The Making of: Monopoly Tycoon

By Kieron Gillen on March 30th, 2009 at 7:45 pm.

[Ah, been a while. I did a series of Post Mortems for PC Format over a few years, chatting to a dev a month about the development of a game. I've republished the vast majority here already, but I find there's a few left over like this one with Deep Red in 2006 about Monopoly Tycoon. It's one of the games which I felt as if I was just about the only person in the demi-core-gamer demographic to actually get it.]

Monopoly Tycoon wasn’t what anyone expected. With the licence of a family-favourite boardgame of Christmas plutocratic warfare, you’d expect something entirely traditional. What resulted wasn’t just a brilliantly conceived reinventation – but also a brilliant game of financial warfare from Deep Red, who’ve gone on to explore similar entrepreneurial terrain ever since. Looking back five years, we chat to Managing Director and Deep Red founder Clive Robert about how the game came together.

“Monopoly Tycoon was, for us, a very cool opportunity,” he saays, “My background is in Hasbro and Parker and the boardgame industry. It meant that we could create a game which bridged the gap between board and computer games. We didn’t want to do what everyone else had done, which was a version of Monopoly where you put the game board vertically and put it on the screen and play the exact same experience as the boardgame… except the boardgame was far more fun. We wanted to use the key elements of Monopoly and actually create a game that was specific for the PC. The game was different to Monopoly, but you always felt like you were playing Monopoly”.

While deep structure was one issue, a lot of this was achieved in a more aesthetic manner. By looking like Monopoly Tycoon and using its signifiers, Deep Red managed to maintain its atmosphere. “Through taking the key elements – like, say, the colours,” Clive says, “If you play Monopoly Tycoon, you’ll see all those blocks are in those familiar colours. So Pall Mall is always purple, Park Lane is always dark blue, Bond Street was always Green… and really posh, and Whitechapel, being brown, was not posh. Taking those colour cues from the original game really worked to cue the Monopoly Feeling”

The bigger initial design issues were more in the approach. “The problem was divorcing ourselves from Monopoly, and realising that we were making social-sim and world-building game… we’re not building Monopoly anymore,” Clive says, “Trying to differentiate away from Monopoly, while maintaining some Monopoly feel. We could have developed a Monopoly boardgame or a Tycoon game, but what we were desperately trying to do was to make something in the middle. The teething problems were building something that was neither one nor the other.”

“I don’t think we got it entirely right either,” Clive says, “We made a game that was far more hardcore than originally planned, and wasn’t the easiest game to play in terms of the learning curve. It’s pretty steep, and have to be a pretty damn good gamer to get anywhere in Monopoly, as successful as it was.” Even come release, there were some judgments that they decided they were in error, swiftly deciding to release a patch to cure them. “There were two big issues with the originally shipping game,” Clive says, “The first one was that we insisted the player play through the entire game before gaining access to the Sandbox mode, where everything – all the blocks, the development tree and so on – were available. Initially we kind of saw that as cheating, so we didn’t include it from the off. Also, we’d made a game that was level based… and once you’d completed the level, the scenario ended and moved onto the next one.” Sound sensible enough. Thousands disagreed. They didn’t just come to Monopoly Tycoon to play levels.

“We got huge stick, as people said “I’ve completed the winning criteria… but I want to continue fiddling. I want to play in my little world. I don’t care about any kind of winning condition.”,” Clive says, “So we issued a patch really quickly as there were a lot of complaints, to allow you to play on and unlocked sandbox mode immediately.” This is something they’ve learnt from, and now all their games are built with this in mind. For example, while the recent Tycoon City: New York unlocks new districts as you play, your previously constructed areas remain in play for you to play with and admire.

As a game, Clive’s particularly pleased that it found its audience with just under two-million units sold. However, this wasn’t in one week. “It took years to do the 2 million units,” Clive says, “When you compare that to something like the games that are selling today, the big uber-games that launch, will sell 2 million games in six months… then sink without trace. The thing about Monopoly Tycoon is that I still receive royalty cheques. It’s still selling. It may be £9.99 – maybe even £4.99 now – but it’s still selling and people still want to buy it. It’s received that sort of classic status. It’s just brilliant for us”

This makes management games different from many games in the marketplace. “First-person shooters don’t sell well for years,” argues Clive, “They sell really well for the first couple of months when there’s all the marketing, and disappear without a trace. But world-building, social-sims, God-games, Tycoon games… they just sell forever.” An old observation in games magazine lore is that a first-person shooter will sell more copies of a magazine if you put it on the cover than a strategy game, even if the strategy game ends up selling over twice as many copies. There’s different demographics being reached, who react in different ways.

