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HARDWARE

The Great Game of Business

The latest version of the popular PC game Sims tackles entrepreneurship.
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It's a micromanager's dream come true: This month, Electronic Arts will release a business-centric add-on for Sims 2, the popular PC game that lets players control the lives of imaginary people.

"For a long time, players have told us they want to see what Sims do when they go to work," says Tim LeTourneau, the game's senior producer. EA chose to interpret work as starting a company because that fit in nicely with the game's overall gestalt of letting players create and manage complex little universes. Some of the developers had prior experience running small software studios; others read management books like In Search of Excellence to familiarize themselves with the subject.

With Open for Business, which will retail for $35, gamers can direct Sims characters to move into commercial retail space or launch a business from their living rooms. Options include a nightclub, restaurant, bakery, car dealership, hair salon, and art gallery, though crafty players will soon realize that they can slap a price tag on nearly any object that appears onscreen.

A financial dashboard calculates revenue, expenses, and profitability in real time--something any entrepreneur would love. In addition to designing a store, stocking inventory, and setting prices, players must manage employees, including assigning tasks and setting wages. They can also opt to micromanage, dictating break time and even a dress code.

The possibilities don't end there. If they create a large base of happy, loyal customers, Sim-run companies are eligible for business awards and can garner positive articles in the local newspaper. Over time, the business owners can negotiate better terms with vendors. They are also free to strike up interoffice romances and to bequeath ownership to their heirs. The game "is about telling a story," says LeTourneau. "You could have a store that's been in business for several generations."

Of course, there are some differences between Sim businesses and real ones: There are no taxes--income, corporate, or sales--to pay in the Sims' world. Profit is measured not in dollars but in an imaginary currency (the simolean). And players who excel are rewarded with a mystical power: the ability to read their customers' minds.




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