universal Orlando during this same time period was more significant, and the forthcoming TEA Connect and AECOM reports are predicted to show greater growth at Universal than Disney World. Suffice it to say, the fanbase for Harry Potter far exceeds that of Avatar; however, the great battle for the crowds is currently between Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge combined with Toy Story Land and Super Nintendo World with further Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts developments in the worksTo understand which is likely to out-perform the other, one has to delve into the individual fanbases and economic impact of both properties primarily in question–Star Wars and Nintendo.

Unfortunately, there is little to no empirical way to quantify the number of fans either property has because of all the variables. Furthermore, movie ticket DVD/BluRay/VOD sales cannot be weighed against video game console and interactive media (video games) sales to determine fanbase size because it would not be an equitable means of measurement. Understanding the fanbase is crucial to predicting which property will be the bigger draw, which will have the biggest economic impact on its respective park. At the end of the day, both expansions are winners. Both will prove to provide vast positive affects upon the parks. Still, the friendly competition gives rise to the question which will be the bigger success. While the number of fans cannot be realistically quantified, the amount of revenue generated by Star Wars and Nintendo CAN be quantified, and that is precisely what Statista does. According to Statista (and the more than 18K sources from which the company compiles the information), Star Wars has generated $7.5B in revenue compared to Nintendo‘s $75B. What??? Yes, that’s right. Nintendo exceeds Star Wars in revenue 10x. While Nintendo may far exceed Star Wars in revenue generation, it’s important to note that Star Wars is the leading movie franchise in terms of merchandise sales. Yes, more than Harry Potter (and I’m house Ravenclaw). And merchandise sales is a HUGE component of theme park operations and sales.

Since park guests base their visit on more than just a single land, the presence of Toy Story Land at Disney World and Wizarding World of Harry Potter should also be taken into account when determining whether Disney World or Universal Orlando will see the bigger boost to attendance and increase in revenue. Arguably, Harry Potter (inclusive of Fantastic Beasts) is the bigger franchise family based on book sales, ticket sales, current theme park attractions, etc. Therefore, Star Wars land has to be big enough to not only compete against Nintendo World but also Harry Potter. One of the biggest advantages that Star Wars has over Nintendo and Harry Potter is merchandise sales and collections. Star Wars has exponentially more memorabilia and collectors than Nintendo, mostly because of the success of the films and the fact that Star Wars predates Nintendo by several years. But I imagine that Universal will continue to rely upon WWoHP for the bulk of the merchandise sales at the park since it can compete with Star Wars Land on that playing field. Analyzing the fandom of Nintendo is a little more difficult than that of Star Wars because Star Wars is the big umbrella under which all the movies, video games, and merchandise fall. Fans identify themselves as a Star Wars fan, whereas the fans of Nintendo’s product line are more prone to identify with a particular game franchise (Mario, Pokemon, Zelda, etc) more so than identifying with Nintendo proper. All evidence points to both brands being strong, viable candidates that will provide a close competition.

Both Star Wars and Nintendo are worldwide phenomena–no question. Combine Star Wars with Toy Story and conversely Nintendo with Harry Potter, and you have two powerhouse destinations for theme park fans. With the recent expansions at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood, Disney World/Disneyland needs to ramp up their game–go into hyperspeed. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge pulls into space dock in 2019 just in time for episode IX. We are still a few years away from a domestic Super Nintendo World, and do not know much about it; however, we do have an idea of what to expect at the Universal Studios Tokyo and can by extension apply that knowledge to Universal Orlando. From what we know so far, Star Wars land will be a completely immersive environment that will essentially transport park guests to a “galaxy far far away.” If the WWoHP is the best example of the successful translation from book to screen to theme park for a world of fantasy, then Star Wars land will be on par with the best.

An interesting element to think about is the future of both Star Wars and Nintendo. It’s old news at this point that the most recent Star Wars movie The Last Jedi was not popular with longtime fans–new fans, yes–longtime fans, no. Nintendo is successfully holding onto both the old and new fans because the video games and consoles continue to appeal to those who had an NES as a kid or just bought last year’s Switch. Even legacy properties are holding onto what made them popular, but incorporating trends in interactive media (the term now often used to define that which was formerly video games). Mario Builder is an example of the aforementioned concept. If Star Wars continues to lose its longtime fans, abandons them for the new fans, then the new land may not fair as well as Nintendo World. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a new generation Harry Potter movie that largely appealed to BOTH the old and newer fans. Therefore, it could be said that Universal Orlando’s most popular themed lands may have a longer life than Star Wars if the movies keep dropping the older fans. Just something to think about.