“For me, it comes back to something more simplistic,” Clive says, “Strategy games and tycoon games just aren’t sexy. Shooting games are sexy. Every developer wants to work on them, every programmer wants to code for them and every artist wants to be doing huge great Orc type characters with armour… while world-building games are based around Uncle Pennybags and Apartment Blocks. They just aren’t sexy. They don’t sell magazines and are never going to set the world on fire… but they do chug on forever and ever. Which is why Publishers love them so much, and why pretty much every publisher has a back-catalogue line up featuring them as they know they have a peak/trough income problem with their high-profile games that will be evened out by the Tycoon games chugging along in the background. And if as a developer you’re prepared to be a chugging away in the background type of bloke, then there’s a great life to be had.”

While he argues the RTS is struggling, the Tycoon game’s is getting increasingly large crossover appeal. “Internally our mindset has gone from saying “We build Tycoon Games” to “We build social-simulations”. I think that’s what we do,” Clive claims, “We try to simulate social environments, which works really well for us and plays into the dynamics of what people want these days. Even though ostensibly it’s the same thing, we change the wrapper. As opposed to people getting feedback on a graph, they get feedback from – say – when they build a café people really enjoying your cup of coffee.”

It’s that advice Clive gives to anyone wanting to pursue an entrepreneurial games? “Don’t do it. That’s my bag,” Clive jokes before thinking. “Don’t hark back to the old Tycoon games,” he eventually offers, “Make it all about the social simulations. These games these days are all about the nurturing and love angle to be built into these games. They aren’t concerned and passionate about a Bakery or an Apartment block or a café… but they are passionate about whether it’s liked by its inhabitants. They need to be a voyeuristic experience, about doing stuff and then watching what people do and so getting involved. Being a voyeur is where it’s at”. What do we learn from this? Player feedback counts. Also, anyone who lives near Deep Red’s HQ, be sure to close your window while getting changed.

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32 Comments »

  1. Alec Meer says:

    Gillen’s right about this one, y’know. Splendid, tragically overlooked wee thing.

  2. Nuyan says:

    Ooh, memories. I remember loving this game, also because it ran and looked beautiful on my old 700mhz computer, I however have no clue anymore how it actually played.

  3. hydra9 says:

    I’m interested, but what exactly makes it so special?

  4. LQB says:

    I would play this over my homes LAN with my family, incredibly fun game.

  5. pepper says:

    I remember playing this with my brother, dont know how the game went or why i liked it, but i know i liked it back then… Fascinating to see its still selling.

  6. Citizen Parker says:

    Ah, Monopoly Tycoon. While Civ IV will remain my favorite multiplayer strategy game, this one offered up a unique experience that has yet to be recreated.

    I don’t know if it’s “The World First Competitive Sim” as the advertising claimed, but it was certainly a hootenanny of one.

  7. CannedLizard says:

    Ah, memories. I enjoyed the demo but never picked it up. Then I finally got a copy from a promotion where they were giving away games like Who Wants to be a Millionare and such inside Cheerios boxes (the proper North American Cheerios, not like those weird multi-grain, frosted things you Brits call Cheerios).

    Best video game I ever got out of a box of cereal.

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    hydra9: The way I considered it, it was an Economic Wargame. It was based around trying to outprice and out-position the opponents. So on one hand, it was a total standard city-sim… but it was in a city where you could see everything on the map. So you could see that your opponent – say – had a clothes shop which was selling clothes for X price here. You could set one up down the block – nearer the public transport – which undercut him, and fuck up his bottom line.

    That kind of stuff.

    KG

  9. cliffski says:

    I bought it and liked it a lot. Personally I preferred Vegas:make it big, but both are great games.

  10. Chris Evans says:

    My interest has been piqued by this piece, can’t remember this at all!

  11. Arathain says:

    Alec: Not that overlooked, according to the sales figures, at least in the long term. Critically overlooked for sure.

