RCT3 Lessons: What A Simulation Game Teaches Us About Theme Park Management

One of the games that theme park fans will always cherish is Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. It’s been a game that has stood the test of time despite its terrible sequel follow up. Any theme park fan has designed the ideal theme park in this game at least once.

What I like the most about this game is how it has taught me a lot about theme park management, understanding the decisions that theme parks make in order to stay in business. This could be small decisions, others not so much.

Some of the things I’ve learned about theme park management may seem obvious, but once taken into account you see how many decisions are made in Disney parks.

Long Term Investments

When you have a theme park, attractions are needed to keep the guest flow going. In order for this to happen, you need attractions to make profit. And even though you might not have too much money, three attractions that you build could make an important difference.

In RCT3, you need to pay in order to ride each attraction. You can have an entrance fee, but the game isn’t designed to only get money this way. So the only sure way is to build attractions really fast and start getting peeps in line. For roller coasters that cost much more money, having multiple vehicles is vital to keep the guests flowing. Because the more guest access the ride, the more money you’ll get.

Eventually after 3 or 4 investments, money starts coming back and you can get rid of loans or have more employees in your payroll. With this taken into consideration, let’s go deep into the theme parks.

In order for parks to start getting some profit, they need to build new attractions. Sometimes the budget isn’t there, so they need to build rides that aren’t E Tickets but they give a fun experience to families. Maybe most of these attractions aren’t even designed to stay in the long run, but they keep the turnstiles moving. Over time, the return of investment is enough to build better experiences.

Take Disney California Adventure for example. This park has had its problems during all these years, especially in developing better attractions. Over time, the park has slowly improved in such a way that some attractions are being upgraded. These upgrades are vital to keep people interested in the park. Now that they have more attractions and the park has experienced a significant boost in guest attendance, they could move forward for new themed lands and future attractions in existent places.

It is difficult to remember that Disneyland started with a mule ride, some off the shelf attractions and some dark rides, all of them without too many enhancements to begin with. It was with time that attractions were upgraded and improved.

Justify Your Rides

Attractions are the pinnacle of a good theme park, but they also add some functionality when you need to. Too many people in the pathways? Develop a high capacity ride that chews up those guests. No kiddie rides? A simple carousel or Ferris Wheel does the trick. Need an E-Ticket attraction that keeps guests coming? Make special food offerings and smaller attractions to reduce the time it takes to complete the ROI.

Even though these strategies are used in RCT3, they are very similar to what we see with many theme parks. Want to build Pirates Of The Caribbean? Create a whole new land with different offerings. Need more hourly capacity for kid rides? Develop Toy Story Land and keep it simple. Each of these attractions have a specific functionality or they at least end up with some sort of idea that keeps the business on track. Remember that the investment behind attractions is huge, so the managers need to handle the budget and think of different possibilities to reduce the span it takes to get that ROI.

In the end, attractions have very particular ways of existing, filling a need that the guests want or filling an operations necessity that managers find important.

Guest Flow

One of the most complicated things to do when having a theme park is taking care of the traffic of guests moving from one attraction to the next. It might seem silly, but it involves a lot of thought and planning. Not only on the paths themselves, but in having attractions that can be able to chew as much guests as possible.

In Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, this is a matter that is just as important. The more guests are in the attractions, better guest flow and overall satisfaction. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of too many attractions, but a matter of adding the attractions with the right hourly capacity.

Take for example a roller coaster. If you have enough stations, you could have 4 trains at the time, allowing for more guests to ride the attraction and more money in your bank. Sometimes reducing the amount of trains helps keep guests in line instead of in the paths, allowing to have less traffic. Other times I’ve closed attractions and later opened them when there is a huge amount of guests through the turnstiles.

What RCT3 has taught me is that guest flow is hard, complicated, and a lesser known aspect of park management that has a significant chance of changing the overall experience. Guest flow can make or break a day full of guests. Also, cost reducing measures like having less vehicles in an attraction allows to keep the attraction running and have a buffer zone of people that aren’t on the regular guest paths. This is a really silly turnaround, but it makes a significant change for the guests.