The Battle of the Parks is hot, and will just keep getting hotter! Fortunately, healthy competition breeds innovation, so whether or not Universal or Disney has the better new land expansions, the real winner in this battle is the consumer! Both parks will greatly benefit from the expansions and only time will be able to tell which one wins this race to be the best.

Theme Parks’ Newest Attraction: Pokemon GO!

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 9.14.37 AM“Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” and catching’em in the theme parks adds a whole new level of fun! In many ways, as the record breaking app from Niantic continues to develop and attract new players, an unofficial attraction is being added to many theme parks, if not all of them at this point. In Florida, the park that has taken the lead in attracting Pokémon trainers is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. But catching common and rare Pokémon is not limited to Busch Gardens, but SeaWorldDisney, and Universal are also hotbeds of PokéHunting! Although catching Pokémon is possible in all the Theme Parks, to the best of my knowledge, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay launched continual lurethons in July and August to capitalize on the summer crowds. A lure is an item earned or purchased in the game that can be placed at a PokéStop to draw Pokémon to that area for 30 mins and a PokéStop is a landmark or location that offers you items like Pokéballs and potions when you are in close range of said stop. These lurethons are also highly effective for luring in locals after work during the week and on weekends. As I have been catching Pokémon in the parks over the last couple of weeks, I have made some anecdotal observations that I’d like to share. The most important one being, better invest in a portable charger!

Safety Note: Please remember to always look where you’re walking, do not trespass, cut lines or run. There’s tons of Pokémon out there!

If you have been to the theme parks, whether in Florida, California, or pretty much anywhere for the matter, you have likely noticed many park guests with their respective faces glued to their phones–more than usual that is. Or, you may have been behind someone briskly walking and then all of a sudden slows down, if not stops. Most likely, those park guests are playing Pokémon GO. Perhaps YOU are that park guest–I know I am. Haha. One of the first observations I’ve made as I have played in the parks is the social element. There is already a social element to the game in general, but it appears to be amplified in the parks. While walking around the parks, it was not uncommon for other Pokémon GO players to ask me what team I was on (Mystic, btw) or what I was trying to catch. A security guard at Hollywood Studios asked me how many Pokéballs I had lost while catching three Pokémon near his post. We then proceeded to talk Pokémon for several minutes. I greatly appreciate this new dynamic to the theme park experience. As I seem to be perpetually caught in the single life (ugh), I normally go to the parks alone. Knowing that this app provides a great platform for starting conversations with others who may be by themselves or with other Pokémon Trainers is really encouraging! Perhaps you and your friends love to take over gyms together. If gym battling is of great importance to you, then you will find some great gyms in the parks, especially if you’re looking for level 3+.

From the social to the experiential, this app has you covered while enjoying the parks! Although Florida is nicknamed the sunshine state, summer thunderstorms are no stranger to the typical afternoon. For parks like Busch Gardens and SeaWorld that have many outdoor attractions, the lightning can greatly hinder ride operations. Last week on a PokéHunt at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a message over the loudspeakers stated something to the effect of “outdoor attractions are temporarily closed due to inclement weather.” Under normal circumstances, I may have been disappointed that I couldn’t ride Cobra’s Curse, Montu, and more, but I was having so much fun catching Pokémon that I didn’t think twice about the coasters being closed. Many times when an announcement like that one is made, it is not uncommon to hear park guests complaining. Despite the closures, I did not hear nearly as many guests complaining about not being able to experience the coasters. Could that be because many of the guests, like me, were also playing Pokémon GO? Perhaps; although, without asking a significant number of guests, there is no way of knowing for sure. Pokémon GO is not unlike other scavenger hunts in the parks. Notably, Disney’s Sorcerers game is a prime example of an interactive scavenger hunt. It is entirely possible that there could be exclusive Pokémon primarily found in the parks if this trend continues. Playing games to pass the time in queue or walking between attractions is definitely not a new concept, but Pokémon GO provides park guests with a game that helps pass the time, provides opportunities to interact with other guests, contains many challenging and strategic elements, and will keep you entertained even when attractions are closed.

