Recently I went to a Project Management conference and sat in on a great session about how Disney creates their customer experience for their customers. While taking notes for things I need to bring back to my office, I realized that creating an enjoyable experience is one of the responsibilities (though not the sole job, nor sole responsibility) of the Game Master. At that moment, the seminar became doubly valuable, as I knew that I would also be taking what I learned to the gaming table.
Selling The Experience
Mike Mearls was absolutely correct that it is the responsibility of every person at the table to make an enjoyable experience for everyone else. But A GM often has a larger responsibility of work, and a larger scope of effect in a game or campaign, and so there is a larger proportion of things we can do to create a memorable experience in the game.
What enjoyment we get at the table is dwarfed by the experiences we remember about the games we play. A great combat in the middle of the game can be completely forgotten if in the next scene the GM railroads the party. Conversely, we remember a dramatic scene between two characters, on a night when nothing we rolled was above a 5.
Our perceived experience about a game also influences our ability to connect and commit to future sessions. For games where we have not had a good experience, we do not look forward to playing them, investing into our characters, or investing into the plot. For the games for which we have continual positive experiences, we invest our time and emotions into the characters, plot, and world. Also, for games where we have had good experiences we are more tolerant of problems that arise, because the game has the credit to draw upon, where in games we have had bad experiences we tend to become more critical of the little issues.
It would then stand to reason that as GM’s, in addition to the other things we do, we should take actions to create the best experiences possible. What are those actions? How do they contribute to the overall experience? For those answers we need to look at how the experts do it, and for that we need to look a the…
Disney Experience Cycle
I could write a series of articles on the genius of Disney service management. We don’t have that time, so I want to focus on something called the Disney Experience Cycle. It is the customer service steps that lead up to your visit to the Magic Kingdom as well as your eventual return. The cycle is broken into the following steps:
- Anticipation – Communicating the expectations of the upcoming event. For Disney this is the arrival of your wrist bands, or the information they send you before you trip.
- Arrival – Your experience when you first interact with the event. In Disney, this is your check-in at the hotel or your arrival at the park. As they say, first impressions count.
- Experience – The actual experience that you have with the event. This includes the positive things, as well as how negative things are handled. In Disney, this is about lines, the cleanliness of the park, how problems are handled, etc.
- Departure – The experience of how the event ends. For Disney, this can be the day you check out of the hotel, or finding your car in the parking lot of the park. A good experience can be ruined at the last minute.
- Savoring – Creating excitement for a future experience. This is how Disney stays in touch after your visit, the offers, the mailing lists,etc.
The goal at Disney is to build anticipation for your trip, make sure that every moment of your trip is enjoyable, and then work to get you to come back again. Their goal is for your visit not to be a one-time occurrence, but rather a repeatable event in your life.
In your Game/Campaign
Your goal as a GM is the same as Disney; your game should not be a one-time occurrence but rather an on-going event. For convention games your goal is to have people sign up for future games run by you, year after year. Let’s look at the Customer Experience Cycle and apply it to gaming.
This is creating excitement for the upcoming session of your game. What are you doing before your game to get your players excited about the upcoming session? You can send emails teasing what is about to happen. You can send a summary of the previous session. You can engage in a discussion with your players about what they are doing between sessions.
This is about what happens when the players first arrive at the game, or when you first arrive at the location where you will play. What can you do to make this pleasant and comforting? You can greet your guests rather than a “yo” while finishing your Xbox game. You can have the table ready with things laid out. You can have your GMing things ready, so that you are not putting the table together at the start of the game. You can have theme related music playing in the room to help get everyone in the mood.
This is the experience of the actual session. What can you do to make the session as enjoyable for players as possible. I feel like this is the one that we focus on the most, so I will keep the suggestions simple: be prepared, have a good plot to run, be fair, share/spread the spotlight, make the table collaborative, enforce safety for everyone, address problems with candor and fairness.
This is the experience after the session ends and as people are leaving. What can you do to make sure everyone leaves happy? Make sure that everything is cleaned up (especially if you are not playing at your house). Complement each player on something they did that was memorable in the session. Thank everyone for playing in the game.
These are the actions you take between sessions to make theme excited for the next game. What do you do between games to build on that experience? You can have NPC discussions. You can facilitate PC-PC discussions. You can send an email about your prep for the next session. You can send teaser messages out about things you are looking up for the next session
Put Your Magic To The Test
As a GM we have a certain responsibility to make sure that the players in the game have a good experience. Good experiences help to contribute to long running games. The good experience of a game starts before game day and ends after everyone leaves the table. Its a continuous cycle where we try to create positive ongoing experience.
What things do you do to create that experience at your table? Specifically, what things are you doing in the areas of Anticipation, Arrival, Departure, and Savoring? Share some of your best techniques.