Using Technology to Create Personalized Guest Experiences in Group Environments (SEP 2011)


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At the 2011 SATE conference (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology in Entertainment), I spoke to an audience of theme-park and location-based designers and venue operators about the burgeoning use of technology to create personalized experiences in group environments.

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Using Technology to Create Personalized Guest Experiences in Group Environments (SEP 2011)

  1. 1. dave%cobbsr.%crea,ve%director 1
  2. 2. What%is%a%COMPELLING%PERSONALIZED%EXPERIENCE that%uses%TECHNOLOGY in%a%GROUP%ENVIRONMENT? 2The topic of today’s panel got me thinking...
  3. 3. 4I’d argue that could be answered with... Disneyland, circa 1955Using movie and theater technology as a jumping-off point, Walt used his burgeoning media empire to evolve entertainment experientially -- bringing things to life thataudiences had never seen.
  4. 4. 5We uniquely combine high tech, heavy industry, theatrics, and architecture—leading to amazing successes (simulation technology, FastPass, robotics), or empty promises(interactive movies & virtual reality, anyone?). In themed entertainment, that’s business as usual.
  5. 5. 6But we’re not the only ones. From Winsor McCay’s “Gertie”, to Renaissance & Arabic automata, to the Greek “Deus Ex Machina,” technology has pretty much *always* been usedin service of location-based entertainment & storytelling.
  6. 6. why does this little piece of technology concern us so much?
  7. 7. ‣!distrac)on ‣!context 8I think it boils down to two things that concern us as designers: they can be a distraction, and they can be out of context.The bottom line is, your guests are using them already. And that’s not going to change. In fact, it’s just going to increase, and get faster, and cheaper, and more ubiquitous.
  8. 8. ‣!distrac)on ‣!context 8I think it boils down to two things that concern us as designers: they can be a distraction, and they can be out of context.The bottom line is, your guests are using them already. And that’s not going to change. In fact, it’s just going to increase, and get faster, and cheaper, and more ubiquitous.
  9. 9. 9Is this entertainment? Checking into places? Not sure yet, it hasn’t evolved enough.
  10. 10. 10...but fan-created isn’t always bad -- like “Wishing Stars”, released in 2009, an elegant trivia game & scavenger hunt around Disneyland. Downloadable quests keep it fresh.Online and mobile tech has given us unprecedented immediacy and direct dialogue with our guests, and we have yet to scratch the surface in terms of possibilities.
  11. 11. 11And if people want to tune out what we have to offer, they will -- regardless of technology. Mobile technology can help you keep them distracted on your terms, or open up theircontext to enhance where they’re at.Ultimately, our job is about pulling people out of their daily lives and the distractions that come with it.
  12. 12. ‣!Sidebar!1:!Audience!Types ‣!waders ‣!your!average!audience!member;!wants!an!experience!but!isn’t!going!to!exert!too!much!to!get!it. ‣!swimmers ‣!slightly!more!avid!fans;!game!to!try!new!things ‣!divers ‣!go;ge<ers!who!want!to!be!in!the!middle!of!it!all!and!want!to!see!every!cool!thing!everywhere!ever ‣!mer:people 12Just like some guests like churros but other’s don’t (blasphemy!), some guests will fully embrace these technologies, but others won’t.At Thinkwell, we use a swimming analogy to describe the different kinds of Audience types. A successful attraction will appeal to all of these people, but also have somethingunique to offer for each of them.
  13. 13. ‣!personaliza)on ‣!removing!boundaries 13Thankfully, technology isn’t just about what we carry in our pocket.The difference in technology now is that it can enable personalization (customization, reaction, interaction) and it can remove boundaries (immediacy, community, security),letting us create things that can automatically adapt to different kinds of swimmers.
  14. 14. ‣!The!Show!at!The!Pier!@!Atlan)c!City!Pier ‣!NatureQuest!@!Fernbank!Museum!of!Natural!History 14Two recent projects at Thinkwell directly addressed specific content challenges with a combination of group dynamics and technology.
