Monday, February 16, 2009

Doctors, Architects, and Entrepreneurs


The media recently began paying attention to alternate reality gaming, and how it teaches skills that matter. I'd like to talk about a computer game that's been influential in teaching me basic entrepreneurial skills.

Characters in this game can specialize in: exploration, entertainment (read: dancing, playing music, acting, styling), city-building/politics, business building, land development, soldiering, assassinating, smuggling, or hunting.

First, I need to explain a little about how the game mechanics work. You start off by choosing the gender of your character, their race, and what they look like. You can tweak hairstyles, hair color, facial features, etc. You then choose their skillset. The beginning skillsets are entertainer, marksman, brawler, artisan, medic and scout.

You're dropped into a world with about 3,000 other human-controlled characters, and thousands more computer-controlled characters. If you've ever played Runescape (ew) or WoW (double ew), the concept is similar. Characters can choose from more than 30+ careers - ranging from architects to smugglers to doctors. I wanted to be a doctor.

I created a medic character because I believed it would lead to a promising (and profitable!) career as a doctor. Medics spend most of their time in hospitals treating minor and major wounds that hunters and soldiers come in from the battlefield with.

I began by specializing in treating minor wounds. Someone would come in, I would apply my beginner medicine to him/her, they tipped me a few hundred credits, and they would be off.

I quickly ran out of supplies so I asked around to find out where I could get more. Someone told me I could get medical kits from a store called Sammy's MedKits -- on the edge of town. I walked over, bought new medkits, and walked back. I soon got a text message from Sammy. "Hey, if you want to buy medkits in bulk I can give you a discount."

That was surprising. Normally when I buy something in a computer game it's from computer-generated characters. Normally it's not a real person. I talked to Sammy and found out that the price of derilium steel (which is used to make medkits) had recently gone up. A lot. This hurt his business, so he wanted to sell me a bulk order of kits to make some quick cash.

I didn't have a lot of money, so I declined. A few days later, I sent a text message to Sammy asking if he still had a shortage of derilium steel. He answered, "No, I'm gonna be fine soon. I have a friend over at Universal Steel who just opened up a new steel plant, and once that supply flows in, the price of steel is gonna bottom out."

I asked Sammy how his friend collected steel and he told me to go 1km north of the city. I walked up there and found massive structures, which, when I clicked on them, had names like, "Universal Steel Derilium Miner #4" and "Rora's Steel Harvester #2" It turns out that many people had discovered that derilium steel was rare and that they could make a massive profit out of it.

I walked back to the city. After a few more hours, I had practiced medicine enough to master the medic profession. I went off to a doctor trainer, left clicked on him, and became a novice doctor. I wanted to get into the action right away, so I went and bought some derilium steel and tried to craft a medkit.

Well, it turns out that you need a lot more than just derilium steel to make medkits. You need to collect ores and organic materials that are in different cities, and yes, even different planets than the one I was on.

These materials are very rare to find in one single area, so you have to hop around the solar system to collect them. After making a few medkits, I realized that while selling medkits is very profitable, collecting the resources that it takes to make them is a pain in the rear.

I had an idea.

I quickly ran off to an artisan trainer and learned novice artisan. I had collected a decent amount of money from my career as a medic (the tips add up!), and I jumped in my flying car to get to an architect's store to buy harvesters.

Over the next few days, I flew around to different cities and eventually different planets setting up my harvesters to collect the resources that doctors needed to make their medkits.

Eventually I had a good ten-thousand units of derilium steel, and another ten-thousand units of each of the organics. I had a choice-- I could either bring it to the commodities market and sell it there, or I could bring it directly to the doctors. I didn't have enough to sell it on the market, so I decided to sell it directly to doctors.

After a little trial-and-error, I discovered that the best marketing technique was to pay poor people to take off their clothes and run streaking through hospitals shouting "CHEAP MED RESOURCES! SEND A TEXT TO MARCUS DEHEAL!" (that was my character's name).

I soon had more customers than I could deal with. They snapped up my steel and organics within about ten minutes, leaving me with a 50,000-credit profit. With that money, I decided to invest in more harvesters, some real-estate, and two computer-controlled employees. This investment let me sell stuff while I was at school or at work. I also repaid a loan I had taken to cover travel expenses, and put some money away for a private jet.

That's it for this note. Lemme just show some pictures:

This is what a typical store looks like. This particular store sells tailored outfits. Everything you see (including the house, the display cases, and mirror) were all made by a person-controlled character, who had to buy resources from other person-controlled characters. The one employee that you can see is run by a computer, and sells stuff when the store owner is at work or at school.

Here is a list of professions that you can be. And yes, as an entertainer, you can join a band/dance troupe/whatever.

1 comment:

Ed Webb said...

Very cool. Very interesting. Key piece of information missing is the name of the game...