The following is a blog post I originally wrote on March 14th, 2006 while working at an MMORPG development company. I thought you might enjoy my experience "cheesing the system" at Chuck E. Cheese’s. (Please excuse the amateur writing/formatting/typos. I'd like to think my writing has improved over the years.)
How was I able to tie Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre into MMO theory?
Read on to find out.
So, my wife and I went to Chuck e. Cheese’s (did it always have the “’s” on the end?) with our nephews and their parents and we got a nice handful of tokens to play on the various games. At first I was really cautious with my tokens. I wanted to savor every token and maximize the usefulness, fun, and longevity of each token. I played a jet ski game and safari animal roping game. Almost every machine there handed out tickets which could be spent on prizes. At first I thought the tickets were silly. People will never get anything good because the tickets are difficult to get. Then I found “Thunderation”. “Thunderation” (I think that was the name) was a sort of pachinko machine with a large vertical spinning disk with pins. You drop the token in the top and try to time it right to get the token to drop through a slot labeled “14″. 14 seems to be the most tickets you can get from the machine although there was a “Bonus” slot where if you got it 3 times something would happen but i didn’t take the time to figure that much out. Well I started playing the game and 14 tickets came out. “Wow” I thought. I can time this. Well I spent token after token trying to time them perfectly. I must have blown through 15 tokens. Then I figured out there was a stop button that allowed you to stop the wheel at a certain place. When I dropped the token at just the right time and hit the stop button I could consistently get 14 tickets on each token. I the realized it didn’t matter which slot it went through as long as the 14 slot was at the exact bottom. So from then I was hooked. I dropped every token I had and got 14 tickets for each one. Once I was out of tokens I pulled the long line of tickets (which was still connected to the machine) up over my head and walked back to see how long it was. It must have been 10 feet long! I ripped them off and threw them around my neck like the winner of an Olympic gold medal. I had so many tickets I felt like a rapper with all my phat bling bling on! Kids eyes grew wide as I walked by them with all those tickets. (I’m sure there is some connection here between 1337 players and noobs but I’m too tired from eating too much pizza to make it).
So I had learned how to “cheese the system” I had learned how to “min/max” Chuck E. Cheese’s. What did I do next? Go put those tickets into the “Ticket Muncher” and get my receipt. I had gotten over 250 tickets although it sure felt like I had around 300. So I went to the prize booth to score my phat loot. Of course I *had* to get a bunch of small prizes that we could shoot and throw at each other in the office such as nerf/basketball/dart thingies and suction cup ninja stars with Chuck E.’s face on them. The ninja stars will go nicely with my growing collection of suction cup nerf guns.
So what to do after you cheesed the system and got your phat loot? Teach my nephews how to cheese the system of course! Once my nephews had seen my phat bling of tickets around my neck they wanted me to show them how to do it (my wife also wanted to learn). Well the older nephew caught right on and was scoring phat tickets. I helped the little one cheese the system as well. He was excited but didn’t realize the tickets had run out with 44 more needing to be spit out. I told him to stay there with his brother and got someone to get the tickets to start flowing again. The funny thing is that this was the same machine I had cheesed earlier and the same thing had happened to me. I had used up the ticket spool with 47 tickets left to go. Needless to say we got it the guy to hook up the new roll of tickets and my little nephew had a grip of tickets pouring out of the machine. I loved the way the folded each ticket into a nice compact pile in their hands.
So what am I getting at by this story? Well I guess you could say I saw Chuck. E. Cheese’s sort of like an MMO where all the different machines and games were all the different things you can do to score phat loot or money or XP or whatever your goal (and isn’t that an interesting thing, in MMOs what people are striving for is often different for each player). While I was sitting there cheesing the system was I really having fun? Well I’m not sure I suppose I was having fun because I thought I had figured out how to cheese the system to maximize my ticket to token ratio. Of course how fun is doing the same thing over and over again? Grinding anyone? How fun was monopolizing one machine and not experiencing all the other variety of machines and game they had there? Well I wouldn’t know because the prospect of trying new machines and games was not as strong as sitting there and mining that one machine. I suppose we as game designers would like to have gamers try all sorts of content out but at least for me in many MMOs it has been my style to find the shortest route to get what I want whether that is XP or loot or whatever. Does that make me a min/maxer? And if so, is that a bad thing?
Maybe next time I go I’ll try something new. Of course for every token I use trying something new that is 14 less tickets I’ll end up with in the end. Am I willing to accept that? Or will I just cheese the system again? I know that the things I got for the initial money spent on tokens isn’t comparable. You *never* get you money’s worth (unless you count the fun of playing the games as part of the reward). Even so, by cheesing the system I felt like I was at least getting the most return for the money perhaps at the expense of the true spirit of Chuck E. Cheese’s which is for kids to have fun and chase that almighty ticket. Of course even a child knows that having more tickets is better than having less.
PS, While i was watching the disk spin round and round a few hundred times I got a chance to admire the outfit Chuck E. was wearing. Initialy it looked like he was wearing some sort of Jedi outfit but once I looked closer I realized he was in some sort of Greek god scene wearing a toga. Interesting to say the least.
Working in MMORPG development was a lot of fun and a total learning experience. If nothing else it gave me my love of MMORPGs which I hold onto to this day.