Themed Entertainment: We make the magic at SATE 2011 in Amsterdam

The SATE (Storytelling/Architecture/Technology/Experience) conference 2011 in Amsterdam was like a rollercoaster ride of ideas, sage advice, discussion and inspiration.

By Walter Jonker

Related: Sate Europe Attracts A World Class Line Up of Themed Entertainment Specialists / Jora Vision Company Profile / Let’s talk about Marty Sklar / Marty Sklar Announces Retirement from Disney

Some of the key issues that were discussed:

No story, no glory

Some old wisdom is still useful in visitor attractions, like: “People like to collect memories rather than things.”

At the SATE conference the discussion is not about the relevance of stories and experience, but on how to measure this very important ingredient. Especially at the start of a new project it’s important to make an estimate of this Key Performance Indicator.

The speakers shared information on how to organize your research, and also the main pitfalls in predicting the visitor experience, like:

  • Misinterpretation of statistics
  • Missing some cultural differences in the survey
  • Guests who do not know what they want (Parks have to make the right suggestions)
  • Personnel are a key factor in translating the concept to the audience.

Realizing dreams is about teamwork

Teamwork is one of the key success factors. At the conference many of the discussions were between the ‘creatives’, who want to see their dreams come to life and the people who have tomarty sklar disney at sate 2011 themed entertainment association tea build and realize them, like the technicians and architects. One good piece of advice for the last group: ”If a certain part of an idea is not feasible, start your answer with ‘yes, but…’ and not with ‘no, because…’. It’s a way of communicating with different disciplines that was already discovered by Marty Sklar when he had discussions with Walt Disney

Bob Rogers (BRC) noted one area that is often excluded from the teamwork; “It seems that retail and food follow their own rules of maximizing the profit per square meter. There is often a wall between storytelling and these areas. Why not reserve some space to introduce the story of your attraction into the shops and restaurants. It makes your experience complete.”

Role of IP

The role of Intellectual Property (IP) in attractions is increasing. There was an intense discussion on the relative merits of buying an existing and popular brand, or developing the IP yourself. 

Movie Park Germany (MPG) chose to make use of known brand such as Sponge Bob and Shrek. Wouter Dekkers from MPG said: “Although the licenses are very expensive, it is a good deal for us, because we can pick the brands that are popular at the moment. If you develop your own characters there is always the risk if the character will be accepted by a broad audience.”

Dekkers added that Movie Park also makes use of several stories without a license, like Jules Verne and Van Helsing. “This way we make a mix of expensive, but proven successful licenses and some budget friendly but nice experiences.” 

It’s all about people

Designer Chris Conte advised: “Do not design technology for yourself. Audience first; talk to your clients. It’s not always wise to make use of the latest trends in technology. For instance, interactivity is the trend, but it’s not always the right approach.”

Bob Rogers (BRC) added: “Always put the guest first. It’s not about the attraction, but how people experience the attraction. The Efteling is a good example; children walking through the fairy tale forest accept this world as genuine. Try to involve the guest in your visitor experience.”

What about the future?

Key points raised included:

  • “We can predict evolution, but not revolutions, ” says Chris Conte, Electrosonic.  Most people missed the rise of Twitter, but many other trends are predictable."
  • Built and design for the future.” If you are planning for a new attraction, also consider the options that are not feasible yet.
  • “Lessons from the past.”  Many of the most interesting buildings are the ones that could adapt to different purposes over time. Like museums in old historic buildings. We like to design to fit the purpose perfectly. But purposes can changes over time.
  • “Technique”  New technical options come up every day. The themed attractions expect much of augmented reality that can ad experience and stories to a design.

Evaluation from the organizers

Jan Maarten de Raad from Jora Vision started two years ago with conference preparations: “It was a good idea to bring the SATE conference to Europe. In Europe the architects have a more dominant role in developing theme parks and I saw a lot of new faces. For next time I hope that we can also attract more people from different disciplines in the parks; like operators, marketing, design, etc.”

Conference Chairman Reinoud van Assendelft de Coningh said: “I saw several good new  developments. There was a good discussion about teamwork in developing visitor attractions, with a specific role for each of the disciplines. A conference like SATE is good for building knowledge and finding out which companies have a distinguishing vision. Experience and knowledge are often underestimated, but they are usually worth the extra dollar.” 

Image:  Marty Sklar and Reinoud van Assendelft