Tuesday, 10 September 2013

General Public Opinion Survey Discussion

I wanted to discuss some of the findings from the General Public Opinion Survey that I posted the results of back in March…

Admittedly, I really did not spend long coming up with the questions, finding the best platform to host the survey or finding suitable candidates to answer it. But the results are still interesting. I recommend having the results open as a separate window or tab to reference whilst you read this post!

There’s this rhetoric that gets flung around fan communities when speculating new rides, aiming to find a gap in the experiences delivered by their current selection. This logic rarely bares resemblance to reality. Canada’s Wonderland best illustrates this, recently adding Leviathan – a taller version of Behemoth, ride they had only put in a few years prior. So I wanted to find out if ride types matter to average guests. Do the seemingly obvious comparisons between certain attractions occur to them?

The 230ft Behemoth (top) and the 306th Leviathan (bottom) at Canada's Wonderland are both the same type of roller coaster, built by the same manufacturer only 4 years apart.

The problem I had with all of the things I wished to find out was asking without loading the question, so I rather openly asked “What different types of roller coaster can you think of?”  

What I found was that without prompts or examples, people found it really difficult to answer and many refused to even try as a result. Some commented “none”, “what?” or “are there more than one kind?”

Of those who tried, most were able to make the distinction of between construction materials – wood and steel. A surprising number of people were able to list a few ride types as I would understand the term, noting things like; inverted (aka “dangling legs”), flying, standing, runaway train, etc. Some people used their imagination to describe the kinds of things coasters might do or describe rides they had been on, which is kind of what I was expecting or possibly even looking for, but these responses were no where near as common as I expected.  Some people listed coasters they’d ridden by name. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that some people didn’t really understand what a roller coaster is. A couple described or mentioned drop tower rides and one person asked if Pirates of the Caribbean was a roller coaster.

The answers left me no closer to understanding if individuals realise or care about the variety of attractions on offer. What seems fairly obvious is that various coaster types are developed and then bought primarily for their marketability. The majority of parks operate on an entrance fee basis, so the important thing is getting people to visit your park and buy your food and merchandise. Whilst it’s true the experience you offer isn’t enjoyable by at least a decent portion of your guests they won’t return, getting them to visit in the first place is slightly more important to the majority of parks. Without a gimmick of some kind to shout about, that’s difficult. Once in the park, however, I’m pretty certain that most guests could not care less about the variety on offer and will just aim to ride as much on as possible. Finding ways to make guests more observant and care about specific rides is probably a worthwhile investment, as I’d guess it boosts brand awareness, merchandise sales and general excitement for the industry, increasing entertainment value and encouraging revisits, both to your own park, sister parks and the wider industry as a whole. And perhaps this is reflected in the individuals who mentioned specific coasters by name. For example, the success Six Flags have had in selling the B&M flying coaster concept as “Superman”.

It’s pretty obvious that the public opinion of which rides are the best differs vastly from that of fans, but what is it specifically that people like about certain rides? I’m almost certain that individuals themselves aren’t even sure, because I believe so much of the experience is subjective and laid out prior to riding that any actual physical ride qualities are massively distorted by expectation. But regardless, I thought it was at least worth asking what people thought, because logically that would show what would appeal to them in marketing. So I asked, “What do you think would make a roller coaster good?”

Answers were closer to what I expected this time, with many people insisting on speed, height and intensity, qualities we already know do well. A surprising amount of people mentioned “smoothness”, which is weird, because I’m pretty certain the majority of people are oblivious to roughness. For some weird reason, it’s always the awfully rough rides that people seem to love best (Saw and Colossus at Thorpe being more popular than Swarm and Nemesis Inferno, for example). Jerky-fun-rough-on-purpose rides get complaints (Chessington’s Rattlesnake, for example) but true head bangers (like Vampire) do not. There’s clearly way more to it than this, it may be true that more intense or fun rides are typically also rougher, for example, and the other good qualities make up for it. Another surprise were the mentions of safety. I know from having worked at a park how wary some of the public are, but to see it voiced in a question aimed at creative ideas still seemed weird.

