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16. What Disneyland does better than us

I know. It’s a crazily arrogant statement, because it implies that there’s stuff we – as larp designers – do better than Disneyland. There is, though. Quite a lot. But there are also things they do amazingly well. And going to Disneyland yesterday was an eye-opener.

First off, they do merchandising at a level that is completely surreal to me. Star Wars lunch boxes. Toy Story mugs. Mickey Mouse pins. And that’s just scratching the surface. In the souvenir stores at Disneyland, you will find crazy, crazy stuff.

And people buy it. Not because they have to, to retain their jobs, or because it will improve functionality in their life. No, they buy it because they want to tell the world that they belong and are part of a tribe. The Buzz Lightyear socks tribe. The Alice in Wonderland tea cup tribe. The Little Mermaid glass tribe.

There’s a wretched TON of stuff, and people buy it. We could learn something from that. Personally, I’ve always been wary of merchandise. To me, it seems like a way to exploit people’s love for something, and I don’t want a part in that.

But after New World Magischola last weekend I had to reflect upon that. And after Disneyland, I’ve changed my views on it.

It’s not that I want to make Fairweather Manor underwear or sell Convention of Thorns Real Stakes (tm), but I realised that merchandise is not just crass commercalism. It’s also identity markers that people want and crave. I’m now much less afraid of that than I was a week ago, after having seen that people just as proudly sported NWM house t-shirts as they did Mickey Mouse t-shirts.

And NWM shirts could be used as a costume part as well!

Another thing that Disneyland did amazingly well, was an interesting queue experience. For the Indiana Jones ride (which was pretty spectacular), just getting to the ride was a damn cool experience in and of itself. It was absurdly long, since the ride is extremely popular, but it was impressive as hell.

That’s something we’re typically pretty bad at. And it doesn’t even require much to make things quite a bit better. For College of Wizardry 7+8, we rolled out our sound system, and played the CoW theme, so players listened to it while marching from the outer gate to the castle entrance (a trip of a couple of minutes). It was only a small effort, but worked pretty well.

Now, when you have a classical theme park with rides, queues are unavoidable, and when you do larps they’re less of an issue. They’re still a thing, though. At New World Magischola 1, when the check-in queue was at its heaviest, I turned my monitor outwards and put on youtube cat videos. Magical? Not really, but a lot more fun than just standing in line.

I’m of course keenly aware that it takes effort to do these things, and that effort is something we can’t always afford in manpower/money/etc. But sometimes it doesn’t take a lot and makes a difference anyway. And Disneyland does that so much than us right now.

When we do larps, we normally have a sharp cut-off point between ingame and offgame. I am all in favor of that, so I’m not necessarily advocating wearing an orc mask while working backstage at an Orc larp. However, having team t-shirts not only makes you more easily recognisable – it also gives you a uniformed look. If it fits the theme of the larp, so much the better.

Now I really dislike the whole half-game feel before a game. I want to know that I’m talking to people, not characters. But I don’t mind costumes and silly titles. When I was at the Czech Western larp Hell on Wheels, I loved it when we were “ambushed” by masked bandits (organisers plus crew) and asked to leave the bus. I wasn’t so much a fan of kneeling in the grass and leaving my luggage without information, but the basic idea was great.

We can do more of that.

I paid to skip lines today at Universal Studios. It cost me about 80€, but it was money well spent. Most of the rides at Universal had line lengths of 30–50 minutes. By having an A-pass, I could cut that down to 5–10 instead. This not only made my experiences a lot better – it also meant that I managed to go on almost ten rides during my four-hour visit. Including the 45 min studio tour, which was amazing.

Now there are some parts of larp that I would like to have remain egalitarian, but there are other parts I wouldn’t mind rethinking. For our big Polish blockbuster larps, we’re renting out costumes to those who want to pay for it, and it has so far only been a source of happiness.

Maybe there are other places where some people wouldn’t mind exchanging cold, hard cash for making their lives easier. Without us suddenly turning our larps into A-level and B-level experiences.

Oh, and we also need to start daring to charge money in general. Disneyland and Universal both cost roughly 100€ for a one-day event without food, drink or a place to stay. And while both experiences have been great, they haven’t been nearly as cool as a number of larps I’ve been to.

Because when it comes to immersive, interactive experiences that can be transformative and memorable, it’s not just us who can learn from Disney, Universal and the other big fish in the sea.

It’s also them who can learn from us.

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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