Wikipedia tells me that they are know as Construction and Management Simulation games. (Who knew? I didn’t!) I used to love playing them, and if the image of an 11-year-old kid engrossed in SimCity seems a little incongruous, perhaps that explains why my Dad installed Theme Park alongside it on our family PC.
The gist of Theme Park is that you purchase a plot of land and build a Theme Park on it, try to make a profit, and eventually sell your park in order to buy a bigger plot of land somewhere else in the world. Perhaps Theme Park’s appeal to a pre-teenager is easier to explain, as Wiki points out
Theme Park is permeated by an eccentric sense of humour.
For my younger sister, Theme Park was old hat and she liked The Sims. When I found a copy of The Official Strategy Guide lying around the house, I was disappointed when I browsed through it. It explained, in excruciating numerical detail, the mechanics behind succeeding or failing at the game, right down to how many points you would increase your Sim’s happiness by if you purchased a goldfish bowl to put in their kitchen, or exactly what effect a different character attribute (which you could control) would have on your Sim’s employment status. I don’t know how I had thought the games worked, up until then.
I was reminded of a giant, real-world game of Theme Park when I came across1 an article in Science called Shared Social Responsibility – A Field Experiment in Pay-What-You-Want Pricing and Charitable Giving. In this study, a 2 x 2 design was applied to punters as they exited a theme park ride and were given the opportunity to purchase a photo of themselves on said ride.
Each of the four treatments was conducted over two full days.
In Theme Park, if nothing was happening, you could just speed time up until you got to the next board meeting, staff strike, thunderstorm or rollercoaster malfunction. I guess they couldn’t do that when they were collecting data on their 113,047 participants.
The authors investigated two pricing models – fixed price, and Pay-What-You-Want – with or without 50% of the price paid going to charity. Their conclusion, that profit for the firm was maximised when participants could pay what they wanted and half their payment went to charity, is held up as an example of what they call Shared Social Responsibility increasing profit for the firm.
Profit per rider (amount paid minus production costs). Photo sales were most profitable for the firm and made the largest contribution to charity when participants could pay what they wanted and half of their payment went to charity – the shared social responsibility treatment.
They differentiate Shared Social Responsibility from Corporate Social Responsibility. The consumer may be dubious as to the motivations of any corporation’s CSR strategy, whereas
SSR…perhaps minimised suspicion of the firm’s intentions and maximised the identity expressiveness in the purchase.
I don’t recall either CSR or SSR being a feature of Theme Park. This contrasts with SimCity – the residents of the city are at real risk of catastrophe if you cut the cost of building power cables by placing your nuclear power station close to a residential area.
Is there scope for Bullfrog to have a renaissance? “Theme Website” perhaps – try out different business models, and see how your readers respond. Can you maximise your revenue, before all your readers go elsewhere? No, wait…
2 Gneezy, A., Gneezy, U., Nelson, L., & Brown, A. (2010). Shared Social Responsibility: A Field Experiment in Pay-What-You-Want Pricing and Charitable Giving Science, 329 (5989), 325-327 DOI: 10.1126/science.1186744