Competitive Analysis

Game Econopolis
Features As country leader, students will learn how a variety of political and economic policies, such as trade, tariffs, and embargoes, affect their country and the countries that share their resources. Students learn how to balance consumer happiness, production, and treasury size. Econopolis provides a fun, educational outlet to experiment in policy-making.
Pros The game is easy to learn but requires an understanding of the policies' economic reprecussions to succeed. Animation, color, and sound make the game enticing and fun.
Cons Unfortunately, the game will necessarily simplify other countries' reactions to policies the player enacts. In addition, the player may not be able to fine tune the policies themselves .

Game: SimIsle

Description In SimIsle, you and your team of agents set up on a nearly-deserted archipelago island. In order to succeed, you gather natural resources, set up manufacturing plants, and eventually grow villages into cities. Only by controlling trade and regulating internal production can you accumulate the wealth required to win.

What is fun about this game? What is not?

SimIsle is fun because you can build a thriving civilization from scratch. The variety of scenarios the game can take make each decision important. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most entertaining aspects of the game is just watching the simple animations -- trucks driving from logging camp to mill, torches glowing from inside the smelter, or even trees waving in the breeze. In addition, the unexpected events make the game exciting. For example, an oil spill might kill all the fish, or an excavation might yield a chest of gold. Most importantly, unlike SimCity, the game requires you to know or learn a bit about various aspects of the island society in order to succeed. For example, choosing between slash and burn agriculture and more sustainable options is difficult without learning how each decision affects the island environment.

The game also has a few flaws. For one, trade can only occur between your island and the general outside. No specific international interaction is possible. It would have been fun to eventually be able to remove your island from isolation, as is possible in SimCity 4.

Is the genre/interface/mechanics/difficulty particularly appropriate to the game's learning objectives? How successful is it in achieving its objectives? Why does it succeed? Why does it fail?

The game succeeds in teaching the player a bit about simple manufacturing organization (i.e. the wood from the lumber yard goes to the sawmill and then to the furniture manufacturer) as well as about each industry. The level of controllable detail for each building you place encourages the player to experiment with different policy combinations. The game is a bit difficult for children under 8, but is well suited for older children with some understanding of manufacturing and trade.

Does the game appeal to all members of your audience or are there gender/cultural/game-experience biases?

The game was targeted toward an older audience than the rest of the Maxis simulation games. As such, it assumes more knowledge and patience than Sim Copter, for example, but caters well to a large audience. For example, the multi-gender and multi-ethnic agents illustrate the developers' commitment to demonstrating equality. Indigenous populations often reside on the island before you arrive, and the game provides the opportunity to assimilate, train, ignore, or even conquer their villages.

How appropriate is the game for classroom use? What technical/logistical requirements are imposed?

The game is not designed for classroom use, though it could certainly supplement a class in history. To fully grasp the workings and concept of the game requires a few hours, so would take a few class periods. Otherwise, the game can be played on any PC or Mac without much installation. It does not require an internet connection.

Conclusion

ProsThe game provides insight into some manufacturing and construction processes. The range of complexity in the game makes it suitable for a large audience, from middle school to adult, and takes months to master. An appropriate difficulty level and graphics will entice any hesitant onlooker.
ConsIt lacks some finality, as your island remains isolated except for some trade to the unknown outside world.

GameGalactic Civilizations by Stardock is a turn-based strategy game.
Features As leader of a large population, you can colonize planets, control military, social, and research output, and make important policy decisions that will affect your standing in the galactic council. The designers expertly combine the thrill of a wartime strategy game with the political responsibilities of leading a nation. Thus, the player learns a great deal about various political phenomena during this endlessly amusing game.
ProsThe most enthralling aspect of this game are the long-term goals that drive your decisions. Whether you wish to construct an all-mighty terror star or make your citizens the happiest in the galaxy, the interface offers an opportunity to do so. Though endlessly complex, the game is winnable with only a basic understanding of its many components. The strong educational features of the game are buried under layers of graphics and sound yet sneak up on you with some bit of advice when you are most vulnerable. Taking over the galaxy is most satisfying.
ConsAs a turn-based game, the action can get a bit slow. In addition, you cannot specify which goods to trade with other star systems.

