Why Would Someone Go To A Minecraft Theme Park?

What’s my motivation?

In my previous piece, I mentioned a wide range of other entertainment venues. Arcades, entertainment centers, miniature golf centers, GameWorks, theme parks, DisneyQuest and Metreon, amusement parks, and theme parks. They all fall under the broad category of Location Based Entertainment, or LBE. LBE is generally considered an entertainment venue outside of the home. It can include theme parks, theaters, casinos, national parks, roadside attractions, boardwalks, midways, county fairs; you get the idea.

The kinds of entertainment that we pursue outside of the home are in a state of perpetual evolution as the diversions available at home continue to evolve. Home theaters, smartphones, and gaming consoles have replaced the actual need to leave the house for many of the things that required us to visit the cinema, the theater, the arcade, the casino, the bookstore, and the shopping mall.

So you might be scratching your heads about this one. Minecraft is already something you play at home. It’s already online, so it’s a social activity among friends without the need to gather in public. You can purchase merchandise online, and watch millions of videos of other players on YouTube. In fact, on December 15th, 2021 YouTube celebrated the posting of its one trillionth Minecraft video.

Why would anyone be motivated to leave the house to go somewhere for a property that seemingly is custom-made for keeping you at home?

I think it’s even worse than that if you look at it through the lens of a traditional theme park business model. A theme park is a big and complicated investment, and you want to leverage assets that are guaranteed to bring in capital. A park wants licensing with high-profile properties that will drive attendance, interactions, and merchandise purchases. Minecraft does not have any movies, any stars, any iconic locations, or memorable lines. Nobody wants an autograph from any particular character in Minecraft.

And yet…

Minecraft is the best-selling videogame of all time. It generates more YouTube videos than any other topic in the world. The content is wholesome. It inspires curiosity about how things work, and about morality. The world is instantly recognizable and iconic. It has all sorts of merchandise, LEGO kits, and even its own section in bookstores.

The fans are there. I had a talk with my wife Alice about what a park would need to do to entice fans to come to the park and she stared at me like the fool I occasionally can be. She said, “If they are fans, and you make a park for something they’re fans of, they will come. That’s really not a problem.”

She’s right about that. If a Minecraft park existed, I would have gone by now.

The question changes, then. If a Minecraft park existed, what would make someone want to go? And to be honest, what would make them want to go again and tell others to go, too?

Without knowing anything about what’s at the park, this is what I would go to a Minecraft theme park to do:

  • Do things exclusive to the park that will impact my home game experience.
  • Physically experience things that I have been exposed to virtually for years in the game.
  • Share my love of the game with friends and family who do not play it.

I could have specific experiences that would convince me to bring others back and say “You have to try this.” Things like:

  • See how tall an Enderman and an Iron Golem are in real life (hint: they’re really, really tall)
  • Walk through a portal from the Overworld to the Nether and feel the blast of heat from the lava
  • Pet all the animals
  • Taste the foods I’ve been crafting and eating for years
  • Gross-out my kids by eating a “spider eyeball” candy
  • Take a wild ride in a minecart
  • Earn a hat for my son’s Minecraft character that only park guests who have completed a secret quest can get.
  • Carve a giant smiley face into a cliff
  • With a bow, defend a building from zombies, skeletons, spiders, creepers, and raiders (oh my!)
  • Glide through the air in The End Dimension on an elytra
  • Solve a wiring puzzle with friends, flip some switches and open a secret door in the park
  • Go over a waterfall and into a chasm in a little wooden boat
  • Stand in front of a “mirror” and wave, and see my character waving back at me.

Why else would a fan return? Because Minecraft is never finished. The franchise is under continuous development. When the world changes, the park will follow.

And the park itself is malleable. The essence of Minecraft is a world that players can change, so we must allow many details of the park to be fungible at the hands of the guests. It should never look the same twice.

Whether I’m a fan or not, a theme park where these are the kinds of interactions I can look forward to is a location I’m willing to leave my living room for.

Why a Whole Theme Park for Minecraft?

Theme parks are very expensive to build and maintain. And sometimes they fail. A brand new park is a risky proposition. Why would an entire park dedicated to Minecraft make sense? Would it make more sense to try for something more modest? Let’s take a look at starting small.

