Never pay for a climbing gym again with this one micro-transaction trick (which is also weird)

by worstideas


In this plan, we will discuss a sub-category of indoor climbing: bouldering. Bouldering involves climbing up a surface that is studded with various hand- and foot-holds, and it generally involves no safety equipment beyond a padded mat.

The Issue:

Bouldering / rock climbing has gained significant mainstream popularity since 2010. However, one thing that has not changed is the price; most climbing gyms cost approximately the same amount as a regular gym, about 5% of the total take-home income of a person earning minimum wage.

Although this is not a huge amount, it is enough to discourage many individuals.

It is likely that many additional people would go to indoor climbing gyms if they were initially free.

Here, we take inspiration from the “phone app” market, where software is now generally free with in-app purchases, rather than being (say) $5 up-front.)


In order to encourage people to try climbing and (potentially) increase gym profits, there are two sub-proposals here, the “evil” one and the “non-evil” one. Let’s do the “evil” one first:

EVIL proposal:

  • The climbing part of the gym becomes totally free to use. (Equipment rental—shoes in this case—would still cost money.)
  • Instead of having normal climbing routes, the routes are changed such that it is possible, or in fact encouraged, for the user to be able to climb the routes in a safe fashion, but will likely end up “stuck” at the top in a way that it is very difficult to get back down safely.
  • Possibly the route ends on a safe ledge, but the only obvious descent is over a crocodile pit.

Fig 1: Crocodiles will work for less than minimum wage and are philosophically opposed to unionization, making them ideal employees.

  • Overhangs, in particular, are frequently much easier to climb up than down, and could be employed to this end.
  • Here is where the microtransactions come in: at the top of the route, there would be a vending machine that would sell access to a single-use rope / elevator, allowing the climber to purchase safe descent to the bottom (instead of risking life and limb trying to climb down the route over the crocodile pit).

NON-EVIL proposal:

  • Each route could have a fee associated with starting it (“$3 to start this climb”), but a climber is refunded that fee if they make it to the top on their first try.
  • Possibly microtransactions could also be applied here, e.g. “for an additional $1, we will light up the holds that are intended to be used for this route.”
  • Or, if the climbing wall was suitably futuristic and could be reconfigured by a computer, this could even be made into a sort of gambling game, as follows:
    • A climber would pay an “entry fee” for a yet-unknown route of a given difficulty.
    • Then a route would be randomly generated (or selected from a database of thousands of options), and the computer would reconfigure the climbing wall.
    • For every climber who FAILED to make it to the top on their first try, a fraction of their entry fee would be put into a prize pool.
    • That prize pool would then be claimed by the first climber to made it to the top on their first try.

PROS: Could broaden interest and allow people with few financial resources to start bouldering.

CONS: BIG GOVERNMENT would probably put a stop to the crocodile idea (it might not be an OSHA-approved workplace, among other potential violations). Possibly it could still be implemented in international waters.