Reviewed: July 11, 2002
Released: December 17, 2001
Playing Capitalism II reminded me of a book I’ve read, a book written over two thousand years ago which is still popular today. No, it’s not The Bible (yes, The Bible is also popular), it’s “The Art of War”, written by Sun-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher-general who lived toward the end of the Chou Dynasty, about 500 B.C. “The Art of War” is required reading for today’s military officers because Sun-Tzu’s advice is based on insights into human nature which are as relevant in today’s world of satellite tracking and long range missiles as they were in an age of swords and horses over two millennia ago.
But what may surprise many is the fact that this text is also required reading for students of Business, because the strategies discussed are just as pertinent to those wearing “corporate uniforms” as to those in military uniforms. And the saying “Business is War” while true in general, certainly applies here, because Capitalism II (Cap 2) is analogous to a complex war game in many respects.
Supply lines, morale, population loyalties, these sound like military terms, don’t they? These and dozens of other factors must be considered when formulating strategy in Cap2, and the player must adapt to ever changing “battlefield” conditions. This is one of those games with a steep learning curve, which requires a lot of thought and patience to play. But it’s worth the effort, because the result is an engrossing experience that provides the player with a true sense of accomplishment when he/she develops the business acumen necessary to dominate his/her rivals.
Cap2 is a blast to play because the developers did everything right. Despite being a complex and challenging simulation, Cap2 eases you in nicely with a well-designed tutorial campaign, the ability to turn down the complexity of play, and a 150 page manual which teaches not only the mechanics of playing, but the nuances of how various factors will affect player success.
Pick any element of business strategy, and Cap2 models it in detail, complete with the requisite terminology. Advertising? Be prepared to discuss market share and CPM (cost per thousand exposures). Branding? Brush up on the trade-offs between Private Label and Name Branding, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of Corporate vs. Range Branding. Production? Better be savvy on how to best utilize capacity, and whether or not to upgrade the technology of your facilities. Cap2 even accounts for corporate activities not directly relating to the buying and selling of goods; takeovers and mergers, investing surplus capital in stocks or in Real Estate, acquiring related or unrelated businesses, it’s all here.
What’s more, businesses aren’t carbon copies of each other; you can operate farms, factories, retailers, radio stations, each with its own feel and its own set of “functional units” (Cap2’s name for departments).
Still not enough? Turn up the complexity and you have to deal with external economic conditions such as inflation, recession, unreliable supply chains, and random events. As a crowning touch, Cap2 even allows for conspicuous displays of personal wealth- you can buy yourself a mansion just for the fun of it.
Best of all, every one of Cap2’s elements is true to life. More than a game, this is a true business simulation, the consequences of your in-game actions mirror real world responses with great accuracy. For example, you can choose to position your product to compete based on its low price. Alternatively, you can spend a lot of money to develop a quality product, and a lot more money on heavy advertising, and then charge a higher price that consumers will gladly pay. Either of these strategies can work. But if you spend a lot of money advertising an inferior item, demand will increase as many consumers try your product, then will drop off sharply as they become discontent. What’s worse, other items in your line sharing the same brand name will also experience a drop in sales as consumers lose faith in your company.
I can vouch for just how realistic this game is because this is my world. As a college undergrad majoring in business, I participated in “serious” computer simulations as part of my course work. And as a controller and manager in several industries over the years (you don’t really think anyone earns a living writing computer game reviews, do you?), I’ve been a part of the decision making process, and seen market forces at work first hand. I might not know how accurate a flight simulator is, but I can honestly say that Cap2 is an accurate business sim, and could easily be adapted as a training tool in a college business course.
Only one major annoyance marred my appreciation for this product. Despite my having downloaded the patch from Ubisoft’s web site, the game locked up my computer at the load screen on perhaps a third of my attempts, whether I was loading a campaign or a custom scenario. I couldn’t even hit Ctrl/Alt/Delete to escape. I had to shut the computer off manually, and listen to Windows berating me for improperly shutting down while it performed that lovable blue screen startup that takes forever. The rest of the time, game loads took upwards of three minutes, often causing me to think that my computer had locked up even when it hadn’t. Once running however, the game was stable and didn’t crash again. I played Cap2 on one of my older machines, a PIII-650 with 128MB RAM and a TNT 2 card, still well above Ubisoft’s minimum or recommended system requirements.
The graphics aren’t just pretty; they contribute to intuitive game play. The main city screen has a cool, comfortable “Sim-City” look (that’s three-quarter isometric view in gamer jargon), that lends itself nicely to ease of play. If you’d like to borrow money from the bank, you can click on- you guessed it- the bank. The various reports are colorful and easy to read and not at all overwhelming once you get the hang of it. You can look inside your buildings and even tell if your workers are novices or experienced by the color of their clothing.
The visuals were enhanced by lots of unnecessary, but quite welcome details, even down to the cars and pedestrians moving about the city. And there’s a zoom feature so you can get quite close to your consumer public.
Overall, the graphics do a nice job of adding to the fun of the game, without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter.
The soundtrack has a nice upbeat beat in keeping with the game’s feel, but I won’t be playing it in my car any time soon. Also, some voice acting for the managers and perhaps the news reports would have been fun. Alas the designers, as is so often the case, didn’t apply the same TLC to the sound aspect of the game that they did to the graphics and gameplay.
Two campaigns and a highly customizable scenario generator offer up a lot of gameplay. And gamers can also opt for open-ended play a la Sim City, in addition to the large variety of victory conditions available in the individual scenarios.
Multiplayer options allow up to seven capitalist pigs to square off on a LAN or on the Internet, and Ubisoft graciously offers a player matching service on its web site. Null modem (serial cable) play is also supported.
Capitalism II is a well-designed entry in the largely ignored genre of true business sims. It ambitiously tries to model a highly realistic and complex economic environment, and surprisingly, it succeeds in a manner that is as accessible to the casual gamer as it is to a student of business.
It’s fun, it teaches you something, and unlike running a real business, the most money you can lose is the twenty bucks the game cost you.