A single standalone Minecraft attraction is more cost-effective. I could design a boat ride like it’s a small world or a dark ride on a track like Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, something that takes you through some scenery that looks like something from Minecraft. I could alternatively make something more ambitious by adding scenery to a kiddie coaster (look up “wild mouse” or “runaway train” roller coasters for example.) Or for a smaller footprint, I could design a motion simulation ride through a lot more of an adventure, in the spirit of Star Tours or Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

The existence of a solitary attraction presents some problems. There’s not a good place to put it. Minecraft is owned by Microsoft, which does not have a licensing deal with any theme park companies. Microsoft’s only presence outside of our computers is in a few Microsoft Stores in shopping malls. And shopping malls themselves are in the process of reinventing themselves without, you know, shopping.

Microsoft would need to cut a deal with an existing entertainment venue for a single attraction. That would be a family entertainment center such as GameWorks, Castle Mini Golf, Chuck E. Cheese’s, or Bullwinkle’s. Those places deal in high-volume, low-overhead off-the-shelf solutions, not flagship products, so this would not be a prestigious operation. Since it’s a bestselling title that many people already have at home, the differentiating factor that would drive people to play outside of the home, without any of the benefits of their own account or hardware, would be limited to things like motion simulation rides. Customers are not likely to be inclined to leave the comfort of their homes and pay to trade interactivity for immersion. Microsoft would lose out on the opportunity to sell merchandise alongside their property by licensing a standalone portable attraction. And the franchise does not revolve around any particular story, but rather around the adventures that players create for themselves. There is no singular, appropriate narrative that captures the essence of the brand the way that–for example–flying through the trench on the Death Star does on Disney’s Star Tours.

Alright, let’s go bigger, and dedicate an indoor entertainment center to Minecraft. This is 10,000 to 100,000 square feet of indoor space, with individual attractions taking 20 to 1000 square feet. Such a center could be open anywhere in the year, and all year round. There are clever things that we could do with smoke and mirrors to make interior spaces look like outdoor areas. But while the space allows for simulation rides and electronic entertainment, it closes the door for actual rides. And large entertainment facilities have not historically done well, for a variety of reasons. Sony’s Metreon in San Francisco and DisneyQuest in Orlando, despite impeccable location and incredible production values, were jaw-dropping financial failures. The ICO (Indirect Costs and Overhead) and initial investment were too great to recoup.

Miniature golf or mixed indoor/outdoor like Bullwinkle’s or Castle Miniature golf have lower costs to create and maintain and tend to stay in business for decades. At the next step up in size, perhaps they offer the right template for a Minecraft destination? They require minimal staffing and almost no marketing, as the fantastical architecture and proximity to freeways does the advertising for free. There’s no admission, and guests can wander for free, as individual entertainments are off-the-shelf coin-op games, and the remainder of the facilities follow the bowling alley business model of having you rent the equipment needed to enjoy the facilities: golf clubs, golf balls, go-karts and so on.

As you’ll see in a later essay, I’m getting closer to the reasons anyone would want to make the trek to a Minecraft-themed destination in the first place. With a mixture of indoor and outdoor spaces, we get the best of both worlds. Indoors spaces give us globally accessible, year-round attractions. Outdoor spaces give us the open-world experience, true rides, and the opportunity to incorporate nighttime activities and weather-related activities from the games into the experience.

This is better but does put heavy constraints on the variety and quality of experiences available. I also strongly subscribe to Disney’s immersion principle and don’t want the outside world visible from within the experience. And like many properties with enthusiastic fan bases, Minecraft has lots of checkboxes for things that people consider critical to the “heart” of the experience. There are creatures to be seen, buildings to enter, caves to explore, mine carts to ride, boats to row, and magic portals to walk through, at the very least. And so many cubical animals to pet. A couple of acres and space for perhaps two rides won’t do it.

The next largest option would be a themed land within an existing theme park. Disney and Universal invested in creating entire lands for huge individual franchises (Star Wars, Avengers, Harry Potter) and in one case for a small franchise with large merchandise potential (Cars Land). I think Minecraft is a huge franchise, with brand recognition on par with both Star Wars and Harry Potter, so a dedicated land would be the minimum appropriate treatment. Now we’re getting somewhere. The problem is, we’re once again coming back to the problem of a property owned by a company (Microsoft) that doesn’t own any theme parks. If the license can change hands at any time–like when Universal made Marvel Island and then Disney bought Marvel–then a theme park operator can get caught with a property that can slip out of their fingers at any time.