Merchandise and Food

Having financial problems? Raise your food and merchandise prices a couple cents and it will run like a well oiled machine. If you need some funding for an attraction, better start building more food and merchandise stands for you park. People will always be hungry, as well as curious about shiny souvenirs to bring home.

Food and drinks are a surefire investment because people are always hungry and thirsty; it satisfies a human need. This allows you to keep prices higher than the average, but allowing people to pay as much as they can. What you’ll do is that people who aren’t riding attractions will eventually try out one of the drinks and foods.

Is it raining? Make sure you are selling umbrellas at a hefty price. The reason? People will buy them no matter the price because they prefer buying it rather than staying wet for the whole day. These are the sort of unexpected opportunities your park has to gain some money.

And merchandise? Well, that is the crown jewel of moneymaking. Merch can help you as much as food because margins are always pretty steep. If you don’t have money to make an attraction, try selling as much merchandise as you can. It will keep you using the investment, making more money so that you’ll eventually have the independence of building your own attraction.

In real life, things are that way. The fact that Disney parks focus so much on food is that they know the margins that they have. Ticket prices are just a point of entry that allow them to make the ROI of keeping the park running as much as they can, while food and merchandise are those surefire things that will give you the money that you can later invest. That is the truth about these huge investments in this area. Main Street U.S.A. could make half a million dollars each day. Imagine what happens during peak season, or the days when they have some extra revenue due to bad weather (umbrellas and ponchos).

Cast Members

Staff are the single most important resource a theme park has. They can make or break the experience completely. A well trained and highly motivated cast member could be the difference between an amazing attraction and a broken ride. They keep the paths clean, they help other guests, they entertain, and make the place a secure environment.

In RCT3, the staff is divided in Mechanics, Janitors, Security, Animal Keepers, and Entertainers. Each of these cast members needs to be properly trained in order to have a significant difference in the park experience. Once each member is properly trained, magic starts to happen. Rides never break down, pathways are always squeaky clean, there’s no signs of robbery, and everyone is happy. If your objective is to raise the park rating, well trained cast members are the cheapest way to do it. Make sure you can pay them and that your numbers aren’t on the red.

Staff are added as your park becomes more popular and sustainable. Sometimes you’ll need to hire more staff due to the increasing guests. Other times you’ll want to hire more staff like Security or Janitors for a special occasion, like the special appearance of a celebrity. what you can’t say is that you will run a park without staff. This is the pillar of guest experience. The more trained they are, the more efficient it’ll run.

Good Management

For this well oiled machine to keep on going, the manager should be able to make micro decisions in favor of the guest experience and still turn a profit. Sometimes they lean in too much on one side. Some managers raise prices up to a point that people stop visiting the park. Others expand the park up to a point that it isn’t sustainable. Management styles have important changes in the parks. It is better to have a balancing act between guest experience and a focus on profit.

Let’s have an example with park expansions. Usually these kind of projects involve attractions and scenery that cost much more to the park. How do you keep it a healthy investment? Add merchandise and food, add two attractions with different prices, or have the project opened in phases. Each of these strategies have been used by Disney theme parks. With a new attraction, it is common to hear about new food and merchandise. Adding several attractions to a project proved great for New Fantasyland, which also opened in phases. These are small decisions that can make or break a theme park expansion.


Even though Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is just a simulation game, it rings true on many aspects of theme park management. Other details are slightly changed or omitted because of the complexity, but it hits many target that are on point. I started the experiment of seeing how much it compares to the real theme parks and it has even helped me to better understand the decisions that parks make to keep the business running.

Many of these aspects appear to be logical, but in trying them and using them to actually run a theme park within RCT3 has changed my perspective. Maybe RCT3 doesn’t make you an MBA capable of managing a theme park, but it helps make a thought experiment that could be worth it to many theme park enthusiasts.

