Thursday, August 18, 2011

Business Simulation Games

Before we dive into this week’s tip, I want to thank everyone that shared a comment about last weeks tip, either on the blog or through email. Sometimes our readers are quiet, and we’re not sure what reaction/impact the tip had. We greatly appreciate receiving your feedback.


This week, I cover something entirely different: business simulation computer games. These are games that attempt to mimic aspects of a business, whether it is logistics, the stock market, or the entire economy. These games can be used in a classroom (within reason) or you can even try them out yourself to better understand something (and have some fun too!). Several of them are older and can be bought online for <$10.


The genre of economic computer simulations is actually pretty deep, but I am only reviewing simulations that I have played. If you have suggestions for games that I did not cover, please feel free to comment on the blog or send us an email. Depending on the feedback, we may consider hosting a training session for teachers that would be interested in incorporating a simulation into their classroom.


Full Economic Simulation: EVE Online

EVE Online is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMPORG), which means that all or at least a large number of players are interacting with each other in one giant persistent world. The game is set as a space simulation with an open economy where almost all items are created by the playerbase (think really large sandbox). Players mine the game’s resources (asteroids) to find raw materials that can be used to create huge ships, modules for the ships, ammo for weapons, fuel for space stations, etc... Since all items are created by the players, markets develop where players can create sell or buy orders. While this may sound extremely chaotic, the markets are surprisingly efficient. It is easy to see spontaneous order develop as players line up on either side of the market in trading hubs that have developed over time. The game developers have hired an economist to study the market and offer thoughts on the overall economy.


EVE Online has a small upfront price of $19.99 and a monthly fee of $14.95 (cheaper per month if time is bought in larger increments). There is also a free two week trial option. While some college classes have used EVE Online in the classroom, the online experience can be disconcerting since the chats are unregulated.


City Building Simulator: Caesar III (1999), Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom (2002)

Both of these games use a historical perspective, either ancient Rome or China, which places the player in the role of building a city that must meet the needs of the populace while still meeting specific tasks. Players advance through (somewhat accurate) history meeting the goals of various scenarios which can include building certain monuments, producing a fixed amount of goods, conquering the map, etc. Players must balance production, population, trade, tax rates, military buildup and other variables. The game rarely requires warfare and resembles the board game Risk when it does.


These games are fairly old, so their computer requirements are also low. They can usually be found online for below $10.


Industry Simulation: Railroad Tycoon III (2003)

RRT3 is primarily about connecting cities and resources together with railroads. However, RRT3 also includes the ability to build and own industries and create production chain monopolies. The game maps are fairly accurate featuring the US, Britain, China, Europe, Africa, etc. A game scenario usually starts with the player must starting a company with their own money and also selling shares to the public to raise capital. Players can also sell bonds, with an interest rate that depends on the economic climate and the player’s company’s credit rating, to raise more operating funds. Players then develop rail lines delivering goods from areas of abundance to areas of scarcity. Players can increase their profitability by building or buying industries to enhance their supply chains. Players can decide to buy back stock, issue dividends, or reinvest the funds.


Gameplay usually progresses through (historically accurate) campaigns that focus on meeting certain criteria (exceed a level of net worth, transport an amount of goods, defeat the computer players). An unexpected benefit of this game is the robust stock market. All railroad companies are represented in the market and shares may be bought or sold. Also, shares may be bought on margin or sold short, depending on what the player’s expectation for that company. The game calculates detailed balance statements and income & expense statements that can help students understand these difficult topics.


Personally, RRT3 (and RRT2) taught me a great deal of geography (from the game maps), how the stock market works, and the relationship between supply, demand, and price. Of all the games mentioned, I would recommend this game first for the classroom overall. RRT3 can be bought through Steam or found for <$10 online. The game seems to have a problem with Vista and Windows 7, but players have found the fix.


Trade Simulation: Patrician III (2003 in English, 2000 in German), Patrician IV (2010)

The Patrician series focuses on the Hanseatic League around the 14th century. The player is tasked to trade in ~20 cities that specialize in producing several different goods. The player generally starts with one ship, sailing between ports to buy cheaply and sell dear. As the game progresses, players need to build industries in towns and create complex production chains to serve the needs of citizenry. Players must literally build the economy required for the Hanseatic League to flourish. To make the game even more interesting, players compete against computer traders and players can also be attacked by pirates. Pirates can be defeated in naval battles that are not graphic; small ships fire cannonballs at each other.


