Thursday, July 31, 2014

You've got to love it to hate it

People, generally speaking, are not that unique. I could sit here and tell you that as a kid I had trouble sleeping the night before Disneyland trips. Millions of other adults can claim the same.

Disney products, be it movies or theme parks, are designed to appeal to the broadest amount of people possible. Disney, more than any other corporation, has tapped into the secret recipe for what appeals to the average person. So to simply enjoy what Disney does, for a trip to Disneyland to make you happy, doesn't exactly leave you in a very exclusive club.

But most people don't really think about their Disneyland trip much once they get home. It might make for a quick "omg going to disneyland omg!!!" post on Facebook or "omg I looooove Disneyland" when someone in the office mentions it, but it often does not go beyond that. The people that do go beyond that are part of Disneyland fandom, the obsessives. When a normal person who likes Disneyland talks to an obsessive who loves Disneyland, all communication instantly breaks down and the pair cannot communicate about a seemingly similar interest.

There are different breeds of Disneyland obsessives. There are some who use Disneyland fandom as a kind of replacement for real social interaction. There are those who identify with their hobby and any slight against their hobby is a slight against them. There are those who are afflicted with OCD or autism, and have a fascination with collecting pins or plush dolls or some other product that exploits such mental tendencies. Then there are those who look at Disney theme parks as a work of art that must be broken down, criticized, and in some cases built back up again.

I used to be one of those people. I called them Disneyland purists back in the day.

I was never much for leveraging the Internet for social interaction. That's what real life is for. I never much looked at the Internet as real life. The rules were different. The customs were different. However, as more normal people got on the Internet over the years, the line between Internet and real life blurred, and Internet activity began to have real life consequences for people. Look at the latest person to be fired for something they said on Twitter.

I never really collected anything Disney-related. I had a few books on Imagineering or Disney theme park design. I still take a look at them while sitting on the toilet from time to time. John Hench's Designing Disney, for example, helps to fuel my revisionist history of what Disneyland should have been all these years.

I never really loved Disney movies. I appreciated them for what they are. I liked the good ones and ignored the bad ones, but Disney products in general never drove my passion like Disneyland itself did. It was always about the park first, and everything else Disney was ancillary to the park. In some ways I even disagreed with the park's founder in the ways synergy was exploited to promote everything Disney at Disneyland.

I guess all of these factors combine to make me the fan I was. I valued original attractions because I felt less than the average fan for, say, Mickey Mouse or Ariel. I didn't go to Disneyland to see them. I said what I had to say without regards to social status or the feelings of others because I wasn't using fandom to create a social network. I wasn't using fandom as a way to replace social interaction I did not get in real life (Sunday meets in the hub, for example). For many fandom participants, to lose their online social status would destroy them, and that's rather sad.

I think my ultimate goal, besides causing trouble, wasn't to figure out what I loved about Disneyland, but why I loved it. For some, loving Disney theme parks is the answer. As long as you stay positive, the fandom never goes away. The why of it all doesn't really matter. But once you break down why you love a particular hobby, you are doomed to eventually leave it. All things must change, and your favorite TV series, web site, restaurant and, yes, theme park, will eventually change.

There was a time where I visited Disneyland quite a bit, and it bordered on unhealthy. Luckily I took inventory of what I was doing with my life and corrected the problem in order to focus on more productive activities.

I wonder what proportion of Disneyland obsessives will go through this at some point in their lives. 10%? 30%? Over half? I couldn't begin to guess. Would such a self-reflective topic even be allowed on the prevailing Disneyland message boards, where negativity is akin to treason?

Luckily the possibilities in life are endless, and there is indeed life after Disneyland. For someone who was considered so cynical, talk about positive thinking.

I noticed a few old timers still harping on what Disney does wrong, how they don't respect the parks, or whatever. Keep the memories you have, but move on. And start lifting, bro.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Economics of Annual Passports

A common theme on Disneyland message boards is that annual passholders are causing strange things to happen at the parks. True, they behave differently than day trippers and vacationers, and this can have adverse effects on the resort.

Passholders are more likely to drive alone to the park, overloading parking lots (which Disney did not adequately plan for). The parks are not necessarily more crowded, but the crowds are distributed differently. Today, Friday nights feel more crowded than Saturdays. Premieres and openings see massive crowds, sending Team Disney Anaheim running for ze hills. The day before summer blockout days begin are especially uncomfortable. Some long-time fans have pretty much thrown out all conventional wisdom about which days are best to visit.

I've noticed that annual passholders don't hit rides like other guests do, sometimes preferring to hang out, clogging walkways, tables and other areas. I remember Friday nights in 2007 in which the park was packed. It was difficult to move in most lands, yet Indiana Jones would have a 15 minute wait. Space Mountain would post a 30 minute wait. Very strange behavior, indeed.

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with an annual passholder program. I had one for a couple of years and you probably the same. Season passes are standard features at amusement parks across the country. While most people are content to visit once or twice a year, a theme park operator also has a subset of their customer base that enjoys visiting more often than the average person. They pay a lump sum for nearly unfettered access so that the marginal cost of subsequent visits is relatively low. This is all fine and well, of course, but can there be too much of a good thing?

Consider the ways in which an inexpensive annual passholder program can create perverse incentives to visit the park. Once you get past that initial lump sum cost, the marginal cost of visiting the park is relatively low. The price of your admission (and parking if you added it on) is a sunk cost, one that you don't consider anymore. The marginal cost of visiting the park now consists of transportation costs and time. This has a tendency to cause annual passholders to overuse the park because they don't consider the full cost of their visit anymore. 

Driving works in a similar way. For the typical car owner, it costs about 50 cents per mile to operate their vehicle. Most of this cost consists of the initial capital outlay for the vehicle and depreciation. The capital outlay is a sunk cost and depreciation isn't on the average driver's radar. 

When the car owner does decide to drive, they primarily consider the cost of fuel, which is significantly cheaper than 50 cents per mile, leading to overuse. Even the cost of fuel is in the background as you don't have to insert quarters into your dashboard to begin driving. This in turn leads to overburdened roads and highways, more air pollution and more accidents.

The concept is the same, an initial lump sum cost, followed by a relatively low marginal cost to actually use the product or service, causes overuse in some cases. This is all very much simplified, of course, but t
he key is finding an appropriate price point so that TDA doesn't find itself dealing with so many power users that the resort's infrastructure is overtaxed. Society is also interested in maximizing utility. Who gains a greater benefit from a visit to Disneyland, a child on his or her first visit or an annual passholder's hundredth visit this year?

While we'll probably never see the A-B-C-D-E ticket books return, Disney may want to set that initial lump sum cost a little higher in order to limit the amount of super users.
Or perhaps they could build transportation systems, parking lots, attractions and shows that could actually handle all these people.

In any case, for as long as Disney continues to offer cheap passes, let the good times roll. Just don't complain that it takes a half an hour to board a tram.