My beta invite has finally arrived! I get the email while I’m at work, but of course I can’t download the client there, not with my boss and the compliance department sniffing down my neck 24/7. Okay, so a couple of my trades in the oil market didn’t go quite as planned last week – even though I had it on very good authority that Exxon/Mobil was about to announce a big find. Still, that’s no reason to “remind” me about insider-trading statutes. Anyway, that’s hardly a concern today. All I can think about is getting home and firing up my beta account on Chief Economist. I still can’t decide what class I’ll pick. Free-Market Capitalist? Banana-Republic Socialist? Ideological Communist? (According to the forum traffic, Developing Nation isn’t very fleshed out yet, so I’ll probably pass on that one. Although, the prospect of aid from the Virtual World Bank is tempting.) Maybe I’ll go for the custom character creation and let my currency float while I carefully tweak my trade barriers. So many possibilities.
Well, I rolled a country on the Volcker server (how do they come up with these names, anyway?), but it hasn’t done very well so far. I went with Benign Socialism, figuring a little free health care wouldn’t hurt my citizens’ productivity, but so far all I’ve had are problems with my labor markets. There aren’t too many people on our server at the moment, so I’ve already been able to form a Common Market with a couple of my neighbors. But my consumers still don’t want to buy foreign goods, and my producers are threatening a slowdown unless I institute tariffs. I think there must be some balancing issues the devs have yet to work out. But that’s beta. As “first-person technocrat” games go, though, I’m not sure if Chief Economist is going to be much of a success. I’ve been playing these things ever since Emerging Markets Meltdown: Brady Bond Buyback, and that was more than ten years ago. I’ve definitely seen better. The typical FPT wouldn’t make me worry about civil rights and gender equality. Ah well, the price of realism.
I think I’m getting the hang of this now. The second round of beta invites has gone out and the noobs have started to flock to Volcker. Socialism has its advantages. A Free-Market Capitalist on his first day in the game tried to flood my airwaves with cultural exports, but my people were having none of it. They clamored for a domestic production requirement on movies and TV shows and I gave it to them. Now even the capitalists can’t get enough of whatever tripe it is my people are producing. (I wish the UI let you zoom in far enough to check out some actual products, but I guess there’s a limit to the technology.) Well, as long as they’re happy little worker bees, I don’t much care.
My new problem, though, is inflation. I’m keeping the money supply in line with population growth, but the little CPI readout just keeps on climbing. Maybe it’s all the foreign investment I’m attracting.
Should I limit foreign ownership to 40 percent? Implement controls on repatriation of profits? I requested an Economic Assessment from the Virtual World Bank, but I haven’t heard anything yet. They’re probably too busy dealing with the poor sods who rolled Developing Nation characters. Good thing, too; I don’t want their cheap labor putting my people out of jobs.
“Known issue,” my ass! I finally got sick of the DevNat guy on my western border pirating the DVDs that have become my nation’s biggest export. I didn’t know what to do about it at first, but then I found a clause in the International Covenants (I hate having to click “agree” on that thing each time I log on) that lets a player seek economic control of another country for humanitarian reasons. And sure enough, this guy’s population was starving. Invasion on! My army wasn’t much, but it was more than he could muster. But when I sent in the troops, they just camped out in enemy territory and refused to fight. Some of them even defected! This has to be a bug. I petitioned the League of Virtual Nations, and was given the typical answer: “The behavior you describe is a known issue. An independent investigator has been appointed to look into possible diplomatic solutions.” This had better get fixed by the time the game goes live or I am outta here. I didn’t realize it when I signed up, but I am itching for the Economy vs. Economy (EvE) aspect of this game.
Chief Economist goes live! I’m sticking with the game even though the invasion issue apparently hasn’t been worked out yet, and even though my country was wiped at the end of beta. I didn’t like where things were headed anyway. I moved over to the Thatcher server and rolled a Market Capitalist country called Profitania. Looks like I’ll have some stiff competition over here. I nabbed some oil-rich desert sands near a coast with a good commercial trading route, and I’ve already got tariff deals worked out with my neighbors.
The new client rocks! You can zoom in on an oil field and actually adjust the length of workers’ shifts (roughnecks work long days), or you can sit back and monitor charts from your office. Speaking of offices, the firm has been tense lately. There’s some kind of investigation going on. All the analysts now have to disclose their positions whenever they so much as open their mouths in public. That doesn’t apply to me, of course, since I’m a trader. Still, things are kind of creepy around there. Fortunately, there’s Chief Economist waiting for me when I get home.
I hate trolls. I’ve been watching the Chief Economist forums for any news of the invasion patch that’s supposed to come out in Q4, and there’s this one guy, N4dr, who just chaps my ass, always going on about income gaps and purchasing power parity. He doesn’t see why GDP should be the measure of success. He wants Adam Smith Games to implement a Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness index. I couldn’t resist: I logged on as an alt and flamed him, explaining that it was money that makes the virtual world go round, pal, and if he didn’t like it he could take his subscription fee and go home. Guess what his response was: “Capitalism is teh suxx0r!!111!” What a noob stick.
Okay, I know no game is immune to real-money trade, but this is ridiculous. One of the countries that borders me, Banania, is a Command Economy – his people do what he wants, but he has to deal with all kinds of other problems like importing food and a high death rate and all that. Anyway, he’s been buying my oil, which has been great, but now I find out he’s been using it to produce small arms and selling them to one of the Plutocrats on the next continent. Then he takes his profits and sells them on eBay. I raised my oil prices but now he’s stopped buying (we don’t have OPEC on the Thatcher shard yet), so now I’ve had to start printing money just to keep my refineries going. And guess WTF happened? Inflation! I proposed a deal where I buy his small arms. He’s thinking about it. Still haven’t heard back on my petition about the invasion issue. I’ve gotta diversify.
