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Managing Your Finances in RCT

Author/Contributors: Dave "RCT Help"


I don't know about you, but I like to try and win the scenarios in Rollercoaster Tycoon and if, (like me) you don't use trainers or saved game modifiers to cheat that means that you have 3 main challenges:

  1. to build coasters that are exciting enough for people to want to pay a lot to ride them
  2. to manage the park so that guests like being there and will spend all their money before they leave, hopefully still happy
  3. to make sure that you always have enough money to meet the scenario objectives.

This article concentrates on the last item in the above list. There are other articles in the Knowledge Base that cover the first two items.

Managing your finances is an essential part of each scenario objective. For example:

  • Where you need a minimum number of guests you need cash to build new rides, or cash to offer marketing incentives such as reduced price food/drink/rides so that new guests will want to come and visit and the existing guests will want to stay.
  • Park value is directly linked to the amount you spend on rides and scenery. Stop spending cash or have no cash to spend and watch your park value decline.
  • Park rating is affected by many factors, but plummets when guests think that the park is untidy, or a ride crashes. Maintaining cleanliness and safety is the job of handymen and mechanics. You need cash to pay their wages.
  • For scenarios where you have to build a certain number of exciting coasters or complete some unfinished ones, obviously you're never going to finish those without the cash for construction.

Fortunately, the financial model in Rollercoaster Tycoon is pretty simple. Much simpler than some of the game's contemporaries such as Railroad Tycoon (I or II) or Chris Sawyer's previous game, Transport Tycoon. Thankfully, it is also much easier to manage money than in Theme Park, a game that was perhaps the greatest influence on Rollercoaster Tycoon. In Rollercoaster Tycoon there are no worries with fluctuating economies and interest rates, increased running costs as rides get older, rising wage and food prices, or buying and/or selling your own and your competitors' stocks and shares.

It is arguable whether Rollercoaster Tycoon is an appropriate name for this game! Because the financial model is simple you are closer to a 'Park Manager' than a 'Tycoon' but the simplicity means that with just a little care you can get on with the fun parts of the game like building coasters and theming your park.

In the rest of this article I'll detail some important strategies for looking after your park's finances,describe some micro-management tactics to maximise income from individual attractions, and explain what the options are if you become insolvent.

Except where I specifically specify otherwise, I assume that you will not be charging for park entrance. After I bought Loopy Landscapes which does not allow you to charge park admission, I stopped charging in any of the other RCT and AA/CF scenarios that do permit entrance fees. There is a separate Knowledge Base article on park admission pricing that should be read in conjunction with this one if you intend to charge for park entrance.

Finance Strategies

Spend all your cash!

What? Isn't this article all about avoiding going broke? Yes it is, but most of the cash that is spent in Rollercoaster Tycoon is not wasted, it is an investment to attempt to make more money. Unlike the park guests who are consumers and are happy to spend all their cash and have nothing (apart from the occasional map, umbrella, photo, cuddly toy or t-shirt) to show for it when they leave the park, you (the park owners) expect to get something back when you spend. Your hope is that rides, shops and stalls that will in turn collect money from the guests. Furthermore, unlike real-life where money in the bank would earn a little interest, in Rollercoaster Tycoon no interest is earned at all. So cash in hand is 'dead' money. Spend it while you've got it.

Note that cash in the bank does not count towards the park value either. Company Value = Cash + Park Value - Loan. Park Value rises when the Cash is spent on rides, shops, stalls and scenery. So piling cash when trying to win a Park Value scenario is the worst possible thing that you can do.

Maximize your loan!

Now I'm telling you to borrow as much money as possible? Why? Because you can make much more money by building rides, shops and stalls and charging for them, than you will be charged on the interest rate on borrowings. In Rollercoaster Tycoon, the interest rate on borrowings is one sixth of a percentage point per month or 1.60 per month per 1,000 borrowed. This is tiny compared with the amount that can be earned by investing the money on profit-making rides, shops and stalls.

Prioritize your spending

From the beginning of most (if not all) scenarios the most important things in your park for making you profit are your rides, particularly coasters. Typically (nearly always) the next highest money-making opportunities are food and drink stalls, then information kiosks, then souvenir stalls. Try to avoid building too many of the shops and stalls. The guests won't buy extra food and drink just because there are extra stalls and every stall has a running cost.

Spending money on scenery and theming should be your last priority. It is best spent on theming around rides to make them more exciting so that you can charge more for the ride.

However, spending on scenery should not be completely avoided. Scenery has a positive affect on park rating. Higher park ratings mean that more guests are likely to visit when happy guests go home and tell their friends. Of course the extra guests have all that money to spend in their pockets. Park rating also has an influence on park value and so is important in scenarios where park value is a target.

