Imagine if you were given the opportunity to build your very own Disney theme park. You'd get to be in charge of everything! The rides! The shows! The gift shops! The legions of custodians necessary to clean up some kid's "whoopsie" after he rides Space Mountain on a stomach full of turkey legs!
Wait, that's wrong. Nobody throws up at a Disney park. Ever.
And there surely won't be anything except great memories and good fun when Disney and Gameloft release Disney Magic Kingdoms for iOS and Android. The mobile park-builder was announced last year at Disney's D23 event (where it shows off its video game projects), but a new trailer rolled out yesterday shows off some of the things you can do and build.
Going by the video, it looks like you can build iconic rides like the Mickey Mouse Ferris wheel, and you can also plop down world-famous sights like the statue of Mickey and Walt holding hands and waving you into the Park. Beloved Disney (and Pixar) characters show up too, like Mike from Monsters Inc, Woody from Toy Story, and a pretty sweet model of Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent in her dragon form. We should see the game soon, though no specific release date is available yet.
From this angle, it seems Disney Magic Kingdoms plays like most mobile park-building games. You set down rides and attractions, then collect money from them as time passes. That money goes back into new rides and attractions. It's the Circle of Fake Amusement Park Economics, Simba.
Disney Magic Kingdoms is going to be a hit with kids for obvious reasons, which makes me wonder how Disney and Gameloft intend to monetize the game. City-builders of this ilk are invariably free-to-play and include in-app purchases. The question is, how fair will said in-app purchases be? Will Disney and Gameloft throw a bone to youngsters who don't have the money for whatever hard currency is pitched in-game? Or will they be begging mom and dad for their credit card number every ten minutes?
For instance, there might be an in-game "timer" or "stamina meter" that depletes every time the player performs an action, like putting down a ride or attraction. The meters are refilled over time, though they can also be refilled instantly via the magic of purchasable hard currency ("gems," "diamonds," etc). Stamina meters are actually fading away from free-to-play games (thankfully), so it's wholly possible you'll be able to play Disney Magic Kingdoms for as long as you like.
But Disney and Gameloft can still potentially make a lot of money by locking up the game's best characters and attractions behind a paywall. Just going by my experience with free-to-play city-builders, the Mickey and Walt statue in the trailer is exactly the kind of "must have" content that's inaccessible until you cough up hard currency. The game may reward you with a gem or two as you play, but that means scrounging for hours before you can afford that statue. Of course, you can just cave in and drop some cash.
It's certainly not unheard of for a free-to-play game to be even-handed with its content distribution. There's a reason why The Simpsons: Tapped Out has remained at the top of the charts for so many years. You really can build your very own Springfield with the cash you earn in-game, aside from a few epic set pieces (e.g. Hank Scorpio's lair).
Hopefully, Disney Magic Kingdoms is similarly fair and unselfish with its rides, shows, and characters. Otherwise, we may wind up seeing a news story about some child who "unknowingly" spent $3000 in real-world money to buy 400 golden idols of Mickey and Walt.