It’s been great to have a week off work, and I can’t afford to fly out to see my family in California this year, so I’ve been spending all my time in Chief Economist and loving it. My initial assessment of the game seems to have been overly pessimistic. I hear the invasion patch is coming soon, that troll N4dr seems to be gone from the forums and I’ve got a deal going with the Command Economy on my northern border where he buys my oil, I buy his guns and the Plutocrats have had to start taking out high-interest loans because their citizens don’t know how to do anything but manage numbered bank accounts. Plus, Adam Smith Games just banned a Communist country after they sought Virtual World Bank loans and then didn’t implement the bank’s “advice.” A Communist country, banned on Christmas Day – I love this game!
Start of a new fiscal year and finally, the long-promised invasion patch. With my stash of small arms, I know who my first target’s going to be: Mr. Command Economy himself. His people have suffered too long. The patch notes describe a new Loyalty metric: “The capacity of a people to believe anything their Chief Economist tells them. Higher Loyalty indicates a population will obey directives if they can be shown to be in the people’s economic interest.” Perfect.
My Economic Dependence standings in relation to Mr. CE are off the charts. I’ve already tried dragging the Economic Dependence figure into the Reason for Invasion box in the new dialogue and it looks like it’ll work. Economic colonialism, here we come!
I did it! Two weeks ago, the invasion of Banania [Command Economy] by Profitania [Market Capitalism] (that’s me) was launched. Three days later, Banania’s finance minister resigned, and the country on my northern border is now known as Banania [Emerging Capitalism]. Just what I wanted; all the Emerging classes are highly subject to the influence of neighboring economies, that’s why no one ever picks them to start out with. Now I’m forcing my oil down his throat, buying his small arms at rock-bottom prices and selling them on to the Plutocrats for major profits. A lot more people are buying my bonds now. I’ve got to find some way to sterilize those capital flows since I’m already seeing inflation again, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Anyway, I did it – I prevailed in EvE!
My boss called me into her office at work today. The first thing she asked me was whether I thought I was really cut out to be an oil trader. Of course I am, I told her. (Never show weakness.) She just came right out and said I was going to have to stop relying on inside information. I was shocked. I don’t have any inside information. It wasn’t like I’d hacked the client. I brought down Banania on my own merits. I’m just a better Chief Economist than most, I told her. I’d solved the problem of real-money trades. Of course, it seemed that some of the small arms I was selling had somehow found their way to another nation-state on my borders, but it didn’t look like anything I couldn’t handle. My boss didn’t say anything for a while, but when she spoke, I realized my boastful nature had worked in my favor for once. She told me that while I could still expect a paycheck every two weeks, I shouldn’t bother coming into the office for the time being. Woot! She knew I had better things to do than trade oil. I had an entire economy to defend.
The invasion has begun. And to my shock, I’m being invaded by N4dr, the forum troll himself, who’s set himself up in a Socialist Republic just over my eastern border. How did I miss that? I must’ve been pre-occupied in Banania – which is now a new problem, since the market forces I set up there have steered the population away from small arms production. Lulled into a false sense of security by the recent high oil prices that have made my own country rich, they’ve literally gone from making guns to making butter overnight. So I have plenty of money, but nothing to spend it on but dairy products. N4dr says he’ll hold off on the invasion if I cut back oil production and put environmental controls into place, but there’s no way. I have one of the cheapest costs of production on the virtual planet. If he wants to break my bank, he’ll have to find a better way to do it.
Welcome to Profitania [Emerging Socialism]. Now go home. The invasion was over pretty quickly, with N4dr turning my own small arms against my poor defenseless citizens. All they were doing was trying to make a buck. Now they’ve got stars in their eyes for N4dr’s minimum wage laws and environmental protocols. We’ve already had to embargo one of our biggest trading partners because their factories were belching too much smog. I’ve been trying to steer things back toward Emerging Capitalism, but every time I introduce some luxury goods or a new regressive tax, N4dr puts on a big show of giving his people an extra day of vacation or free education. I think I see an opening, though.
One of the forum mods plays an Isolationist nation here on the Thatcher server and I’ve been communicating with him lately via the Diplomatic Pouch. Maybe he can help me.
Finally became a Capitalist country again, so I just have to hold the line against N4dr until I can graduate from Emerging to Free-Market like I used to be. Although I might put some price controls into effect, which could delay that. The clean oil production Profitania has in place since the invasion isn’t exactly raking in the green, but we have a new product now: wheat. Through an extensive irrigation and land reclamation program (N4dr actually helped with this), we’ve been able to turn our economy around and diversify. I just launched a new Five-Year Plan last week (five years in game-time, that is, a little more than a month in real time), and its first fiscal quarter looks good. It better be, because I’m gonna need the money. I resigned from my job at the beginning of the month. Well, I was asked to resign, but as far as I could tell, all the legal papers they were asking me to sign were just holding me back anyway. So now I’m free to run my economy any way I want. EBay, here I come.
Mark Wallace is a journalist and editor residing in Brooklyn, New York, and at Walkering.com. He has written on gaming and other subjects for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Details and many other publications.