I went to Disneyland with my family this weekend. I grew up near it, so I’ve been to the park many times, but this was my first time visiting it after becoming a game designer. I tried to view it through a new lens, focusing on what made each experience enjoyable and how I could apply their techniques to how I build my own worlds.
The phrase “theme park MMO” is commonly used as slander, usually meant to express that the poster hates MMOs that make them feel like they’re trapped on rails and helpless to affect the world in a meaningful way. You’re there to experience the cool things the developers have made, from a distance, without changing them. If you changed them, you’d spoil the experience for the next player in the queue.
But that’s not completely bad, right? There are benefits to the theme park style, and no one does it better than Disneyland. Rides and pathways are designed to create constant moments of wonder and perfectly framed scenes that you wander into while exploring the path set before you. I’d never seen mountain climbers work their way up the side of the Matterhorn mountain before this trip, but I had a perfect view of them from the queue for the Tomorrow Land Monorail station on Sunday, no doubt on purpose, to entertain us while we waited in line.
But my biggest realization was seeing how Disneyland handles their in-game cash shop. Everywhere I looked, people were pouring money into Disneyland cash registers, after they’d paid big just to get inside. Disneyland wasn’t selling advantage or power–tickets to skip lines or access to elite rides. They were selling strictly cosmetic items–funny hats, themed mugs, and toys, toys, toys.
Disneyland’s secret to making people open their wallets and offer them more money is simple and respectable: make awesome stuff that people want to buy, that they can’t get anywhere else. People are having such a great time at the park that they want to buy something that will remind them of, and potentially stir up, that same feeling of excitement while they’re not here. I think we crave that exact same thing from our MMOs, and those are the sorts of things we should be selling in our cash shops.
Inspiration posts highlight others’ creations that I find inspiring or thought-provoking. All of their stuff is theirs… obviously. For more about Disneyland, check out my small gallery of photos from my day there.