Check Your Assumptions at the Door

Every year around this time I start going to McDonalds almost every day for lunch for one reason and one reason only: Monopoly.  I’ve faithfully stuck game pieces to my little board every year in hopes of winning some valuable prize.  I’m not greedy.  I never dream about winning the big one.  No, anything worth more than about $2 would be just fine with me.  As you can guess, I’ve won plenty of fries and small cokes over the years but never the elusive $2+.

Anyway, these last couple of years they’ve gone to a web-based component located at www.playatmcd.com.  It’s a rather pretty, Flash-based thing that asks you to put in annoyingly long codes from each of your stamps.  Once it’s validated the code it lets you roll the dice and moves your piece around the board.  All in all, it provides a perfectly satisfying McDonalds Monopoly experience.  One particular feature of the game is that when you land on community chest or chance you get Coke rewards.  When you land on the winning square, a message pops-up over the game board to inform you of your good fortune and a follow-up email shows up in your inbox with the info on how to logon to the Coke rewards site to claim your points.  I never gave the feature much thought.  I’d land on the square, I’d get the popup and a few minutes later the email would show up.   It all seemed to work perfectly well until yesterday when I moved my email from Go Daddy to GMail.

It turns out the system isn’t very smart about the possibility of fast email.  First, I rolled an 11 and while my piece was still moving GMail alerted me about a new message from McDonalds about a Coke reward.  A little odd but not too bad.  Clearly, the server sent the email at the same time it told the Flash client where to land my piece.  Not perfect but probably unavoidable.  The second thing that happened really bugged me.  I rolled double threes and landed on a property.  Just after landing, I got an email about another Coke reward, which did not make any sense since the game had told me nothing about winning another Coke reward.  My second and last roll (no doubles this time) landed me on community chest, where I finally won the Coke reward I had received the email about a couple of minutes before.

So what does this tell me?  Well, when the site receives the code from my game piece it must calculate the square where I will land.  It might take one roll or it might take a couple.  Regardless of how many moves it will take, it sends the prize email at the same time it tells the Flash client what to do.  The Flash client adds some nice animation of rolling dice and shows the piece moving around the board.  While that is going on, the email is making it’s way to my inbox, which is now so fast that I see the email before the piece stops moving.  I never noticed this flaw in the logic before because my old email didn’t show up nearly fast enough to expose it.  My guess is the developers of the site either missed this or figured nobody would notice.  Once you see this happen the illusion that pressing the button to roll the dice means something is shattered and the game is no longer much fun.   It makes me wonder why they bothered to implement the animated game board at all.  After all, they have a facility that allows you to enter a code and see what you get without the animation.

At the end it all comes down to where bad assumptions can lead.  The developers assumed I would not notice the pointlessness of rolling the dice.  Given my reaction to what I saw, I guess somewhere in the primitive part of my brain I actually though the dice roll mattered.

I leave you with my favorite version of the old saying about assumptions.

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