Monopoly Mash (or, Hasbro, Google, and games of world domination)

Is there any game so classic as Monopoly? Buy up the board, collect rents, collect $$ when you pass GO and hope you don’t get a Go to Jail-Go Directly to Jail card. It taps into human instinct at its most base level. No wonder it’s been mass produced and mass consumed since 1934!

This holiday season Hasbro is releasing Monopoly City, an edition of Monopoly that lets players work with zoning and building permits to erect 80 3D building in the center of the Monopoly board. Hasbro thought a short-term online game (http://www.monopolycitystreets.com) would be a great lead-in for retail sales of the board game – let people buy and build on real streets, get the fan energy going, etc. etc. 

Sounds like a great idea, eh?

Hmmm, yeah, well within the first few days of the online launch, the overwhelming demand (1.7 million potential virtual real estate magnates registered in just one day) was taking servers to their digital knees and players were sabotaging each other, cheating in creative ways, and making havoc in, well, much the same way that real land rushes did. In short, if you want to see nasty human behavior, give people a chance to play at world domination and the fur will fly.

In the online promotion, Hasbro partnered with Google, used Google Maps as the graphics, and opened up the world for sale.  It wasn’t literally the real world, of course. It was just the Google Maps virtual representation of it. But any street, anywhere in the world, was yours for the taking. Oooh, turns out that premise is like chumming the water; wait a few minutes and the predatory instinct rises to the surface.

If that weren’t enough, the game also offered new rules mirroring those to be introduced in the board edition, rules that let players erect hazards, destroy property, and make low-ball purchase offers whose default position was accept … all in the name the game.

Within days, the virtual planet was all but consumed by a wild feeding frenzy, moving so fast that Hasbro and Google took the most dramatic stop possible in the game world – they pressed the big reset button in the sky.

And, when the game restarted about 24 hours later, it now included a bit of, uhm, governmental regulation, to keep the playing field more balanced. That’s right kids, just like in the real world it seem that free form no rules greed-driven play will wipe out the system.

The system now looks for cheaters – people who have multiple accounts and collude with themselves to wipe out others, people find illegal ways to increase their digital bank accounts, people who do various other unsportsmanlike-like behaviors.

“We warned players against cheating and will be taking action over the next few days to identify and delete accounts we know to be suspect. Players will be disqualified NOT sent to jail, will not pass GO and will have their property and assets seized by the bank.” wrote the development team in the game’s development blog.

Of course, this post led to 780 comments debating the definition of cheating and of cheaters, of suggestions for rules to prevent cheating and arguments in favor of cheating and debates over how regulation doesn't really fix anything … all kinda’ like a big town meeting with people throwing out comments ranging from the thoughtful to the downright bizarre.

Taxes are a regular part of the game. There are limits in how fast properties can change hands; no more fast flips, just one ownership change a day. Trading caps at higher lever player and higher value properties were removed. 

In short, the sheriff came to Dodge, and the resulting game is a lot more balanced. But you can still buy and bid and build.

I’ve bought up all sorts of Cape property and now I’m eyeing some nice Greek Islands … except there appear to be no streets available for sale there. Further exploration shows that there’s a third party involved in this project: The Open Street Map project (http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Main_Page)

OpenStreetMap is a global community project that is creating geographic data and offering this for free use.  The project was started because most maps are NOT free; they have legal or technical restrictions that can be a barrier to using them in creative, productive, or unexpected ways. 

It turns out this database is the one on which the virtual Monopoly promotion is based.  Which means that someone input data for Cape Cod … but hasn’t yet navigated the hilly byways overlooking the Mediterranean. So I can’t buy my dream island virtually; all I can do is dream about visiting!

Through OpenStreetMap, anyone can walk a street, record GPS data, and upload that data to OpenStreet’s database. Hundreds of thousands of people have done just that, showing the flip side of human behavior where a massive collaborative effort on the part of many individuals creating a great whole that they may not even personally benefit from.

But back to profit! The contest for building design just ended. As part of the promotion, virtual moguls could use Google SketchUp to design a 3D building, then upload it to the Google 3D Warehouse and enter it into the competition. Winners get software and a chance to have their architectural gem appear in the board game or the online game.  Fame, fortune, and a little real world swag!

Don’t forget the Chance cards. These are tools for sticking it to others. My favorite?  Build a sewerage works. These tend to smell a bit. You can place this Hazard building on any opponent’s street and sabotage them. You cheeky thing you!

Hmm, let’s see, shall I find an opponent, or discard the option? It’s a hard call. I’ll just let you wonder what I did … heh-heh.

The Hasbro promotion is really a pretty clever mash up, combining different Google tools with an open source geographic database with the context of a timeless game. Dreams of owning the world will never grow old and it seems they translate quite well from board to screen and back again.

Will it work as promotion? Only the holiday sales will tell. But it does work as a lens through the best and worst of human behavior and a diverting little time sink before we all have to get back to the real world.

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