While RRT3 strikes the right balance between game play and tediousness, Patrician III may be too complex for students to comprehend in short class periods. Patrician IV has improved and simplified game play, but it still may be too complicated, depending on age and attention to detail. Patrician III may be found online for <$10 (make sure you buy the English version!). Patrician IV is newer and can generally bought on Steam for $30.


Large-scale Government: Civilization series, SimCity series, Civ 4: Colonization

The Civ series and the SimCity series do not allow for production or large scale trade at the same micro level the other games provide. Instead, players are provided with a large macro level view of the world. Economics often takes a back seat to the policies of government and technology. The major exception is Civ 4: Colonization which looks at the historical colonization of North and South America by the European powers. Players must develop production chains for raw materials and finished goods which can be sold in the European marketplace. Ultimately, players will need to amass a large enough military to declare independence from their home country. The king will then send the royal army to bring the colony back in line; small encounters are fought similar to the rules of Risk.


Generally, the older Civ and SimCity games can be found online for low prices.


Real Estate Management: SimTower (1994)

SimTower allows the player to build a skyscraper and decide what businesses to build within. Early in the game, the player can only build offices and restaurants. As the player progresses through levels meeting certain goals, more building options are unlocked. Condos, movie theatres, three types of hotel rooms, retail space, and more can be built into the tower. The tower can also be built below ground to provide parking for hotel guests and office workers and recycling facilities for a large tower. Certain tenants have specific requirements that must be met, or they leave the tower, and the space lies vacant.


The hardest challenge is handling the flow of people through the tower. Players can build stairs, escalators, elevators, and express elevators to move occupants. However, if an individual spends too much time in transit, they may become unhappy, decide to leave the tower, and not renew their lease.


SimTower can be found online for $<10.


Other games that might be useful to you.

Capitalism (series), Tropico (series), Settlers (series), Stronghold (series). I have not tried the Capitalism or Tropico series, but they are also touted as useful economic simulators. Settlers and Stronghold have strong economic supply chains, but they are along the “Build to Destroy” model, where you’re ultimate goal is to usually use your economy to build a military force to vanquish the competitor.


I feel like I have written a large wall of text, but I hope that you found at least one game interesting enough to actually try it out. I chose mostly older games that are available cheaply online. Also, these games generally come without Digital Rights Management (DRM) so they should be easier to run in a classroom setting. Many of these games (RRT2, PIII, PIV, EVE Online, and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom) have a multiplayer option.


If you’re curious about how a game works, there is an Internet meme, “Let’s Play” where players will play through a game and record the output from their monitor. If you go to and search for “Let’s Play” and the game’s title, you can often find several videos that can help you make a decision about a game. Here is a Let’s Play video about Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom; I haven’t watched the whole video, but it seems to be a better than average introduction for the part I viewed.


Please let us know what you think about out post, and let us know if we left an important economic simulator out!


Just like last week, if you read this long, here is a thank you.


Bonus Game: OpenTTD

OpenTTD is a free, open source transport game that is based on the work of Chris Sawyer’s Transport Tycoon Deluxe (1994). TTD was so successful and had such a loyal following that OpenTTD was built to enhance the original experience without losing what made the game special. Players are tasked to move goods around the map from where they are supplied to where they are demanded. Goods can be moved via rail, road, over sea, and through the air. Since the game is open source, the game is being continually improved by a dedicated community of programmers. The low price (free!), low computer requirements, and absence of Digital Rights Management (DRM) make this a very classroom friendly game as well.


You can freely download OpenTTD as well as the manual.


Andrew Zumwalt, M.S.

Director of the MoTax Education Initiative

162 Stanley Hall

University of Missouri

Columbia MO 65211

Google Voice #: 573-234-4268

Fax: 573-884-5768




Mat Salleh said...

business simulation games are used for training and analysing the business.

Anonymous said...

Using online games, especialy business simulaton as (this one is my favourite) is proved by time and realy efficient one way to develop practical management skills.

Nina Athena said...

Thank you for sharing such valuable and helpful information and knowledge. This can give us more insights! Keep it up. I would love to see your next update.

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