Facebook and those who use it (I’m one of them) remind me of the pseudo SimCity games Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon that my kids used to play. Both games were a great way for kids to play in a virtual world and learn business management lessons. The game’s player would design a virtual property, a theme park in Roller Coaster Tycoon or a zoo in Zoo Tycoon. The player would need to spend money to build rides or exhibits, in adddition to food vendors, restrooms, gift shops, and more. Employees would need to be hired and assigned to areas to work.
The games included consequences. If no employees were hired to clean animal litter in the zoo, the exhibits would stink and no patrons would visit. If there weren’t enough restrooms, the patrons would be unhappy, would quit spending money, and might leave the park. So it was up to the game’s player to get employees to clean the animal litter, build the bathrooms, keep enough food vendors, and more to keep the customers happy.
There was a flip side too. The game’s player had to observe cash flow. If the player spent all his or her money, then there was nothing in reserve for repairs or unexpected expenses. That could lead to bad outcomes as well. As a result, the player had to learn to play the game all successful business owners know very well: juggling meeting multiple customer needs with a limited budget. When the player did well, both the roller coaster and the zoo flourished.
That’s the neat, academic analysis of Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon. Bear in mind that these games get played by ornery kids. Sometimes they make mistakes just to see what will happen. In Zoo Tycoon, if you put predatory animals in the same animal exhibit as small animals, the predators will eat the small ones. Or for more fun, you can fill your zoo with exhibits of animals, get happy patrons, and then remove all the exhibit cages. Then the animals will run amok and patrons will run screaming for their lives. In Roller Coaster Tycoon, you can design a roller coaster that’s so thrill-filled that all its riders throw up during the ride.
And yes, there are children who do all of the above just to see what happens so they can laugh. I could be related to some kids who did this. It’s part of the game.
Translate that to Facebook World. The game has 800 million players and is still growing strong. We are the virtual zoo and roller coaster patrons. We do different things in Facebook World – share pictures, talk with friends, and express ourselves. Some of us play the arcade games like Farmville or Bejeweled. Others shop in the theme park/zoo shops, clicking on the ads on the sides to spend our money.
Some of us, business owners, set up shop in Facebook World, hoping to build our own businesses. The problem with that is it’s Zuckerberg World, where Mark Zuckerberg makes the rules because he is the Creator. He can change the rules or guidelines on a whim, just as my kids could in Zoo Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon. We don’t pay to be there – he pays the bills, he built the game, and he makes the rules. The business rules are called promotional guidelines.
So what’s a business owner to do? Our customers are all playing at Facebook World. We need the face time with them. If we resolve to never set foot in Facebook World, we lose opportunities. If we build our entire business in Facebook World, without other outlets, we place ourselves at the mercy of Zuckerberg. So what we do is create virtual storefronts in the virtual Facebook World – store fronts that offer a window back to our real business. We link blogs and links back to our website. We post great photos, promote special events, and build our communities.
The challenge then becomes maintaining a consistent flow of information on a business Facebook page – content that your customers like and respond to. That can take so much time it’s hard to run your real business. Some business owners then hire experts (not interns) to help them develop strategies so they can be smart and fun with their Facebook World adventures.
Zoo Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon provided hours of great fun for my kids. Facebook World offers me opportunities to have fun and get to know people better. But never ever forget that we aren’t the creators; we are the players in a virtual world who sometimes have to escape to the real world just like Tron.
And when we do, we may pause if someone asks us if we want the blue Facebook pill, or the red Twitter pill, or whatever new pill colors the Creators develop next.