Large scale land flattening/leveling should be avoided as much as possible and the last priority for your cash. Unlike spending on scenery which can be partially recouped by selling the scenery improvements, money spent on land reformation can never be recovered.

Never use the default prices

When every ride, shop or stall is built it has a default price for the ride or the things that it is selling. (If a ride is built in a park which is charging an admission fee, the default ride price is zero). A good strategy is to change these default prices. I tend to quadruple the default price of coasters, treble the thrill ride price and double the gentle ride prices. My personal preference is to leave food, drink, souvenir and umbrella prices unchanged (and I also give maps away free in parks where lots of guests are saying they are lost). Although the guests are willing to pay the high prices when the ride is new, they are not going to accept the prices as the ride gets older. This means that you need to check your rides frequently and this is described in the tactics section.

Check out the guests' thoughts

Check out what people are thinking of your prices. Open the Guest Information Window and choose to see a summary list of guests' thoughts. There are 4 types of thought you need to focus on if they are towards the top of the list.

  • I'm hungry/thirsty. Spend money on food and drink stalls and watch the money roll in.
  • X is really good value. This means that you can raise its price! Do it slowly until the thought goes down the list.
  • I'm not paying that much for X. This means that you need to lower the prices. Do it slowly until the thought goes down the list. Lowering prices might not seem an obvious thing to do if you're worried about your finances. The reasons are explained in the tactics section of this article.
  • I cannot afford X. This is best ignored. The guests would pay if they could, but they don't have enough money left. Whether you decide to reduce prices in this situation depends on:
  1. how many people are thinking it? If it is a high proportion of your guests, can you afford for them to leave with their remaining money. Is it better to take the money they have by reducing prices before they go?
  2. whether you can afford to? Generally, are your finances healthy enough to cope with some reduced prices?
  3. how close to the end of the scenario are you? Do you need the guests in the park to meet the scenario objective more than you need to keep the prices high?
Understand the Financial Information Window and Don't Panic!

Take a few moments to look at the Financial Information below before reading on.

Is this a healthy financial position or not? (Let's ignore May as it is not a complete month). At first sight it looks as though April is a good month following three bad months from September to March when lots of money was lost. More detailed analysis shows this to be not entirely true.

This window does give important information. The bottom line shows the change in amount of cash over each month, but the most important information is not easy to see without doing some mental arithmetic. This is because the window combines one-off expenditure (on building rides, shops, stalls, scenery/landscaping and marketing) with the recurring income and expenditure that repeats every month. The recurring expenditure is Ride Running Costs, Shop Stock, Staff Wages, Research and Loan Interest. The recurring income is Park Entrance Tickets, Ride Tickets, Shop Sales, and Food/Drink Sales.

What is vital in Rollercoaster Tycoon is to make sure that the recurring income exceeds the recurring expenditure. In other words, without building any new rides, shops and stalls or doing any landscaping and without any marketing, does all the ticket and shop/stall income pay for all the ride running costs, shop/stall stock, staff wages, research and loan interest? If they do not, eventually the money will run out and you won't be able to build anything new to try and generate any new income.

To calculate the recurring income vs expenditure, you need to take the bottom line at each month, subtract the Ride Construction cost, then subtract the Landscaping cost and finally subtract the Marketing cost. All of these numbers are usually negative and so subtracting them adds to the bottom line. This gives a slightly different picture.

  September October March April
Original bottom line from window above -2,606.30 -7,522.80 -1,007.50 +4,224.00
Adjusted to include only recurring costs +4,288.70 +5,397.20 +5,067.50 +5,423.00

The Finances Information Window suggests that there was a significant dip in the finances between September and October, but that things have improved since then. This is true if we want to know just about the cash. However, by looking at only the recurring costs and income, there was actually a dip in trading profits (recurring income - recurring costs) between October and March and then in April there was a slight recovery.

Overall this is a pretty healthy position with (if no money is spent on new stuff) the cash reserves increasing monthly by over 5,000. If it is spent, that's enough to build a smallish coaster every month. Perhaps of some concern though is that despite massive spending on new rides in September, October and March, the trading profit has hardly increased at all. Closer analysis of the Financial Information Window shows that food/drink sales fell quite a bit and extra staff have been taken on, but ride income hardly rose at all.

Note: This all goes to show that it is very difficult to look after everything in Rollercoaster Tycoon at the same time. This financial information was taken from the Octagon Park scenario that requires you to build ten BIG coasters. In the two months between mid-September to mid-March that it took to build a coaster, I stopped monitoring the guests' thoughts and they started to think that several of the thrill rides were too expensive and refused to ride them! They had also stuffed themselves with food and drink in the previous month because I hadn't built food/drink stalls before then. Subsequently hardly anybody was hungry and/or thirsty in March.

