Thinking About: Renaissance Faires
Keeping the illusion alive
Immersive events are everywhere these days. Whether it’s one of the bi-coastal PAX weekends, San Diego Comic-Con or one of many local Comic Cons, Dragoncon, or a renaissance faire, cultural events creating a world are happening all the time. Cosplayers and fans dress up at conventions, movie launches, and any time that going out in costume is appropriate in a way that I don’t remember growing up, which makes sense, because many of these events either didn't exist or took place on a much smaller scale.
When you arrive at King Richard’s Faire, a renaissance festival in Carver, Massachusetts, the atmosphere is designed to bring guests into another world. Almost.
There are period buildings set up, actors roaming the grounds, craftsmen and women selling swords and clothes, storytellers, artists, and more. Attendees arrive in costume, some for fun, some to join the atmosphere, and some obviously to be seen. This elite group can even be better dressed than the pros and sometimes, like at PAX, they are an even bigger draw than the pros. At PAX, this is the Ghostbusters, complete with proton packs, or a woman in an intricately built robot suit.
But the fun falls short at one important place: food tickets. KRF is unapologetic about their pricing structure: “Food and beverage tickets cost $1.00 each and are sold in $5.00 lots only.” If you’ve ever been to an amusement park or event with this sort of structure you know there is no redeeming value to it. Everyone is upset. And I’d like to say, needlessly.
Rather than having the concessions stands, all with themed names and offerings, take everyone out of the moment with a clumsy cash exchange that results in wasted tickets and disappointment, they could leave the real world at the door.
The place to charge for food, say one “meal” worth, is at the gate, where money has to be exchanged. At the entrance to the faire, as an additional to the ticket, either a higher overall price or a second higher tier, include a number of period styled coins. Each coin has a value within the economy inside the park and can be exchanged for food and drink purchases.
The coins could be designed with a number of faces and phrases, shapes and sizes, and serve as an extension of the theme of the event. Rather than pulling out greenbacks or a Visa to buy food tickets, you’d pull out a small sack of collectible quality, themed coins, that enhance the experience of being taken to another world.
No interest in buying the food? Fine, you walk away with a small set of collectible coins, which, you can be sure, will have followers trying to complete their sets over multiple visits or years. Still hungry? Well, you can buy more coins inside the park of course. Just like tickets can be purchased today.
But if you are interested in eating on-site, since you usually can’t leave (and there’s nothing around King Richard’s Faire specifically if you were able to re-enter) you trade a number of coins for the food items you’d like, built in to the price. If you want more, purchase more coins!
By treating the coins as valuable, sought after, commodities, people won’t be stuck with three “wasted” dollars in tickets from their day out but a small token of the renaissance. The coins that are spent could be reused every year, with different years gaining more collectibility as time passes. New coins would be minted for each year to change things up and keep the collection growing.
Coins could be traded among the attendees like Disney pins, but also have a value of their own. They would have purchasing power, collectibility, and keep the experience integrated. After all, people attend these events to escape. Why frustrate that when it would be so easy to make another part of the day magical?
When Disney began to offer a McDonald’s stand inside the park, that broke the illusion. Pulling out a credit card and fighting “the man” over inconvenient ticket exchanging in a medieval town? Annoying. King Richard’s Faire prices the tickets in packs of five to boost profits. That pain would still exist. But keeping a small commemorative coin, that could be traded, sold or reused in the future: less pain, more fun, and a tangible memory of the trip.