  15. 15. ‣!Fountain!Show!at!Atlan)c!City!Pier 15In 2006, we were challenged by the Atlantic City Pier to create an attraction that would draw people to a “dead zone” -- a terminus point in their retail development. While any fountain show would have offered acertain level of attraction, we created something that constantly engaged guests in different ways.Every hour, there is a spectacular -- and different -- show, programmed for each day part (classic hits & family-friendly music during the day, more club-like and dance-tempo at night). But beforehand, the fountaincan play interactive “games” with the audience, using multiple imaging and sensing technologies to engage individual guests and entire groups. We partnered with Carnegie-Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Centerto develop this hardware and software that was totally unique to the fountain industry -- creating a deceivingly simple, spectacular experience with great repeatability and word-of-mouth.
  16. 16. ‣!NatureQuest!at!Fernbank!Museum!of!Natural!History 16This year, we opened NatureQuest at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. The museum approached us with a challenge: urban Atlanta kids were “afraid of nature”, having little to inspire them to explore one of the nation’s mostdiverse urban forests. The challenge was to engage urban kids -- of all ages, and various reading levels -- with the ecosystems of the southeast.Rather than typical didactic museum signage and presentational video exhibits, NatureQuest engages the senses using sound, touch, and sight to immerse kids in a nature-inspired environment that quite literally comes to life around themusing a combination of high technology and tried-and-true play environments and theatrical techniques. A river of fish responds to every step; animated animal habitats are integrated seamlessly into scenic environments; augmented-realitynight-vision goggles reveal nighttime animal activity in the actual environment of the museum; RFID acorns, shells, eggs & seeds reveal what they’ll grow into when placed in front of a magic mirror. Media flexibility allows for seasonal changesand regular rotation of the experiences.
  17. 17. ‣!Sidebar!2:!Story ‣!story!isn’t!always!narra)ve;!story!is!context!is!experience!is!story ‣!your!guest’s!personal!experience!story!is!as!important!to!them!as!the!narra=ve!we!intend!is!to!us 17Sometimes we get hung up on the term “story”. It isn’t always beginning/middle/end.The Atlantic City Pier didn’t have a story -- but the story that guests tell to their friends about the experience is just as compelling and important. Fernbank has dozens ofindividual stories, and it’s up to the guests to put them into their own narrative. Using technology, we can enhance the guest’s experience while developing our narratives.
  18. 18. ‣!More!Cool!Stuff!from!other!folks! 18
  19. 19. ‣!Star!Tours:!The!Adventures!Con)nue 19Star Tours was like no other sequel before it. Disney took a simulator ride -- technology we’d seen a million times at every IAAPA over the past two decades -- and usedseamless, invisible technologies to engage guests in the STORY like they’d never been before, reinventing a classic attraction in the process.
  20. 20. ‣!Haunted!Mansion!Interac)ve!Queue!&!Finale 20At the classic Haunted Mansion in Florida’s Magic Kingdom, a few more haunts have been added both inside and outside the ride -- enhancing the story with ghosts that interactwith guests in humorous ways. Interactive “crypts” outdoors offer interactive music, water & bubble effects, and cryptic puzzle solving -- while inside the ride, the famous“ghosts who follow you home” scene has been upgraded with real-time animation that reacts to guests and dynamically changes with each ride.
  21. 21. ‣!Eski!Studios!Coachella!2011 21Eski Studios is enabling artists like Arcade Fire to paint their entire crowd in color and light. At this year’s Coachella, they joined with The Creators Project and director Chris Milk for a this unique group interactivefinale to the band’s set -- a sea of interactive beach balls that rained over the crowd, making each audience member an individually addressable pixel, trackable in physical space, wirelessly controllable in real time.The kicker is what happened when people took those balloons home. The final signal send to them by the control system was to become a music-reactive color organ, creating a unique souvenir. But that’s not all --there was a web address on each balloon, which led to online instructions on how to hack the device -- extending the experience past the initial location, and encouraging additional user-created content.
  22. 22. ‣!accept ‣!acknowledge ‣!augment 22Plenty of companies will create compelling experiences for iPhones. We don’t need to compete for that space -- it’s as much an opportunity as it is our competition. Ourexperiences can enable, enhance, and ultimately transcend that screen space.- Accept that guests might bring their own technology & distractions.- Acknowledge what these technologies are capable of if you leverage them.- Augment (but don’t replace) the real world experience with technology.
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