April 9, 2008
Lessons from the 'Best Ride' tournamentAfter taking a day off to recover, here are the lessons I've learned from our first Best Ride in America tournament.
1) Parks really need to invest in interactive technology.
I am convinced that the deciding factor in the final match-up between Tower or Terror and Spider-Man was not a Disney vs. Universal conflict, larger attendance at Disney's Hollywood Studios or fatigue with Spider-Man winning so many honors from this site over the years. It was the fact that Spider-Man offers the same ride every time one goes on it, and Tower of Terror does not. Tower or Terror's random drop sequences make each ride unique, a strong appeal for the video game generation.
Tomorrow's theme park rides must be unpredictable. As on Buzz Lightyear, Men in Black and the upcoming Toy Story Mania rides, readers should be rewarded for riding again and again, with a different experience each time. Tower of Terror achieves its unpredictability in a different way than those shoot-'em-ups, but the ultimate effect is the same. Ride again, and you'll have a different experience than last time. That's part of the appeal of playing a video game in lieu of re-watching a movie. It's also part of the appeal of any live performance (no two SeaWorld shows are exactly alike).
Want to attract kids raised on the unpredictability of video games? Want those kids to keep hauling their families to your theme park? You'd better offer them rides that stay fresh after multiple visits.
As I explained in an earlier comment, a "best ride" tournament that includes all types of rides, from roller coasters to flume to dark rides, is going to have some mismatches. Especially in the early rounds. But I could avoided a couple turkeys had I left rides that appeal solely to young children out of the draw.
I'd already decided to exclude shows from the tournament (making it a 'best ride' contest instead of a 'best attraction' one). Some children's ride, such as Dumbo, got into the draw based on their relatively strong reader ratings and large number of reviews. Those ratings were based on parents' assessment of how those rides entertained their young children, as they should have been. But the simplicity and elegance that makes top children's rides so much fun for toddlers and early elementary kids makes them boring and often inappropriate for older kids and grown-ups who are not just riding along with a younger pal.
When we do this tournament again, I will make an additional effort to leave those rides out. Which, will clear the way for...
Curse of DarKastle should have been in this tournament. So should have Universal Hollywood's Backlot Tour. A handful of really engaging rides, that had not gotten a minimum number of votes or who got beaten out by higher-rated kiddie rides, did not make the cut for the final 64. Next year, I plan to take a closer look at the rides in the bottom quarter of the draw, and to use my editorial judgment to exclude some of them should I feel another ride is more deserving of inclusion in the tournament.
I'll also reserve the right to reorder to bottom half of the draw to create better first-round match-ups. Remember, top seeded rides deserve to face lower seeded ones, and in the first round, that's going to mean some mismatches. And I'd rather have the mismatches early, rather than create a roller coaster bracket, a flume ride bracket and a dark ride bracket, which simply would postpone the mismatches to the later rounds.
But I could have shifted a few match-ups around to make for more engaging battles in round one. Adding a few overlooked rides into the mix will help me to do that.
Disneyland Paris' Space Mountain: Mission 2 should have been in this tournament. Its reader rating on the site would have placed in the top half of the draw. But I thought the ride would have been at a huge disadvantage as the only ride outside the U.S. in the tournament. Many readers were not comfortable voting on match-ups where they had not ridden both rides. So to help make the match-ups reasonable for those readers, I decided to limit the initial tournament to U.S. rides.
Ideally, though, I would love for this to be a 'Best Ride in the World' tournament. For that, though, we need to have more ratings and reviews submitted for rides at parks outside the U.S. As a website written in English, we've limited ourselves to non-U.S. parks that attract a substantial English-speaking audience. And that's not likely to change. But we could get more input from folks in Europe, and maybe even Japan, on the Disney, Tussauds and Universal parks there. The more international visitors we get on TPI, the more inclusive our tournaments can be.
And yes, I used the plural there. I am mulling ideas for additional tournaments, as well as additional efforts I can make to get more readers involved in contributing content to the site. Remember, we have a trip report contest this month for anyone visiting the new Hard Rock Park. I'd also like to elicit more thoughtful essays from readers about their park experiences.
The idea for this tournament came from a reader. So I'd like to ask you to suggest whatever you'd like to us do on the site to make this a more fun, engaging and informative place to visit. Thanks again.
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