I could have just said this upfront. The Minecraft franchise is substantial enough to support a full theme park of shops, restaurants, rides, shows, and attractions. We’re gonna need a big damn park. It will need space for a spectrum of rides, walkthroughs, shopping, playgrounds, interactive experiences, character encounters, scenery, and dining spread across at least five distinct regions.

Sixty acres minimum, I reckon.

My December 2021 Project

For the past eleven years, I have set myself a task every December to play a new computer game and write some critical analysis about it each day for thirty-one days. This year will be very different.

Due to health issues, I have not played a computer game in about five months. I don’t know when I will enjoy it again. I am focusing on healing. Rest assured that in many ways I am more healthy than I have otherwise been in several years, but I had to step away from work for a few months in order to do some repairs.

So this year, I have been preparing something new that relies upon all of my background experience: Architecture, City and Regional Planning, Software Development, Ride and Show Controls, Video Game Design, Stage Magic, Location Based Entertainment, Massively Multiplayer Game Development, Network Code, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. And maybe parenting, writing, and some wordplay. I hope you engage with me, discuss, ask questions.

I’m going to write a proposal for a Minecraft Theme Park.

Stuff I Have Done That The POTUS Probably Hasn’t

I have been thinking for several months about our elected officials and how they differ from the people who voted for them, and who they represent. And the angle I’ve been preoccupied with is that they have lived fundamentally different lives from the overwhelming majority of U.S. Citizens. In other words, unless you buy into the popular misconception that wealth is an indication of some kind of superior character or breeding, they are the least qualified individuals to represent us.

In particular, I started asking myself about authentic experiences that shape the human condition, and how I have experienced a vast quantity that our current President of the United States has not. Ordinary stuff. Things that we all do, which are not special at all. And that led to the list.

I started this on Facebook, but while I was hoping for a simple list showing the most basic life experiences that the POTUS has missed out on, it instead became (understandably) a place where my friends and family unleashed very specific criticisms about the POTUS. That was not my plan. Through there may be some truth in the vitriol, the thing I was getting at was that the POTUS has missed out on some authentic experiences, and that perhaps these are things we should look out for when choosing who will represent us.

Stuff I Have Done That the POTUS Probably Hasn’t

  • Owned a dog
  • Changed a diaper
  • Written code
  • Read a novel
  • Played a musical instrument
  • Taken dance lessons
  • Learned a second language
  • Pumped my own gas
  • Vacuumed and swept
  • Bought groceries
  • Driven a pickup truck
  • Played basketball
  • Sewed a button
  • Taken the bus to work
  • Been hired
  • Been fired
  • Gone hiking and camping
  • Been to counseling
  • Written a book all by myself
  • Sat in coach on an airplane
  • Given money from my pocket to someone on the street
  • Fixed a garbage disposal
  • Taken the stairs
  • Cleaned a toilet
  • Washed dishes
  • Assembled IKEA furniture
  • Worked at a fast food counter
  • Climbed a ladder
  • Driven my child to the emergency room in the middle of the night
  • Built a LEGO model
  • Loaded and unloaded a moving van
  • Filed for unemployment
  • Washed dishes
  • Shopped at Costco
  • Taken pets on their final trip to the veterinarian
  • Pushed a stroller
  • Shaved my head (take that, Donald!)
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Painted a bedroom
  • Been in a high school play
  • Bought secondhand clothes at a thrift shop
  • Shoveled snow out of a driveway
  • Watched a movie with subtitles
  • Baked a cake

I may expand this list when the urge hits, but my point is this: the lives of our elected officials are often devoid of the most common experiences. It is absurd to expect them to relate to us, or to make our priorities their own. Just as a human being shares more DNA with a banana than with a monkey, many of our elected officials are more like corporations than people. Do not expect human responses or decisions from them.

Story/Game idea: “Mother Hood”

After the critically acclaimed flop of a game “Coconut Queen”, I wanted to continue to explore combining resource management, city-building, and a fun story about another Girl Who Kicks Ass. One of the ideas that iWin generously hired a development team to let me prototype was for putting a twist on the familiar legends of Robin Hood.

