games,  money

Oh no… I’ve been sucked in by Coasterville!

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Help! I’ve been sucked into a facebook game Coasterville. Yikes…….

Actually, there are many reasons for me to find the game interesting. It fits with my obsessive breaking down of things into their constituent parts.  The value of a purchase on coasterville is a combination of different things:

– energy points
– coins
– thrill points
– resources
– goods

The basic energy points are given to players one every five minutes, even when the game is turned off. So the first time in the day you’ve logged in you’ll find yourself with a full 30 energy points. If you spend those quickly and then leave the computer for half an hour, when you come back you should have about six more. If you stretch your imagination to imagine the coasterville employee running an amusement park you can imagine this is assigning his time. You don’t have to sit there and assign it every five minutes, you can let it be stored.

 So time becomes the basic thing from which all other resources flow, but there’s a couple of other ways in which time is relevant too. There is time before different things become active again (before rides need to be restarted, goods need to be ordered, resources crafted). There’s time doing something as assigned by the energy-points and there’s time waiting for things. And of course there is the ever present acknowledgement that everything to do with Coasterville is a waste of time that could be spent elsewhere, but that’s a different issue.

I like the idea of having multiple currencies because I think that reflects our lives in some ways. Time can be spent earning money which can be used to reduce the time we spend doing something else and the calculations are not always obvious as everything has side effects and complications. One example that comes to my mind is a sentence I’ve heard a number of places that says “breastfeeding is only free if your time costs nothing.” The idea is used mainly in response to people saying that breastfeeding is free. Yes, it doesn’t cost money but it does require time which has value in itself and can be exchanged for money. Yet of course the decision to breastfeed or not is not going to be made simply by asking whether the cost of formula is less than one could earn during the time one otherwise spends nursing. There’s going to be a million other considerations. Coasterville’s simplified world and abundance of consequenceless decisions allows some downtime and yet still a framework for thinking about the more complicated decisions of life.

With energy points you can collect from stores (to get coins) or rides (to get thrill points). You can also gather up the generic goods that you’ve ordered. So in effect coins and thrill points amount to a sort of stored energy points.

When you order goods you can order 50 goods for 100 coins delivered in five minutes (real time), or larger packages such as 100 goods for 150 coins delivered in two hours (real time) all the way up to the largest 300 goods for 300 coins delivered in 22 hours.  You can speed up a delivery by using one energy point to cut the delivery time by half. You can do this repetitively but as half of a half of a half gets smaller and smaller it feels less and less rewarding. Thus I introduced my children to the term diminishing rewards. Coins are reasonably easy to come by so the price difference doesn’t matter as much as the amount of energy points used up. My eight year old likes the game so I made him sit with me and calculate out which is a better deal – ordering lots of the small deliveries or one of the large delivery but speeding it up. We talked about all the different factors involved – the value of the coins, the time before the delivery, the time spent playing the game (if one has to click a button every five minutes, rather than click one button five times and then leave the computer alone), etc.

Then there’s the “social” aspect of the game. In order to succeed at coasterville you need facebook friends who also play coasterville willing to be your neighbours. You can check the coasterville facebook page to find other people willing to become friends in order to do this. From each friend you can request and receive one resource every day – and your friends don’t have to have the resource you want, only click okay to give it to you and it appears in your inventory. Depending on the number of coasterville neighbours you have, the daily resource can feel quite inexpensive or quite expensive.

There’s another way to ask your friends for resources too. Clicking on certain buttons allows a little message to go on your facebook page. Facebook friends who click on the message can “give” you the resource you’re looking for and receive one at the same time. It’s this happy little world where everything is like the magic penny where the more you “give” the more you receive and everything appears out of nowhere. So of course yet another way to get resources is to scour your facebook friend’s walls for other requests.

There are other things too where the cost is a friend’s clicking “okay.” You can order more supplies at a time if your friend clicks “okay” to your request for help. You can build a bigger hotel if your friend clicks “okay.” None of it costs your friend anything but a click. So why have it? I suspect it is partly so that peer pressure will encourage people to play more and partly because so that there is a delay before a person can acquire what they want.

The game is meant to suck you in. Forget to play today? Don’t worry, your coasterville neighbour’s requests will remind you to! Also, the updated messages on your feed. What does it do though, to your own facebook feed? I’ve created a separate “list” for my friends-who-play-coasterville so that I can try to hide the messages (and thus my obsession with the game) from other people, yet a part of my mind is still self-conscious of the game and of the possibility that allowing messages from it to be posted on my facebook page might somehow affect how facebook positions my status updates on my friends feeds.

Other resources are obtained by searching the stores or boosting the rides (all at the expense of energy points). Some of the resources are easy to come by and others aren’t. Some are needed frequently and others aren’t.

On the left of the board are cartoon pictures of the amusement park’s advisory team. These characters give you “quests” with three or so tasks such as finding six of a particular resource, building a particular attraction and boosting a different attraction. At the end of every quest is a reward. The term quest annoys me, because I still think of quests as something that heroes do. The term itself seems degraded when applied to little tasks. From what I gather some of the quests, particularily those related to opening up themes like princess fantasy, jungle adventure, etc, are scheduled and revealed according to how big a person’s amusement park is and other quests are given to everyone at once relating to some new attraction available for new and old players alike. Although seeing which quests my friends complete is supposed to be encouraging, I find it discouraging. It reminds me that we are all doing the same things and that there is really no individuality in the game, nor any sense of being finished. It is a treadmill.

The game throws at a person a million little calculations – should I boost the ride for more thrill points or search the stores for more coins? I can boost my popularity points (necessary for unlocking new rides and businesses) by buying decorations, but the decorations take up space which is limited too. So do I have more money or more space to spend? My sons and I end up talking about relative scarcity and opportunity costs. All these questions none of which matter in the slightest because worst comes to worst you have to wait an extra day or two to get what you wanted to get.

The goal of the game from its maker’s point of view would be to make it just frustrating enough that a person won’t want to wait the required time or take the required steps. Besides the coins one can acquire free and easily by clicking on buildings frequently enough the game has a second set of currency, the Park Cash. This you get from either purchasing directly, from purchasing from their sponsors or filling out surveys.

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