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Roller Coaster Tycoon is, without question, my all time #01, top of the pile, absolute favourite PC game. If it weren’t for Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, it’d be my number #01 game, bar none.

Roller Coaster Tycoon (RCT) – if you couldn’t guess – involves building rollercoasters. Ah, but rollercoasters are really just the icing on a rich, multi-layered cake of a game. The game’s core challenge is actually to craft logically-designed, enjoyment-optimised theme parks. To succeed, your park must entertainment, convenience, security, value and pleasure. Ultimately (and this is where the ‘tycoon’ bit comes in) your goal is to achieve profitability and business value.

Sound familiar? Yes indeed, Roller Coaster Tycoon (RCT) is a brilliantly-realised sandbox of real-world business strategy. It’s so much more than a game – for me, it gave a genuine bedrock understanding of how sound businesses are built. Real-world elements RCT emulates include:

  • Profit / Loss statements, balance sheets and breakdown reports
  • Long-term strategic planning and investment in major rides
  • Staff management of responsibilities
  • Crises management, including broken and even deadly rides
  • Economics of consumer behaviour, based not only on price but also a huge range of personal and environmental factors

The game’s recently come back into my life for two reasons:

  1. I discovered it available on iPad, a brilliantly ported version. It really is so much more robust, deep and well-executed than many of the contemporary free-to-play tablet games I’ve tried, none of which I’ve stuck with for more than an hour.
  2. With a newborn baby, it’s become a fantastic way to while away the early hours.

Baby in one hand, Roller Coaster Tycoon iPad in the other

But this rediscovery, now with a bit of business experience under my belt, has really hit home how important RCT was informing some early lessons in effective business management. Some that spring to mind…

  • Design thinking is inseparable from business strategy. 
  • Financial data isn’t some abstract entity to be studied in silos – all financial figures in RCT are live, and it’s this that enables highly-informed decision making.
  • Every individual customer matters.
  • Price elasticity, the measure of whether demand changes with ticket prices, is all a matter of trial and error. It’s important to determine the top and bottom limits, and there’s only one way to do that.
  • Control and coolheadedness is key. The clock is always ticking. Panic doesn’t help. Only calm, rational activity wins the day.
  • Serious investments, while risky, reap rewards. There’s no point pussy-footing around: borrow big; build big; earn big.
  • Cheating is – sometimes – justified. Obviously, in this regard, computer games’ limitations exceed those of the real world, but there’s always some kind of a shortcut. If it’s available and not hurting people – go for it.
  • Running a business can be fun. Very fun. Fun enough to be a computer game. That fun.
  • Advertising is colossally effective, but, alas, it has a clear accumulator effect, and adds a warm glow to proceedings.
  • Sometimes, all you need is patience to make yourself money and success. Fiddling can be costly.
  • Rollercoasters are amazing. Not directly relevant to most businesses, but nonetheless very true.

Who needs an MBA when you can learn all that from RCT? 🙂

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