Are RPG (Role Playing Games) experiences a future trend in the theme park industry?

Edited: August 8, 2021, 7:58 PM

While RPG ( role playing games ) have been around for decades, it was first relegated to dusty Attics or badly lit basements. The once unequivocal icon of nerd and geek culture is now permeating to Many aspects of the entertaiment industry including video games and board games. The ever increasing number of highly themed áreas and attracttions are among the most coveted in the parks and draw millions of people. Now that storytelling is a strong component of great rides and experiencies, we see áreas designated to escape the world for a few hours and live our fantasies. Galaxy edge, the wizardy world of Harry Potter, the halloween and chritsmas conversiones of entire parks are a huge hit with fans and newcomers. The starcuiser hotel takes things to a new huge level of themed vacation. Is this inevitable? It's the rigth direction for the industry? It's there a market on the long run? We have the playground built for us.. Will they allow us to play in it?

Replies (14)

August 9, 2021, 3:03 PM

I definitely think that RPG is the future! These experiences are interactive and even more immersive than a fixed storyline where usually you can't get involved! I loved this article @poabloatthepark looking forward for more! :)

Edited: August 9, 2021, 3:33 PM

I think RPG is an option, but not the future of themed entertainment. The problem with RPG is that it is very niche, and can only be done at the scale of the Halcyon because of the popularity of Star Wars. When it comes to current theme park IPs, Marvel and Harry Potter are probably the only other ones that could support an RPG-style application at scale.

RPG is finding other applications with Escape Rooms, VR/AR, and other immersive exhibits (sometimes just 1-off as part of conventions and festivals), but ultimately to find its way into a full-size theme park, there has to be enough interest to support it. There just aren't enough people willing to be immersed into most IPs.

There's a reason why Adventurer's Club is no more, and why even the most dominant and successful theme parks in the world have stayed away from RPG until now. Ghost Town Alive at Knott's and Forbidden Frontier at Cedar Point are attempts to create RPGs with generic IP within a theme park setting. Both of those concepts work to a certain extent for those that really want to play along. However, they just aren't popular enough to move the needle when it comes to making money especially considering their heavy reliance on skilled labor. When we were at Cedar Point last week, there were maybe 50 people (mostly families with younger kids) roaming around Forbidden Frontier and only half of those people actually trying to participate in the story - this with agonizing 90-minute, 120-minute, and 150-minute waits for Maverick, Millennium Force, and Steel Vengeance, respectively, not far away. It seems people would rather wait hours for one of the best roller coasters in the world than spend that same amount of time doing a well-done RPG with over a dozen live actors.

August 9, 2021, 8:27 PM

Thank You themeparkmad!!
And Rusell those are good points. I do think there is a Lot of potential in this aspect of themed vacations. I belive is something like..." Build this field....and they Will come ". Just a tougth.

August 10, 2021, 8:39 AM

I think the Halcyon will be the ultimate test case. I have no doubt that Disney will make it successful, and if initial customer reviews are tepid, they will make modifications to improve it. However, the level of success will be key. It has to be successful financially, and if Disney has to devote even more labor than anticipated (i.e. less reliance on the DataPad/A.I.), and guests are not receptive to even higher costs, then the experience may not clear enough to make it viable from a financial perspective.

I have little doubt that Knott's and Cedar Point are running their in-park RPGs at a loss, because both experiences are free to in-park guests and generate ZERO direct revenue, and I don't think guests are buying season passes or coming to the park solely for the RPGs. The Halcyon obviously has a dedicated revenue source, so pricing tweaks, experience/itinerary changes, and vacancies will give us a good clue whether Disney is able to run the experience in the black or if it has to be supported by other revenues.

I think the biggest issue with RPGs is that they are a more intimate experience by nature, so necessitate a lower capacity/throughput. That makes them counter to most theme park experiences that are typically about efficiency and cranking as many people through as possible every single day. Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg have both tried escape room experiences during their Howl-O-Scream events. I think there could be some application there (Universal probably has never tried it during HHN because of the capacity issues), but again you're looking at an upcharge experience that can only accommodate a small fraction of a park's daily visitors.

Ultimately, these experiences are VERY expensive to pull off, and relying on a "build it and they will come" attitude won't satisfy executives or accountants that authorize the spending. The Halcyon will be the ultimate test case, but is a completely different animal from any other IP, and park managers will need to be convinced that other IP (or generic experiences) could generate similar success without the massive budgets and costs Disney and Star Wars can sustain.

Edited: August 10, 2021, 10:48 AM

Rusell your data is pretty solid. How ever i do see that there is a Big sector that crave for this kind of experiencies. How Many renissance fairs are out there? How Many people reenact civil war battles every year? Have. You been at comiccon in San Diego? Those costume contests are HUGE and more amazing every year. If done rigth. It could be the trend. I do agree wth You that All eyes are on the starcuiser. For me is fingers crossed. Shield Recriutment drive at Avengers camp !!!

August 10, 2021, 11:02 AM

If galactic starcruiser Is a huge success I Can't imagine the possibilities that dismey and universal could come up with! Immersive role playing experiences is just my thing! I would love to be immersed in a story where I could, say make desicions that change the outcome of a ride or expereince!