There have been many articles written previously on the health benefits of playing Pokémon GO, so I don’t feel the need to explore the required increased physical activity–required, that is, if you want to enjoy all the benefits of the game–that is associated with the app. However, I think it’s important to look at the physical activity element as it relates to playing in the theme parks. It can be quite physically, emotionally, and psychologically draining to walk from attraction to attraction in the summer heat. Fortunately, it appears as though playing Pokémon GO distracts one from negative thoughts or feelings during the endless walking. Now, walking between attractions or around the park, in general, is part of the fun! Racking up kilometers in the parks is a great way to hatch eggs. If you are unfamiliar with the game, one element of it is walking a certain number of kilometers (1.54mi/1K) to hatch the respective egg in the incubator. There are different distances (2km/5km/10km), and the longer the distance the more rare the Pokémon generally. I found myself taking the long way around a park or between attractions just to increase the number of kilometers walked.

Instead of taking away from the park experience, it appears as though playing Pokémon GO adds to the enjoyment of the parks. This is definitely true for those of us who frequent the parks weekly. Playing in the parks on a regular basis may generate a feeling of the theme park feeling like one’s backyard or neighborhood playground. And like with your childhood back yard or neighborhood playground, it forced you to use your imagination to create new adventures for you and your friends. It’s not that the neighborhood park was boring; it’s just that it was a regular part of your life. Being a theme park regular is not unlike the aforementioned. I have thoroughly enjoyed this new experiential element to my time in the parks. It’s like a whole new experience! In addition to enjoying my favorite rides, I can continually enjoy catching Pokémon and spinning the wheel at PokéStops. Oh yeah, there are SO MANY PokéStops in the parks. You may even find yourself having to empty your backpack because it becomes full. Although there have been some concerns about park guests finding themselves venturing into backstage areas, this does not appear to be a common occurrence. I am looking forward to witnessing how this game continues to affect theme park operations, offerings, and special events. Perhaps exclusive Pokémon will be added to the parks or special Disney Pokémon. With Universal acquiring the theme park rights to Nintendo in 2015, it is entirely possible that Pokémon GO may have a strong presence in the Nintendo themed areas even though Nintendo itself does not reserve the theme park rights to Pokémon GO. While Nintendo does own the rights to the regular Pokemon games, Nintendo currently has nothing to do with Pokémon GO; it’s strictly Niantic and The Pokémon Company. If you do not live close to the parks, I definitely want to encourage you not to be glued to the game when you have the opportunity to go; you may miss incredible sights, sounds, and time with family and friends. Playing Pokémon GO in the parks should add to the experience, not take away from valuable time with others. I’m always looking for folks with whom to catch Pokémon, so if you are ever in the Tampa or Orlando area, hit me up!

Find a rare Pokémon in a cool spot!? Tag @ThrillzCo or #Thrillz in your post to have a chance to win a Pokémon GO team decal for FREE! *Contest ends August 20, 2016. Many will play, not all will win.

Thank you Derek Rosenberg from Unmasked On Air for contributing to this article! If you enjoy video games, comic books, and movies, visit their website by clicking the link below.


“On Cinema and Theme Parks” (part 12 of 12)

My BookThe world of the business of media convergence is a fascinating and rapidly changing world! And, the convergence of cinema and theme parks is a dynamic example of how one form of media can be integrated into another in order to create a new experience for audiences around the world. Media conglomerates with theme park investments are often exploring what to do in order to remain competitive and increase the number of guests through the turnstiles. Sometimes this means using their own IPs to develop new rides or attractions, maybe an entire new park altogether, or perhaps striking a deal with another media company in order to use another’s IP as the source material for new attractions.

The opposite is also true. Media conglomerates with theme park interests may look to their own respective parks for the inspiration for the next movie. This was definitely the case with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean and is the case in the film Tomorrowland, in which an entire section of a park is the basis for a movie. It is all storytelling. But the stories being told take different shapes and are told through various means. And, even video game companies are getting in on the action. On May 7, 2015 Universal Parks and Resorts and Nintendo announced a first-ever partnership. Universal Parks and Resorts acquired the theme park rights from Nintendo to include the legacy video game company’s characters and games in new attractions and character meet and greets (BusinessWire, 2015).

At their respective roots, both movies and theme park attractions (and even entire parks themselves) tell stories. The medium through which they tell their stories is very different, but nevertheless helps to support one another. Media conglomerates have demonstrated this concept by taking existing movie/TV IPs and translating them into attractions and taking existing theme park attractions and translating them into movies. At its heart, the purpose of this study is to develop recommendations for media conglomerates when making decisions that are potentially worth millions of dollars, and could be a major success or a big flop.

