How Disneyland cheats us all

We are a school with a culture affected highly by our close proximity to Disneyland, so it is only fair that I should be the one to spoil for all of you that “the happiest place on Earth” continually steals your money using simplistic tricks.

There is always a driving idea behind a business model. What you will find is that Disney goes by the slogan of, “Disney Parks, Where Dreams Come True.” In many advertisements you’ll find a general theme of the parks being a place where they intend for you to “make memories.” Around every corner there is a photo-op location with another character or an iconic landmark.

Photo courtesy of http://www.customerservicemanager.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.customerservicemanager.com

At Universal Studios, the theme seems to be focused on “the Universal Experience.” Their rides and attractions focus on giving an experience of being on a working film set or being completely immersed in a film. At Knott’s Berry Farm, you find that the focus is on thrills and rides. At non-Disney parks, you definitely don’t see close to the amount of opportunities to “make memories” as at Disneyland. I see friends, families, and couples feel the need to make an “obligatory Facebook post” of a picture of them in front of the famous castle. But is this truly obligatory? The answer is no… but they feel like they do because it’s the quintessential place to “make memories.”

The way theme parks are positioned is similar to the design of an app or video game. Many mobile apps use a design model called “free-to-play.” Developers make the initial download of the apps free from any charge. The basic features of the app are introduced to the user as they become comfortable with its uses. Then new features are introduced that are only available if money is paid. Many of you are likely be familiar with the free-to-play model. It has been doing wonders for many different companies for years. Disneyland uses free-to-play, but ironically, you start your “memory making” by paying 95 dollars for the cheapest tickets. It makes me uneasy that someone might feel dependent enough on making memories at this park to pay about half a grand for an average sized family to enter.

Photo courtesy of http://www.allclash.com/

Photo courtesy of http://www.allclash.com/

Once you’ve paid park admission, Disney uses park layout choices to make you spend more money. The first area you pass by is a collection of candy and toy shops. There are places to get exclusive foods and merchandise. It begs, “Come on! Just spend 10 more bucks!” and before you know it, you’ve spent 10 dollars… Three times… That’s $30 for you mathematicians out there.

Let’s refer to this mentality as “three-quarter design.” The idea is to make you pay for three quarters of an experience and to make the last quarter and feeling of completeness tangible, you need to spend a bit more money. This model makes the initial payment feel much smaller than asking for all the money at once and rewards you psychologically for paying the last bit.

There are many examples at the Disneyland of three-quarter design. First, you have the single place to enter and exit the park. From most places in the park, it takes about 20 minutes to get to Downtown Disney and whatever extra time it takes to get food there. You end up spending over an hour outside the park. An average park day for a person might be around 12 hours. Three hours of meals is a quarter of that time. You would be lying to me if you wouldn’t be willing to pay for that extra quarter of time in the park.

Photo courtesy of http://www.adweek.com/

Photo courtesy of http://www.adweek.com/

Say you’re a huge Star Wars fanboy. Last time you were at Disneyland was before the Star Tours ride was revamped and you are pumped to strap yourself in and photo-op with Chewie. After all the excitement of the ride, you’re three quarters of the way there, but you’re not finished yet. Disney, knowing this, funnels you off the ride and directly into Star Wars gift shop heaven. Need that final quarter of satisfaction? Then buy a customized lightsaber.

Let’s get down to business (to defeat the Huns). Disney is just one of many companies that have used principles found in interactive design to profit or even simply create a more solid experience for consumers. My point here isn’t to scare people away from Disney theme parks, but rather to open eyes through what I personally know best, interactive design! It’s always okay to have fun and spend your money, but please keep things like this in the back of your mind day-to-day.

If you liked this article, feel free to check back every two weeks for some more opinions and reviews connecting to the game industry in one way or another. If you simply can’t wait for more, go onto chapmanradio.com and look up the weekly recordings of The Collegiate Gamer talk show. New episodes streamed live every Thursday at 10pm!

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