It is important not to panic if the recurring income minus recurring costs are negative, especially at the beginning of each scenario. It may take several months before there are enough guests to use your new park facilities and help you recover your costs. However, after around 6 months if you are still showing a recurring income minus cost deficit, you need to look at some of the strategies above and then think about some of the tactics described below in the next section of this article.

Tactics for extra profit

All the above strategies are suitable for overall park management of finances. This section describes some techniques for squeezing out extra profits (or reducing losses) from your attractions.

Use the Rides and Attractions Window

The best way to quickly review all of the rides, shops and stalls is to open the Rides and Attractions Information Window. With this window you can learn about rides and attractions by Status, Queue Length, Queue Time, Popularity, Satisfaction, Reliability, Down-time and Profit. Nearly all of these views can help you decide what can be done to improve profits, but viewing all the rides, shops and stalls sorted by profit can help you immediately focus on areas for improvement. Concentrate on:

  • coasters that are not making over 5,000 profit per hour. Coasters are your best profit makers. You want to maximise their big profits so you can have more fun building new ones!
  • shops and stalls that are not making profits.
  • items at the bottom of the list that don't have any figure displaying.

For the last of these, the solution is easy. You've forgotten to open them! This means that they aren't costing anything to run, but they aren't earning you any income either. Open them.

Suitable tactics for rides, shops and stalls are described below.

Increasing Ride profits

Consider the following. They are not in any order of priority and some may not be appropriate for the ride that you are hoping to improve.

  • Are you charging anything for the ride at all? If you are charging for park entrance, every ride you build has a default price of zero. You need to consider increasing it, or increasing park entrance fees every time you build a new ride.
  • Are you charging enough for the ride? If lots of guests are thinking that the ride is good value, it means that they are prepared to pay more for it then you are charging. Click on the ride (or its name in the list of the Ride and Attractions Window) to open the Ride Information Window and check out the guests thoughts about the ride.
  • It might not seem obvious, but you could try lowering the price.  If your guests think that the price is too expensive you are not collecting much money. By lowering the price, you will collect less per guest, but may have more guests riding.  For example a ride that costs 1 may only get 3 guests per hour riding it, earning you 3 per hour.  By lowering the price to 50p the number of guests may increase to 10 per hour, so earning you 5 per hour. Running costs of rides are fixed and don't increase as the number of riders increase, so this is a worthwhile tactic to consider.
  • Look at the ride queues. Are they too short? Are people walking past your rides because there is no space to stand in line? Is the length of the queue shorter than the capacity of the ride train? Is the train therefore having to wait while the queue refills before it can leave the station?
  • Are the queues too long? Do guests start walking down your queue but turn around before they get to the ride entrance? Do you have lots of people thinking that they are standing in queues for ages? Would it be better to have them walking round the park looking for other rides?
  • Redesign the queues so that they start right next to the ride exit. This increases the chances that the guests will repeat their ride.
  • Try and increase guest throughput on a ride. If you consistently have trains leaving the station half-empty with a queue of empty trains behind, lower the ride maximum waiting time. The trains will still leave half-empty, but at least there's a chance you'll increase the number of guests per hour. Running costs do not increase by running the trains more frequently. The Helter Skelter and Maze run with a default number of guests much lower than the maximum. Increase it.
  • Consider shortening rides. Shortening a tracked ride will reduce ride time, so more guests per hour, and reduce running costs. However, if it reduces excitement, you may have to lower the price. Rides like Ferris Wheel and Go Karts can be shortened by lowering the number of rotations/laps respectively.
  • Increase a ride's excitement by adding theming, changing the design, taking footpaths over parts of the rides, raising land and building tunnels, etc. The more exciting a ride, the more the guests will pay.
  • Demolish rides and rebuild them. Older rides become less interesting to guests. Check out the ride's popularity and satisfaction rating to see if it's low. Demolishing and then rebuilding rides restores the guests' interest. Before considering this, be aware that the money you will get back from demolishing the ride will be much less than the cost of rebuilding it the same way. Make sure that you will have enough cash or can borrow enough to rebuild the ride.
  • Is your ride unreliable and breaking down so much your guests cannot ride it as much as they'd like? Rides become more unreliable as they get older. The more unreliable it is, the more likely it is to break down. When it breaks down, what is the down-time? How long is it taking a mechanic to get to the ride and repair it? Consider hiring more mechanics and minimise down-time by assigning them to specific rides using their patrol areas.
  • Is your ride stalled? Older rides wear out. They appear to be open and running but a ride car may be stuck somewhere and preventing anybody from completing the ride.
  • Is the ride too intense? Check what your guests are thinking. If they think the ride is too intense, look at reducing intensity by smoothing curves and reducing speed. Guests can become 'braver' by riding less intense rides first. Consider building more gentle and thrill rides to allow the guests to become braver.
  • Is it difficult to get to the ride from the entrance? In big parks, make sure that you have transport rides that deliver lots of guests to your rides that are far from the entrance.
Increasing Shop and Stall Profits (or Minimising The Losses!)