Despite the more artistic or niche films still being amongst the individual favorites of the participants, the shared favorite movies were high concept and aimed at broad audiences, and typically fell into the science-fiction or fantasy/adventure genres. Specifically, the movie Jurassic Park and the Jurassic Park ride were cited numerous times. If an attraction were too disconnected from the story or plot of the movie, serving as the basis for the ride, then it appears to be received negatively. On the contrary, when a movie-based theme park attraction combines the best of the plot or characters, in a given movie, with a conventionally thrilling ride design, then it is received very well and enjoyed immensely.  Furthermore, the attraction needs to tell a story within the length of the ride from queue to exit. Fluid, coherent stories are driving forces behind the likability of an attraction or movie. Prompting the generation of emotional connections or responses from audiences/guests, in respect to the story of a movie or attraction, is key to creating reflections that will evoke nostalgic memories down the road; and thus, compel the audience member or park guest to experience the movie or ride again—perhaps with friends, family, or their children.

Well-executed themed design to support the story of a theme park attraction based on a movie is just as important as the story or intellectual property themselves respectively.  Story is the plot or sequence of events that take place during the ride experience (again, this is from the queue to the exit). Theme encompasses the building design, audiovisual elements, physical movement, and special effects during the attraction. The goal of an attraction or park area’s theme should be to completely immerse the park guest into the world being used as the basis or inspiration for the ride or section of the park. Everything from the employees to the restaurants to the surrounding buildings needs to work together to create an experiential degree that essentially transports the guest from the real world into the world of the park or ride. When developing themed areas of a park, designers need to be careful not to allow the outside world into what should amount to an escape from reality. Not that iconic brands or companies cannot be integrated into the theming of a park at all; but it needs to be more indirect, thus allowing the theme to continue and the story not be broken by outside invaders, so to speak.

The reason many attractions at movie-based theme parks were originally developed was to take Tom Gunning’s (1986) idea of the cinema of attractions and translate it literally. However, with the increasingly digital climate of movie making, the practical, analog effects and techniques that once made for the basis of attractions, are no longer foundation enough for successful attractions in today’s marketplace of themed entertainment ideas. Simply stated, it just isn’t exciting to watch an editor sit behind a computer creating digital effects. Despite the making of a movie just not being as secret or magical nowadays, it is still important for a movie-based theme park to hold onto its roots and work to creatively develop new ways of exhibiting this art that still mystifies to this day—just in different ways than it used to. For movie-based theme parks that exist on studio lots or house sound stages, it is imperative that studio tours continue and build areas that can be rented out for current productions. Even though many people know how movies are made presently, the art, skill, and magic of how similar effects and shot sequences were accomplished before the aid of computers (at least to the extent they are instrumental today) in classic movies has a place in the modern movie-based theme park. Hitchcock: the Art of Making Movies was cited as an example of this type of offering guests want to see alive in the parks.

The goal of a movie or theme park attraction is to generate some type of pleasurable experience in the movie patron or park guest. For both movies and themed parks, the idea needs to be to craft a story that will stimulate physiological and psychological/emotional responses from the audience/guests. A movie should contain a story or sequence of events that generate fear, affection, anxiousness, or levity in the bodies of the patrons. These responses are very much physiological. In the environment of a theme park attraction based off a given movie, these same physiological responses need to be generated by the use of movement and special or visual effects. When generating these physical responses, the patron or guest will instinctively develop psychological or emotional responses to accompany the complementary physiological response. Even if the physiological strain placed on the bodies is by all accounts a negative one, the park guest will most likely be compelled to experience it again and again because studies have shown an attraction to or affinity for sensations of pleasurable un-pleasures.

The principal idea behind this study is to create a predictable model for producers and designers. And, there has been a prolific amount of information to supply the evidence that creative designers, producers, and project managers need in order to make well-informed decisions in the beginning stages of the themed entertainment or motion picture production process. Developing a model for creative decision-making is not as simple as ‘include these things and your idea will be successful,’ as the creative process can be very subjective. However, with enough supporting evidences, a media conglomerate or other company with theme park investments can make decisions with sufficient empirical evidence pertaining to the projected success of an attraction or theme park. This study has outlined a model that is grounded in scholarly research, anecdotal evidence, and first-person focus groups and interviews.

For the complete study, head over to AMAZON and purchase the book. These 12 sections merely touch on some of the main points from the study but by no means take the place of reading the whole book. Hopefully these sections prompt a desire to experience the book/study in its entirety. It’s written to be enjoyed by anyone who loves movies and theme parks. What good is a study if it’s written of that only academics can understand. I have uncovered fascinating knowledge and insight into the craft of the relationship between cinema and themed entertainment that I want to share with the world.

To return to the beginning of the series, click HERE