August 10, 2021, 12:54 PM

Ren fairs are popular because they've built up loyalty over decades in most cases (my wife and I have been attending the Maryland Festival for 22 years running before last year's cancellation - though we plan to go back in 2 weeks), and give guests the ability to be as immersive as they want to be in the Medieval world. They are also limited time events (usually running a couple of months on weekends and holidays) with targeted promotion and guest engagement. That model just doesn't mesh with normal theme park operations. Again, if you offered targeted "events" during certain times of the year (like Halloween), you might be able to make ends meet, but trying to sustain a 365-day schedule could only be pulled off with millions of investment under an IP that has near universal appeal and high level of fanaticism, like Star Wars.

Civil War reenactments (and other military demonstrations) are severely waning in popularity, and are not a good gauge to test the viability of RPGs in theme parks. Other historic reenactments like Colonial Williamsburg, The Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, Fort Snelling, and others work from a observational perspective, but I'm not sure how much appeal they would have from an immersive/RPG perspective unless the goal was to show youngsters how good they have it today compared to hundreds of years ago.

Comic Con (and other similar events around the country) are again like Ren Fairs in that they're 1-off events. While San Diego Comic Con draws tens of thousands of fans and cosplayers every single year (in the years when it could be staged in person), it's still a limited-run event over a single weekend, not something that can be sustained every day of the week (or even every weekend) throughout the year. Also, Comic Con and other cosplay events span multiple IPs that no single theme park could afford. Additionally, they are designed as promotional events for the owners of the IPs represented, not as a way for the organizers to profit, so IPs are willing to allow fans to use their licensed material under the guise that doing so is providing free publicity for upcoming projects. These events draw Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, LOTR, DC, Dark Horse, Doctor Who, Star Trek, anime, gaming, and thousands of other IPs under a single umbrella to increase and broaden the event's appeal. Not a Star Wars fan, there's plenty for a Hellboy fan or Robotech fan to do. Some IPs probably could (and do) stand alone with enough interest and appeal to stage their own events, but again those are typically limited in terms of operational days (while moving around the country). Staging a permanent static location Comic Con-type event with cosplaying would be a legal nightmare in terms of IP rights, and then if you were even able to stage one with multiple IPs, you would be faced with trying to get fans to the location and participating in the attractions while getting them to pay for other aspects of the event to help cover the cost of the IPs. Star Trek was able to do it to a certain extent with Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton, and they were even able to gain a lot of fan participation to the point that cosplayers became "regulars" at Quark's as much as the paid cast (much how I expected Disney to create immersion inside Oga's Cantina but sadly Disney's silly costume rules prohibit any real cosplaying within Galaxy's Edge until the Halcyon opens). However, even with consistent investment by Paramount with a second attraction (Borg Encounter) to keep the GP (i.e. non-Trekers) coming, they still couldn't make ends meet.

The attempts to create RPGs in a theme park-type setting just don't have a great track record, and the evidence isn't there to support such an initiative being financially viable. Star Wars might be the lone exception under Disney's watchful eye, and even the grand experiment known as the Halcyon may fall flat on its face.

August 10, 2021, 5:19 PM

Wow Rusell!! Hat's off to You. You are a true Fan!!
Perhaps You are rigth in that this sort of events must be by their own Nature a límited and focalized affair, and for the business point of view the commitment of staff and resources are considerable. Even technology may not be up to the Challenge at this point. ( But we are getting there, ligthsabers!!!!!) Themeparkmad Made a crucial note: we want to make choices and have a impact on the narrative!! Just be spectators or follow a script migth be good for some, and i migth be waaaaay too ahead in this issue. But i sense a trend.

August 11, 2021, 3:14 AM

I may just sense a trend too.......

August 11, 2021, 7:50 AM

Well, if you notice some theme park attractions are starting to give guests choices that impact the overall experience. MFSR is the biggest example where the ride experience is completely impacted by the performance/choices of the guests in the cockpit. There's even a roller coaster in Belgium (Fury at Bobbejaanland) where guests vote whether the train launches forward or backwards - majority rule. Even an older attraction like TestTrack makes the experience unique with input from guests. While the physical ride experience is identical every time, guests can change the design of their cars and get completely different outcomes as they go through each of the performance tests.

Obviously when you're in a group, choices on a theme park attraction are going to be made collectively, so as an individual you're not in complete control. However, VR/AR attractions (like The Void) can tailor the experience to the individual choices of a single person. The drawback of something like that though is that it's very much like a home video game and ignores the communal aspect that is a foundational element of virtually every theme park.

August 11, 2021, 9:47 AM

Well said. And i did not know about that rollers coaster in belgium. Thats cool!!!
And lets remember that everybody told Disney that a park that keep guests for more than a few hours was something never Heard of an would be a trend that would die soon. He kept on track with his visión and changed the industry over time. Who knows?? But they are betting on Star wars starcuiser...Harry Potter won't be long...and then pokemon

August 12, 2021, 4:26 AM

Just want to say pokemon is getting it's own "nature" Themed Park!

Edited: August 13, 2021, 3:17 AM

Also, While marvel is a very big franchise, I don't think it would fit into an expereince as immersive a star wars star cruiser

September 22, 2021, 11:12 AM

They can be quite amusing. I mean why not right! At plasterers wollongong I think it would be cool if there are some RPG themed entertainment.

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