There are practically no female characters in the original legends. Maid Marian, while not a completely helpless character, didn’t really move any stories forward in the way befitting a protagonist. After poring over multiple versions of the legends (did you know that Robin Hood took place in two different forests, Sherwood and Barnsdale Forest?) I found room in the legend for a new story based on the following:

  • Robin Hood almost never won in a fair fight, in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Robin Hood was a master of disguise, impossible for anyone to find when he was in town.
  • Robin Hood and Maid Marian always met in private. Nobody saw the two of them together until their eventual wedding.
  • Only Robin Hood’s most trusted companions were with him at his deathbed, and the grave of such a famous individual was suspiciously absent.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? Robin Hood is a persona that Marian created on her own.

Marian came across the Merry Men living in the forest, and saw the miserable conditions of their existence. They were cold, hungry, filthy, squabbling among themselves and completely disorganized and unprepared to handle the Sheriff of Nottingham. What they needed, she realized, was a Mom. So Marian became both Leader and Mother to the Merry Men (and women) of Sherwood. She got them to bathe, train, build homes among the trees, and become a big family in the forest. To improve their living conditions, she enlisted the help of a gifted bachelor inventor, Friar Tuck, whose constant tinkering and knowledge of mechanical devices in his home within a hollowed tree led to it being dubbed “The Tuck Knowledge-y Tree”.

But for morale, one of her greatest creations was a Legend. She couldn’t always be there for the Merry Men, and any real leader ran the risk of being captured and executed by the Sheriff of Nottingham. The men needed a leader that could never be caught, never be beaten, and whom all of the Men could love. So she hatched a secret with them, fashioned a signature look that she or any other number of outlaws could don as needed, and gave birth to a legend.

This was the framework for a game about building a new civilization from scratch in the middle of a forest, with plenty of room for humor and inside jokes. Joan of Arc and Mulan provided some useful wayposts for fleshing out the story of a woman living secretly as a man, including the complications of the men falling in love with Marian, who in turn fell in love with someone else.

If I can get an artist to help with the character design, this story could still kick ass. I know what the cliff-hanger ending would be, even.

Story/Game Idea: The Wrong Kiss

This story has been in my slush pile for quite a while. Originally, in 2008 or thereabouts, I was designing a click-management game in the style of Diner Dash and Cake Mania. I had a very specific experiment in mind, to explore a modification to the traditional mechanics of that genre.  The question was: can a click-management game, which is about controlling a single character that must run around and keep a business flowing, work across multiple rooms/screens? I had started to explore it with the design for a game called Spy Pup, which I will most likely talk about later, and came back to the question while working on a project for zSpace, where we were experimenting with what the experience would be like to control a character walking around a virtual holographic environment. The setting we chose was a 3D castle, and I developed the framework of a story in order to guide the creation of assets and supplemental mechanics.

Since the prototype featured a protagonist wandering through a largely uninhabited environment, a room at a time, that was the biggest constraint. In order for the environment to have at least a little bit of life, we added a second character that followed the player-controlled character around and did a bit of wandering while always staying close by. This was the springboard for The Wrong Kiss.

The story opens with Princess Aurora, Sleeping Beauty, under the full effect of her curse. She is asleep in her bed. All of the inhabitants of the castle have been turned into trees and plants that somehow reflect their roles in their everyday lives. The cooks had become a vegetable garden, the King and Queen two majestic trees flowing around the throne room, offering protection from the environment to the courtiers, who had all become beautiful, but sometimes deadly, flowers around them.

But Aurora had a puppy, named Prince,  who had been outside of the castle, chasing a cat when the curse occurred. Upon his return, everyone is gone, except Aurora, who is asleep. The Puppy attempts to wake Aurora by licking her nose.

How does the magic interpret something that can be interpreted as a kiss, and which comes from Puppy Love?

Maybe I’ll tell you.

Story Idea: How To Train Your Human

My wife and son were reading Dragonology the other night, and that got me thinking, in turn, about “How To Train Your Dragon”, which while largely about a peaceful coexistence between humans and dragons, still cast the majority of dragons in a subservient role to humans: doing agriculture, carrying people and so on. With the exception of the main characters of Hiccup and Toothless, who each had a disability forcing them to rely upon one another, it’s an unequal relationship.