I wanted to show some pictures of specific roller coasters and see how people responded without giving them any information. The first of which was an official photograph of Thorpe Park’s Colossus. This image doesn’t portray the ride as guests experience it in the park, but is used heavily in advertisements and powerfully portrays the ride concept. I expected that more people would recognise this image than they would from any in person style photograph, and I chose Colossus because I knew a large portion of my audience will have been on the ride.

Photo by Thorpe Park

10 people identified the ride in some way, though several people called it “Corkscrew” and 1 person said it was at Alton Towers, but it was clear they recognised it. And I can see why they logically got to the name “Corkscrew” anyway. Several of the respondents who I know have been on the ride surprisingly failed to identify it. Feedback was predominantly positive, because even the negative feedback was about it being terrifying or nauseous, which I’d say are “positives” for this ride style and it’s target audience. There were a couple of comments about roughness, but NO one suggested it looked boring. Overall, this photo of Colossus gained the most positive feedback of the 3 photo questions.

The next photo was of El Toro. I wanted to show a wooden coaster, but it had to be something that would stand out. I figured some people might recognise Toro because it looks a little different to conventional wooden coasters, and it’s tremendous height and steep drop would be talking points. I hoped to dispel Merlin’s findings regarding wooden roller coasters, expecting they had loaded their questions with “do you think this looks fun/safe/old?” but, I was wrong…

2 people identified it as El Toro, though another person commented it looks similar to Kingda Ka, so I will assume they are getting names muddled and are indeed thinking of Toro. A couple of people asked “is this at Busch Gardens?” That suggests to me that the overall look of a ride is the most powerful factor in remembering it, and a memorable name probably helps, because clearly “Gwazi” is not memorable. Colour is probably the most powerful visual queue. It makes me wonder if whether being shown coasters similar visually to ones they’ve already ridden, but that were clearly not the same, people would make the connection but also note the differences. I’ve also seen random members of the public relate Toro to Busch’s Gwazi on Thorpe’s Facebook page, which they fail to note by name of there too. Thorpe Park practically carried out the exact same experiment, shown below. The only difference there was the number of enthusiasts commenting.

There were a significant number of individuals who commented negatively of El Toro, almost half of the comments in fact could be considered negative. Several people expressed specifically that it looked boring or unsafe and that they would not ride it. Whilst I am skeptical about the reality of that, it doesn’t really matter, because the issue is marketability. Surprisingly few people actually commented on the height or steepness of the drops. 

It's worth noting that some people did say that it looked classic, vintage or nostalgic. I don't know if those are positive or negatives - they could be interpreted as almost condescending towards it, implying it looks tame. Or, they could be positively expressing interest in that. I've always thought a wooden coaster that tapped into some aspect of their classic connotations would be a powerful theme in the UK, especially if it turned that on it's head and the ride was jaw-droppingly intense or had some modern element, such as inversions.

I used a photo of SkyRush last, intrigued if whether it’s bright colour scheme would effect people’s judgment of it, as I theorised in my review of it. Whilst it is entirely possible that my choice of specific photo added to that (it was smaller than the other photos and made the ride look smaller), the results were by far the most confusingly unexpected and all over the place. Yet, what they show is that I was at least partially right about SkyRush – it doesn’t visually communicate the ride experience very well at all. SkyRush is one of the most intense rides in the world, and yet the comments paint a picture of a calm, nice ride that is perhaps a little boring. A couple of people noted that it would have to be really fast to be exciting (don’t worry guys, it is) whilst others said it looks fast and exciting. One comment really confused me…

I cannot remember where I got this from, if it is your photo please get in touch. 

“this kind of looks like Nitro at Six Flags but i can't tell just from the pic. Anyway this is my favourite type, fast, high up, good loops and over shoulder harness. perfect combination.”

It does kinda look like Nitro, I’ll agree. Both are yellow and blue and are mega coasters – 200ft+ rides that focus around hills. The weird thing is, Nitro nor Skyrush have loops or over the shoulder restraints...

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