It was an ambitious idea: Create a worldwide, online, Monopoly-like game, using Google Maps (and thus practically the entire planet) as the game board, and call it Monopoly City Streets. When I first read about it earlier this week, just a day before it was set to launch, I got all excited. This looked like it could be a neat combination of Monopoly, Sid Meier's Civilization, those crappy "games" on Facebook, and maybe a little Second Life thrown in. Then reality hit.
The first and most obvious problem was that they weren't ready. Perhaps more likely, the technology does not yet exist for them to have been ready. I tried twice on 9/9/09 during the day to start playing, but their servers were so overloaded I couldn't get in. I didn't start buying any property until shortly after midnight, by which time the world leader was already worth over 12 million Monopoly bucks.
And it was still soooooo slow. I don't know that the server power exists that can handle the number of people trying to get in and play this game. I'm sure it will die down after a while, when people get bored with it, and it might speed up a little. Time will tell.
Regardless of whether Monopoly City Streets will be fun to play, it could be an excellent way to learn about the difficulties of SEC oversight of meatspace businesses. The game is about buying, selling, and trading high-priced properties, and is subject to some of the very same graft and fraud (in the gaming world, it's simply called CHEATING) that real-world business is subject to.
Here are the basic rules: You start with $3 million. You buy property. You build rent-producing buildings on that property. Rent is delivered daily. You can trade properties with other players online. You can also, occasionally, sabotage other people's property by bulldozing buildings or erecting hazards that lower the overall rent.
Now notice what I said before: the world leader, just after midnight of the first day that the game was going, was worth $12 million. How could you turn $3 million into $12 million in a single day? It's really an easy cheat.
Given the availability of free and disposable e-mail accounts, you create one main Monopoly account and then use the others to create shell accounts. Then,
- If you want to build up your property holdings, you have the shell accounts spend their $3 million buying up streets, and then you sell them back to your main account for cheap.
- If you want to build up your money, you have your main account buy up the cheapest property it can find, then sell each property to a shell account for, I don't know, $3 million?
- And you can have the best of both worlds: Have your main account buy a $200,000 street. Sell that street to a shell account for $3 million, and then have that shell account sell it back to your main account for $100 (I'm not sure how low a price you can offer). Voila! Your main account started with $3 million and nothing and now has $5.79 million, all with one little street! Repeat that 4 more times and you'll have over $14 million plus $15 in property!
These are some of the same tactics that the SEC keeps an eye out for. They have landed real-life unscrupulous fraudsters in prison. If course, the price of being exposed as an online unscrupulous cheater isn't nearly as high.
I don't think Monopoly City Streets will last all the way to its January 31, 2010, end date. I'll be surprised if it lasts until October.
But I'll still play, if only for the joy of trying to buy up the streets of my hometown.