In the overall scheme of things, shops and stalls do not contribute much to profits. Profits are typically in the hundreds per hour compared with the the thousands that can be expected from rides. The greatest impact that shops and stalls have on profits is in raising the guests' satisfaction. This drives up park rating which in turn increases the number of new guests who are likely to turn up at the park entrance.

Perhaps the three most important things for shops and stalls are location, location and location. Are your shops in suitable places? Information kiosks do well close to the entrance, and by transport ride exits. Food/drink stalls don't do well when the nearby paths are covered in vomit or they are close to ride exits where the guests leave feeling sick. Toilets are good things to have by exits of rides which make guests nauseous. Souvenir/hat/t-shirt stalls do well by exits of popular and/or satisfying rides. You should avoid putting shops and stalls on cul-de-sacs.

If all else fails and shops and stalls remain loss-making, this is probably because you have too many in your park. Each one has a running cost. Consider demolishing some so that the guests use one of the other ones instead, or temporarily close some of them (which removes the running cost) until guest numbers pick up.

Dealing with Insolvency

You become insolvent in Rollercoaster Tycoon when all of the following happen at the same time. You:

  • have a negative amount of cash
  • cannot borrow any more from the bank
  • have recurring costs that exceed your recurring income.

In more than a few computer games, you would be thrown out of the scenario and told that you must replay it. However, Rollercoaster Tycoon does not do this and you have a decision to make. Are you going to be able to recover from this in time to win the scenario, or are you going to give up and start again? If you decide to try and recover, then this is the section for you! But it's worth emphasising that if you follow the guidelines in the earlier sections of this article, you should never find yourself in this situation, and it may be a better idea to start again using the techniques described.

How have you got into this situation? What is likely to be happening is that you have wasted a lot of money on landscaping and rides that nobody is prepared to pay for, coupled with a high cost of staff, running costs and research, but very small sales. And the main reason that you have poor sales, assuming that you have used the tactics described above to make sure that your attractions are open and you are not charging too much is because you don't have many guests or your rides are too intense for people to ride.

Solving the latter is relatively simple. Demolish the intense rides and use the money to build something that the guests are prepared to ride.

As for the reason that you don't have many guests, this is probably because the park rating has gone very low. You don't have any money to advertise for more guests, so what can you do? Consider the following:

  • Switch off research. This can reduce your costs by as much as 400 per month. What's the point of researching new rides and things when you don't have any money to build them?
  • Hire more staff! Park rating is probably very low because it's untidy and loads of rides have broken down. You don't need cash to hire staff, so get some new ones in to improve the park as quickly as possible. You can always fire them later. Alternatively, do some micro-management and pick up existing staff and drop them in problem areas to quickly clean things up.

However, any extra staff drive up your costs and will temporarily make your insolvency position worse. There are two ways to try and improve this, first by closure combined with selective demolition, and then with more drastic demolition.

  • While rides and attractions are open, they cost money to run. If there are no guests to use them, close them down. Start with the things furthest away from the entrance. If any guests arrive, you don't want them walking past lots of rides and attractions that are closed before they find ones that are open. If you close lots of rides, consider firing some of the mechanics who look after them, they are not needed when the ride is closed. Re-hire them when you re-open the ride.
  • In conjunction with these closures, demolish some of the path tiles so that the closed parts of the park cannot be reached. You will gain a small amount of cash for some of the path tiles that you demolish. Make sure that the unreachable paths are clean and then fire the handymen who patrol them. Making parts of the pathways unreachable will force any guests that do arrive to move only past rides and attractions that are open.
  • Further small amounts of cash can be raised by selective demolition of any scenery that you have placed in the park.
  • But if all these tactics mean that you are not recovering quickly enough, consider total demolition of some of the rides. Keep demolishing rides until you have some cash in the bank and use it to either advertise or build small attractions close to the park entrance so that they will earn income as soon as new guests do start to arrive.

Rollercoaster Tycoon is a great game! But without an understanding of how the finances can be managed, it can become frustrating (especially for younger players) when the cash runs out. I hope that this article has given you some good ideas about how to make more of your money.

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