Book Review: Hocus Pocus And The All-New Sequel

It is odd when the sequel of a cult classic gets released 25 years later. When it comes to ‘Hocus Pocus’, it is very welcome for thy fans. After so many rumors about an upcoming sequel, it manifests in book form.

‘Hocus Pocus And The All-New Sequel’ by A.W. Jantha is a book divided into two parts. The first part of the book is actually a novelization of the original 1993 film, while the second part is the sequel.

Since it has two clearly divided parts, I’ll treat them as two different books for the sake of this review.

Hocus Pocus

The novelization of the film has two distinct objetives: to refresh the reader of the beloved film and give insight to some slight details about the story. This is a novelization that follows the plot very closely to the film, without deriving too much to understand the characters of even give nuance to some slight possibilities (like the fact that Max doesn’t get affected by the sisters potion at some point because he is no longer a virgin). At least they didn’t undermine the sexual themes from the movie as it is vital to understand many points of the film.

The author has a very specific set of vocabulary from the witches, so a dictionary could be handy. Once you understand several of these unknown words, you’ll start to understand them in context. The story is as fast paced as the original movie, only pausing at very specific scenes to convey information or express the emotions of the characters.

But it is just that, a scene by scene novelization that doesn’t add too much to the interpretation of the movie.

Even though there’s not much difference or additional information, it is a fun read that savvy readers will read in a couple of hours. The last chapters add some details to make a convincing follow up to the sequel that doesn’t affect the movie in any way.

The All-New Sequel

Twenty five years after the Sanderson incident, we meet Poppy, the daughter of Max and Allison. She has been haunted by the story of her parents during her whole life, wondering if the encounter they had as teenagers with the Sanderson sisters is even true. With the help of Isabella and Travis, they find out what’s that whole witch legend about, as they visit the Sanderson house on Halloween, on a full blood moon.

As with most generational sequels, this story includes some references and mentions about the original film, but it is able to develop its own story. One of the most welcome additions and portrayals in this novel is the fact that Poppy, the Dennissons’ daughter, is a lesbian clearly expressing her crush on Isabella. It is one of those subtle things that needs to be more present in media. Kudos for the author and Disney for allowing this kind of representation for the LGBTQ community.

Sometimes you’ll find early on the sequel some unnecessary mentions to other Disney properties. Even though it is logical that people would be dressed as these characters in Halloween, the author mentions so many that it felt as a crossover marketing ploy. The other clear annoyance to how the sequel begins is the constant mention of social media platforms to state that we are in present times. I mean, since the very beginning of the sequel it is mentioned that the story occurs in 2018, so I don’t find the need to mention every single social media platform to understand these are teenagers without moving the plot any forward.

Moving past these details, the novel develops and gets rid of most of the annoyances found during the first act of the sequel. Poppy, Isabella, and Travis head over to the Sanderson’s house when they decide on Halloween to see if all the stories from Poppy’s parents are true. After trying out a spirit board and some incantations….. They’re baaaaack!

Winifred, Mary, and Sarah start their effort to stay alive and rule the world. While the book was the main McGuffin in the original movie, it is also added what is called a blood moonstone to break the spell. In order to. As they try to find the blood moonstone, we learn about a lost Sanderson sister who is trying to make things right.

The stakes start to build up as everyone on Salem isn’t trustworthy. Poppy can’t contact their parents or Aunt Dani, and the last person they can ask for help turns their backs. Poppy, Isabella, and Travis team up with Katie Taylor, one of their school enemies, and start to search the blood moonstone.

This sequel outwits the reader by using tropes from the original movie in innovative ways. Now that the sisters are more adept at the current times, they’re not as dumb or easily deceived. This makes them a stronger menace for the main characters, trying different plans to achieve their objective. Winifred makes their chances of winning this time much more compelling, making you curious to how these teenagers could get out of this ugly mess.

