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Disney finds theme park inspiration in video games

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Sorcerors of the Magic Kingdom (Credit: Disney)

The Happiest Place on Earth doesn't seem like the sort of location that would require extra distractions, but Disney Imagineers say they're leaning more heavily on the gaming world to boost the fun factor at Disney World and some of the company's other properties.

Disney officials recently detailed the games they've installed at the parks since 2009 and discussed some of the surprising things they've learned in the process.

Epcot was the test pad. Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure (which was initially tied to the company's “Kim Possible” series) lets players trigger hidden interactions within the park's country-themed pavilions. Disney World's Magic Kingdom soon followed with the card game Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, where players activate animated sequences and battle villains by holding up spell cards at kiosks scattered around the park. A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas, which launched in May, incorporates the park's animatronics.

The company has not released the games in California's Disneyland, however, and does not have any immediate plans to do so.

At any given time, between 700 - 900 park guests are playing the Agent P game, which can last up to 45 minutes. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom lasts over four hours on its easiest level but can take up to ten hours for die-hard players.

The games have helped keep guests in the park for longer periods, boosting the company's revenues. But the engagement levels have surprised even the people who designed the games. Initially, they felt, visitors might play for 30 minutes or so. Today, they realize, the sky's the limit.

"If we designed a game that lasted 200 hours, people [would] play it for 200 hours,” said designer Jonathan Ackley, speaking at the GDC Next summit in Los Angeles.

In designing the games, Imagineers found that Agent P players prefer to work solo rather than with others. But when it comes to Sorcerers, players actively work together, trading cards to help defeat enemies (guests are issued just 5 of 70 possible cards at the beginning of the game).

And that's the big difference between this sort of real-world gaming and what you might find online: People are nice to each other.

"You’re not going to be mean to a little girl," said Imagineer Chris Purvis.

Especially at the Happiest Place on Earth.

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