    I still pull this one out every once in a while. It gets a whole bunch of things right. I was only ever good at making money out of the low rent districts- high volume, low margin stuff, like foods. Did anyone do better selling to the middle-classes? My bookstores or clothes stores just bled money.

  12. hydra9 says:

    @Keiron: Thanks. I like the idea of fucking up someone’s bottom line. Ah…

  13. The_B says:

    Heh, ironically I also recently wrote a piece on this game (hoping to stick it up online soonish) – it was nice to return to it, although was a little saddened that I couldn’t get it to run with sound on Vista. Great game though, probably my favourite tycoon out of all of them.

  14. Heliocentric says:

    Another game of economic warfare is sm’s trains! Whoops look like my wood plant closed down. Looks like all your news papers are screwed.

  15. DMJ says:

    @Heliocentric: Financial deathmatch headshot, right there.

  16. Rob says:

    I remember buying this directly off the original PC Gamer review, one at least that didn’t undersell it.

  17. Ginger Yellow says:

    I definitely got it. I ploughed many, many hours into this game. I should really dig it out again. I tried the mobile version in an attempt to relive the glory days, but they simplified it far too much.

    My main complaint about the original game was that the motivations behind the ebbs and flows of the economy weren’t always obvious enough, so you’d be wondering why your cinema’s revenue had plummeted and couldn’t find out why. Other than that, though, it was pretty damn cool. Very reminiscent of Capitalism Plus in its way, but without the supply chain logistics.

  18. Tetracell says:

    If anyone gets the urge to start playing this now and you’re running Vista, make sure to turn off the music. Leaving it on will make the game crash at the menu. Other than that it should run perfectly fine, I’ve been playing it constantly for about 3 months with no other issues.

  19. Martin K says:

    I remember this. I played hours and hours of it! Timesinkage at its best.

    Blast from the past, is what that is, and no mistake.

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    Rob: Yeah, that was one of mine. Glad it worked for someone.

    KG

  21. Matthew says:

    I did the same when I saw it on budget release.

  22. cHeal says:

    Not a patch on Rollercoaster Tycoon but Monopoly was an excellent game. It didn’t just make the board game a computer game, it adapted the board game for the gaming medium. Brilliantly realized, it managed to offer a thoroughly enjoyable management game with the underlying mechanics of the board game intact.

    I bought this on release but gave it away to an old work mate (along with a load of other old games) years ago. I’d probably be tempted to pick it up on budget again if I saw it at the right price.

  23. Filipe says:

    I remember getting this for free in a box of cereal. I was pleasantly surprised how good it was, given it’s source.

  24. Lucas says:

    There’s something special about economic strategy games symmetrically designed such that the single player is just like the multiplayer. Startopia and 1701 AD also both spring to mind (freeplay wise).

    I didn’t play very much Monopoly Tycoon (I usually tried on too high a difficulty and lost quickly), but it was enjoyable and impressively unique.

  25. hydra9 says:

    It’s only a pound or so, plus shipping, on Amazon…

  26. Maskatron says:

    It’s been quite awhile since I played it but I remeber being blown away by it since all I was looking for was a competent computer version of Monopoly. It is so much more than that.

  27. John says:

    I too bought this from the PC Gamer review. I was working at an EB then, and after playing it like crazy sold the hell out of it – likewise crazy-like. Everybody loved it.

    I personally was really impressed with the way that it managed to incorporate the multiplayer in a way that seemed fluid and interesting.

  28. Schmung says:

    I’ve got a copy of this stashed away somewhere. Jolly good fun. I played through it and then my dad did the same. This comment rings very true :

    My main complaint about the original game was that the motivations behind the ebbs and flows of the economy weren’t always obvious enough, so you’d be wondering why your cinema’s revenue had plummeted and couldn’t find out why.

    This was what eventually killed it for me I think, but I’m actually quite tempted to dig it up and start playing again as I’ve fond memories of it. Nice interview as well.

  29. yxxxx says:

    I loved this game at the time and still do.
    It was a really great use off the monopoly license.

  30. Paul Emil says:

    I got this for a birthday a while back. I thought it sucked (Opinion! Opinion! Not a troll!). I guess economic games have never really been my strength. See also: Capitalism series (which I personally hate).

  31. Out Reach says:

    I’ve had it for ages but it won’t install on my new PC :\

  32. Alex says:

    Game isn’t working for me anymore. :( It just crashes on the Deep Red splash screen.