A good tool to bring attention to inequalities that often go unnoticed is to reverse the roles and see what jumps out at you. This in turn sparked thoughts about what the world would look like if dragons were the benevolent owners of human pets. In Robin Hobb’s excellent stories in the Six Duchies, dragons often treat humans as playthings or accessories, but this was a little different. Think about your relationship to your pets. Now think about a world–a present-day world–in which dragons treat you that way. Take, as an example, the world of Charlotte’s Web.

  • Your pets are members of your family, with thoughts, feelings, personalities. But humans always come first.
  • Your pet may have started out as food (a pig, a chicken, a dog), but someone noticed a glimmer of a personality, of a soul, and so instead took that beast as a companion. This doesn’t mean that other beasts lack these qualities, just that this one beast had a stay of execution because of dumb luck.
  • Your pets don’t necessarily distinguish you, as a human, as different from themselves.
  • In any contest of wills, the human masters always win and get to decide the fate of the pets.
  • Humans can transfer ownership of pets for any number of reasons, with little to no paperwork or legal involvement.
  • The humans decide what activities the pets engage in, and what their rewards are.
  • The humans can decide between life and death for a pet.
  • Pets have only the lightest of supervision for how they interact with other pets of the same species. It is only when a pet interacts aggressively with a human–especially a human that is not their master–that their behavior is scrutinized, judged, and the pet is punished.

Taken as a set of criteria, this makes a compelling case for dragons living among us. They’re not hidden; humans just try to use the wrong criteria–physical appearance–when trying to identify something that they patently believe does not exist.

What a nice idea for a story that I will most likely never write. I wouldn’t want the dragons to know that I’m on to them.

On making a Coconut Queen-like game

Hi, just some minor updates.

I came up with a more entertaining storyline.

I’ve been investigating costs and logistics for developing for tablets instead of desktops.

I’ve been looking at development platforms, and programmers. Sadly, I cannot hire anyone out of pocket.

I know someone who can help establish a Kickstarter campaign, but the numbers don’t look good. Celebrities and high-profile properties can break the $10,000 barrier, but Coconut Queen (and Andy Megowan, for that matter) are neither.

So I’m sorry, but it’s not currently looking good.

Free Advertising for RadioLab

Two weeks ago, Alice and I gave birth to our first son, Tumnus Fisher Megowan. We did something that, even a year ago, would have been unthinkable to us: we had a home birth. Tumnus was born in a special birthing tub that we rented from our midwife, and which I groggily inflated in the middle of the night when Alice’s labor contractions began.

Thirteen hours later, with a couple of close friends and a birthing team, our midwife instructed me to reach into the water below my wife, and my hand rested on the emerging head of our baby. Seconds later, Tumnus slid into my hands and I lifted him out of the pool where the experts could unwrap the umbilical cord and make sure that his throat and sinuses were clear, and then set him on my beautiful, exhausted wife’s chest.

I could go on (and I probably will later) about the powerful emotions and memories from that day, but I thought I would pass on an image to any fans of the syndicated show, RadioLab. It just happened that I was wearing a RadioLab t-shirt that day. I wanted to share the image with folks who work on RadioLab as a little “Thank You!” for the shows that have shed a little more light in our lives.

How Coconut Queen 2 Will Be Made

The majority of the admittedly light traffic to this site is from people looking for a sequel to Coconut Queen. Search Engines send them here, to an explanation for why Coconut Queen 2 was never made. Basically, the publisher never recouped their investment. There are a few reasons why:

  • Coconut Queen was an entry in the category of Building games, an established genre with a clear leader: Build-A-Lot.
  • When it was released, it was a brand new franchise. That always takes more work to get noticed than a sequel. Like, say, Build-A-Lot 3.
  • iWin releases a game a day. The budget for marketing any one title is minimal, unless strong early sales indicate that a marketing push will  earn back the money right away. Coconut Queen didn’t generate strong early sales.
  • The wrong marketing art went out to everyone. We had rough images of our title screen that somehow went into circulation instead of this:

they sent out this:

  • The highly anticipated Build-A-Lot 3 came out the week before Coconut Queen. This was iWin’s choice, to release at that time. That made it difficult to ask people for more money for a similar game a week after they spent money on a known, low-risk sequel.
  • iWin also decided to release Coconut Queen at a premium price of $20. Build-A-Lot 3 was a third of that cost, at $7.
  • iWin insisted on an exclusive to their site for the first month, limiting visibility in the hopes of driving up sales at the highest profit margin.
  • When Coconut Queen was made available, iWin attempted to recoup their costs by insisting that all partners carry Coconut Queen at the higher price.
  • The name didn’t resonate with male customers.
It was an experimental business model that had proven successful and profitable for iWin on their established franchises such as Jewel Quest, Mah Jong Quest, and Jojo’s Fashion Show. It didn’t work. iWin attempted to find other projects to use my game development talent for a few months. I pitched several ideas, but the market was in flux as mobile games and social games were dramatically transforming the playing field and business models. After a few months without any projects being approved, I was let go.
iWin owns the rights to Coconut Queen, and iWin will not make Coconut Queen 2. End of story.
…or is it?
The business models that drive game development have changed a lot in the past few years, and very dramatically in just the past few months.
  • While there are tens of thousands of game developers, the world knows the names of half a dozen. Doublefine Entertainment’s Tim Schafer is one of those names, and when he solicited game development funds via Kickstarter, the product was crowd-funded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. That kind of investment is a no-brainer for game fans.
  • The Indie Fund covered the development of the game Q.U.B.E., and made back their investment in four days.
  • Even more amazingly, the Indie Fund recouped their $55,000 investment in Dear Esther–which is not only not even a game, but is also a remake of a free productin under six hours.
The major event here that allowed these amazing success stories is just that: the story. The same held true for the remarkable indie game MineCraft. The world paid attention to the stories of the creation of these games, and so people became engaged–and subsequently invested–in the stories that compelled them. People around the world saw opportunities to, for a few dollars, become part of the solution.
So the story of the game being born matters to people now. That’s great. Customer and Creator can connect to each other like never before. What else? There’s plenty more.
Free-to-play games and microtransactions are two business ideas that have made a huge impact. The investment risk has been eliminated for customers, and that raises the comfort level with spending a little money on entertainment. Customers can now even decide what aspects of a game to spend their money on, and while not everyone pays to play, the percentage of people who do are paying more than an estimated retail price, and doing so more comfortably.
Online updates have changed things, too. Packaging costs have gone out the window. The cost to update, at least on more modern delivery sites like the App Store, Android Market and Steam, is negligible. It used to be that patching a game was as pleasant as standing in the RETURNS line at a department store. Basically, you were there because a product was defective, and you had to go through the hassle just to have what you already paid for. What a pain!
That has changed.  It’s not just bug fixes. It’s easy to update your games and apps, and developers can continue to enhance, improve and extend the game at no extra cost to you.  It’s more like someone stopped by, cooked you a nice meal in your own kitchen, and did the dishes before they left!
“Wow! Andy, does this mean you’re going to make Coconut Queen 2 now?”
Yes, and no.
Here’s the no. iWin still owns Coconut Queen. They own the product, the license, the art, and the programming code. I will not make another game in that universe. That particular story, incomplete as it is, is finished. I can’t afford to fund development of such a big game. I have a day job that involves 40-60 hours a week of Not Making Coconut Queen. And my wife and I are expecting our first child in a matter of weeks.
Here’s the yes. I can’t make a sequel, and I won’t make a knockoff of my own darn game design (Cumquat King, anyone?) but I can make a spiritual successor. It will have a new world, new characters, and a new plot. But it will feel familiar. When you play at nurturing this world, you will know that it was created by the same folks.
This time around, the development cost can be dramatically reduced, as I can release the game a piece at a time. The distribution can be broader than ever before, as I’m not tied to iWin for marketing and game exposure, and I can target Macs and PCs and phones and tablets all at the same time instead of just going for Windows.
But I can’t do it alone. I need a team, and I need the time to do it. I can get both of those things with money. There are dozens of fans. With hundreds, I can begin production!
Oh, and I have to decide: will this next version start on another tropical island, deep in a forest, or at a desert oasis?