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.

One response to “Why a Whole Theme Park for Minecraft?

  1. Pingback: Why Would Someone Go To A Minecraft Theme Park? | Andy Megowan's Blog

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