What makes the sequel so strong after the first act is that it has a clear storyline that slowly builds up. The first act of this sequel works similar to the novel adaptation of the movie, but once the Sanderson sisters come back, all your framework is suddenly shattered. They can’t get help from anybody except in the underworld, lighting the candle won’t break the spell, and it is harder to outwit the Sanderson sisters. What begins as a very strange sequel with a great follow up to the storyline.

One of the things that I kept thinking while reading this book is how it relates to the rumors about a possible sequel. A.W. Jantha is an unknown author, so it could easily be a pseudonym. The book seems to be a proof of concept for a sequel, taking into account that it includes a lesbian character and Disney might want to see the reception of this story.

So far, ‘Hocus Pocus And The All New Sequel’ has been well received according to reviews. Even ‘Hocus Pocus’ producer David Kirschner during an interview in the podcast ‘Dizney Coast To Coast’ has confirmed that Disney has something in development. In a time where Disney doesn’t have many content related to Halloween, ‘Hocus Pocus’ could be an excellent story to fit in this time slot.

Final Veredict

What makes this book interesting comes from the sequel, not the novelization of the film. Even though the adaptation isn’t a bad one, it just follows through the story without giving much detail. Still, it is a fun read to go through if you want to refresh the movie in a different way.

The sequel is what makes this book strong. It starts as a simple story, but it gets more complex as it moves on. There’s a good balance between characters and plot situations, keeping the pacing fresh for this sequel.

’Hocus Pocus And The All New Sequel’ is a great read for fans who want to see more of their favorite witches and are hopeful for a movie adaptation of this sequel. Share this book with friends that also enjoy the movie. Maybe if fans vote with their dollars, that rumored ‘Hocus Pocus’ sequel could finally become a reality.

Your Fandom Has A Price: The Art Of The Ticketed Event

Some weeks ago, Disney announced a $300 price tag to watch the magic of Pixar Pier a few days before normal guests. It includes meet & greets, riding the attractions, enjoying the scenery and some exclusive meals. This isn’t the first time that Disney does a ticketed event, but it is the first time in a while to make a prominent event out of a park expansion.

In the past years, ticketed events around the parks have started to pick up more steam. From villains, to Star Wars, to an event that is just about visiting the Magic Kingdom at night, the experimentation keeps on going. After all, these are easily justified by management when you already have the resources to pull out these kind of activities without much of an investment.

For Pixar Pier, the $300 price tag on your eagerness to be the first to enjoy the reimagined space is a bit too far. The land only has one new-ish attraction with few things to enjoy. But as always, these kind of events are only beta testing future options for management.

With the rising costs of park expansions, Disney needs to think about which options do they have to make that return of investment in less time. Ticketed events might be the answer. Imagine a $300 event next year on Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, much like Galactic Nights, but for the first three months of the land’s opening. It would give an option to the many Star Wars fans that will be attracted to the park, giving different experiences from normal guests, enjoying the attractions with shorter wait times, delivering exquisite Alderaanian food and unique meet & greets from more obscure characters that the normal theme park goer wouldn’t appreciate. Now that is an irresistible event for many fans that want to enjoy this land during its first year.

Doing the math with 2000 guests per night, this hypothetical Star Wars event would bring $600.000 per night, $18 million per month, $54 million for 90 days. These numbers look good even if the event lasts one month prior and during the opening of Galaxy’s Edge.

This is the reason that more ticketed events are part of the Disney experience. It is just a way to bring more income without doing that much of a complicated planning process. Once Galaxy’s Edge winds down, they could keep doing Galactic Nights at select days during special events, like film releases or TV series launches. The Pixar Pier event is just a proof of concept: if people are willing to pay that much for such a small expansion, they will quickly open their wallets once Galaxy’s Edge opens.

The ticketed events is a balancing act, were parks management sees something the hardcore fans want out of their park experience and they give it to you with a hefty price tag. And that’s ok as they deliver good experiences for those people who pay for that. What worries me about this event driven strategy is the boundaries between the benefits of the full day park goer vs. the hardcore time paying twice as much for a 3 hour or 6 hour ticketed event.