GameDiplomacy Online by Volo Media is an online (semi-)turn-based strategy game based on the board game Diplomacy.
Features Diplomacy is more focused on strategic alliances than other similar games. The goal is to capture the majority of supply centers on a map of Europe. Players take the identity of major European powers during World War I. Unlike most turn-based strategy games, all players take their turn at once, but their movements are not applied until everyone is finished.
Pros The hybrid turned-based system cuts down on some of the waiting time associated with similar games.
Cons Diplomacy is sort of turned-based, so players sometimes have to wait. It's also very strategy oriented, and it depends on the communication skills of the players. This game is not action-packed.

Game: Imperion

Description In Imperion you manage planets and grow your civilization. As you expand you compete with rival civilizations (played by other players) for limited resources, perform raids, and grow your empire.

What is fun about this game? What is not?

Imperion is fun largely because you can grow an enormous interplanetary civilization from a tiny colony on one planet. The game has a simple interface and is easy to learn, and the number of actions available are relatively small. However, while it is easy to learn it is difficult to master as there are many strategies. The game involves building star ship fleets, attacking and trading with neighbors, developing planets, and colonizing new planets.

The game has a large appeal do the the fact that you are always playing. Even when you are not there you collect resources which can be used when you log on next. This has the caveat that people can attack you when you are offline and steal your resources. Ultimately this means that casual gamers area t a severe disadvantage to people who play more frequently.

Is the genre/interface/mechanics/difficulty particularly appropriate to the game's learning objectives? How successful is it in achieving its objectives? Why does it succeed? Why does it fail?

The game succeeds in teaching resource usage, defense, and production strategies. It is surprisingly successful at teaching interpersonal relations - how you treat your neighbors affects how they treat you. In this way it is very similar to the game we are designing. It is very successful at teaching its learning objectives in many of these ways, but fails majorly in that powerful players who play very often can easily dominate weaker players, causing them to become frustrated and quit.

Does the game appeal to all members of your audience or are there gender/cultural/game-experience biases?

The game takes place on alien worlds with alien races. While there are probably many western biases in how societies are set up, it largely is bias free gender wise and racially. It appeals to a wide audience, but many people are deterred once playing by the severe power gaps.

Conclusion

ProsThe game provides a fun and exciting way to develop a huge space empire and have a large amount of control on how it functions. It teaches how to deal with neighbors (who are other real people) and how to deal with resource management.
ConsIt fails epically in the fact that casual players often quit once large players start to crush them. This makes it very hard for new people to join and casual players to continue playing.

Design Objective Conclusions

1) Econopia should be fast-paced and fit into a class's schedule. All the games presented in the analysis require a long time to master, a goal often aimed at by companies to improve their profits. In particular, it takes a long time for players to passively learn skills and concepts. Our game will be competitive in the educational market because it is aimed at teaching economical concepts to students. Thus, our approach should be direct, and consequences of a student's action should emerge in the game at a rapid rate. In addition, the game should be short enough (under 30 minutes) so that it can fit into a teaching schedule, as most teacher's cannot tell students to dedicate a long period of time towards gaming.

2) The game should give a high level of control to the student. A common feature of all these games is that the player is empowered with the ability to make different things happen. Thus, the student should have a choice of many possible actions and any action that a student takes should lead to an obvious reaction. This feedback mechanism is also important in learning an educational concept.

3) Our game should have a goal/quest and reward system including collectibles such as stars or medals. Students are more motivated when they have to work towards a goal and then get rewarded for completing it. Satisfaction in these games often includes creating a prosperous empire stronger than other people or AIs. Thus, reward can also include climbing up a ranking ladder.

4) Econopia should have attractive graphics and good animations. This is a common feature of the successful games analyzed, and was even one of the most entertaining features listed for SimIsle?.

5) Our game should have varying complexity levels. Students have a wide range of gaming expertise. Thus we want to make the game accessible to all students. However, at the same time we don't want students to get bored of the game. Similar to the games presented here, we want to provide levels of complexity in order to keep the game fun, engaging, and still challenging.

6) Our game should introduce new material during game play. As we saw in the analyzed games, new material adds exciting content to the game while also providing a reward for reaching a certain point in the game.

7) Econopia will be turn-based and initially focused on a single player mode. This is not a feature we see as a pro in the listed games. (multiplayer and real-time games are much more popular due to lower waiting time) . However, our primary focus is on the student, and his/her educational experience. Thus our initial focus will be the single player mode. If we expand to multiplayer mode, we feel that our first attempt should be a turn-based system to limit networking problems due to the lack of time we have.