Empire of Candy

By Shamus
on Feb 5, 2014
Filed under:
Video Games

Looks like the next season of Spoiler Warning is delayed until tomorrow. So let me fill this awkward silence with this random post. I’ve heard it said before that talking about your plans gives you a little release similar to the satisfaction of actually carrying them out. Since I already have a game on the way and I don’t actually have time to do anything with this, I thought I’d just throw the idea out the window in case anyone else finds it amusing.

I’m not sure why you’d want to read this. It’s a rough sketch of a game I’m likely never going to make, and it exists solely as a means of getting it out of my system. This isn’t game design. It’s therapy.

On the other hand, I swiped a bunch of pictures of candy, so maybe you’ll enjoy looking at those.

Anyway, this whole Candy Crush Saga nonsense has reminded me of an old design doc I’ve had gathering dust in my head. The core of the idea comes from the notion that normal real-world business has a lot of really interesting tradeoffs associated with it. My time working fast food (and talking to one of my brothers, who worked for a big-box home improvement chain) revealed all sorts of fiendish sorting, queuing, balancing, timing, and planning puzzles. (Like this one.) This sort of thing lends itself to strategy gameplay: “Given my finite resources of money, space, time, manpower, and throughput, how can I optimally achieve [goal]?”

You can play this game in its purest form in the Capitalism series. That’s fine, but I always thought Capitalism Plus was a bit too sterile or abstract. It doesn’t matter what you’re making. You might as well be making widgets, as far as the player is concerned. There’s no real personal investment or creativity in the stuff you’re producing, and I always wanted to see a smaller-scale game that focuses on a single product and lets the player have some control over it.

The other inspiration for the concept comes from the occasionally wonderful How It’s Made videos. It’s no longer on Netflix, but it’s available on Amazon Prime. The show features a lot of food being made, and I’m always amazed to watch giant piles of raw materials enter the machinery and pop out as colorful, aesthetically pleasing quasi-food on the other end. In particular, Season 3, Episode 25 shows them making jelly beans, and that helped shape a lot of my thoughts about how this game ought to work.

Why Candy?

Mmmmm! Tastes like… diabetes.

  1. Candy is colorful, vibrant, and pretty to look at. Everyone “gets” candy, even if they don’t really like candy themselves.
  2. It’s useful year-round, but has a few periodic spikes to encourage forward planning. High-end chocolates are in demand around Valentine’s day. Bulk cheap candy is in demand at Halloween. A specific set of specialty flavors and shapes are in demand around Christmas.
  3. It’s typically made from easy-to-model geometric shapes. Your 3D artist can make a jelly bean about a thousand times faster than they could make (say) cars or toys. Actually, all the candy could probably be procedural. Canes, pops, drops, beans, sticks, and spheres can all be made with trivial mathematics.
  4. It has room for easily modeled creativity and player expression. Making a game that let you design cars would be hard. A game where you design silverware or kitchen appliances sounds mundane and boring. But candy looks appealing and has lots of properties to modify.
  5. It has straightforward manpower throughput problems. (See below.) It doesn’t need a bunch of different types of workers that add complexity without offering more interesting decisions.
  6. It’s a business that goes directly from raw materials to consumer product, which keeps things elemental. (As opposed to (say) computers, where your company is just one in a long chain.)

Gameplay

I’m full. I’m feeling mildly sick. On the other hand, my mouth is still watering for some reason and I could conceivably eat a little more without throwing up.

I figure gameplay would be something like this:

The player designs their own candy: Pick the shape, the material (chocolate, pectin, gum, hard candy, etc) the color(s), the flavor, the outer coating / finish, and give it a name. Different candy requires different machines. So you need gizmo A to make candy with a smooth glossy coating, machine B to make anything from melted chocolate, machine C if you want the product sprinkled with sugar, etc. The more machines you have, the more stuff you can make. Machines are expensive and each one has a different footprint to make the design of efficient production layouts interesting for the player.

Once the player has designed a candy, they queue up X batches of candy Y. Employees will grab raw materials, then move the product from one machine to the next. When complete, the employee will deposit the candy in the “warehouse” and the player can look for a buyer. The strategy would come from decisions regarding hiring, layout of the production floor, and in designing and selling the candy.

The game would run in abbreviated realtime, like Sim City. So N minutes of playing would equal one month of time. There would probably need to be a “fast forward” button to get the player through sections where there’s not much to do.

I don’t want to make a system for “judging” the player’s inventions. If they want to make lemon-flavored, spicy hot, purple-colored, chocolate-covered sugar cubes that they named “Crappies!”, that should be totally valid, even if I’d never put one in my mouth. Instead, different products would rise and fall in popularity according to some general “candy fad” simulation, so you want to have a diverse menu so a drop in popularity of one product doesn’t result in insolvency. Candy becomes gradually more popular the longer it’s out there, so it might be worth it to keep making Crappies! to keep the brand name alive, even if there aren’t a lot of buyers at the moment.

The mechanics of the “candy fad” simulation should be unpredictable but not random, and the exact logic should be hidden from the player. Like in real life, they should have to probe the market and figure out what the public wants.

Long-term, the game would have you spreading your empire over some sort of map with competing candymakers, with the trick that territories further away would be harder to conquer due to increased delivery costs.

Management

I need to get these eaten up so I can start my diet.

The other thing I’d like to explore (or see some other game explore) is some actual human resource strategy. In most games, you hire generic interchangeable mooks for a fixed pay and they begin performing their duties at full capacity. If they do have differing stats, you can usually see those up front. If the game is really fancy, maybe they bug you for a raise once in a while. In any case, labor ends up being a tiny little percentage of your overhead. This is hilariously far from anything resembling the real world, and I think we’re missing out on some cool decisions.

In the real world, labor is typically your largest expense. You can’t tell how good someone is until after you’ve already hired and begun training them. Employees start out useless and gradually become proficient over time. There’s a certain cost to getting someone up to speed, which means you’ll have a quasi-incompetent rube clogging up the production line until they learn the ropes. Different people learn at different speeds. And finally, different people have different caps on their performance based on their personal ability, and those caps can vary wildly. Sometimes there’s that one person that’s just a Jedi Master at running the machinery, and some people never rise above “acceptable” no matter how long they stay with the job.

This forms a really interesting long term / short term dilemma and creates a need to plan ahead. You’ll hire people blind, and then over time you’ll see how they turn out, performance-wise. By the time you discover Alan is pretty-good-but-not-amazing, he’s going to be fully trained at his job. Do you get rid of him in hopes that his replacement will be more naturally gifted? That might work out better in the long run, but in the short term you’ll have another newbie slowing things down.

Tradeoffs

Tonight is Halloween. This was meant for the children, but I have decided to keep it. Yes. All of it. For me. Only me.

Interesting gameplay often comes from interesting decisions. Civilization (the game) is basically a giant decision-making system. My hope is (or, I suppose, was) that the balancing act between these needs would draw the player in.

  1. Player gets bulk discounts on raw materials. So buying ten bottles of corn syrup is less efficient than buying a single ten-gallon canister, which is less efficient than buying a fifty-gallon drum. And a lot of products will vary in price throughout the year, spiking just before you’re most likely to want them. So you want to buy big at the right time, right? But storage space is limited, and the more crap you have the more floor space it will consume.
  2. Having a broad range of active products builds your brand awareness, making all your stuff sell better. But different products require different machines and raw materials and thus floor space. So the more diverse you are, the lower your throughput is.
  3. The quality of the final product is tied to employee skill. So if you want to make high-grade, high-margin premium candy you need to have seasoned experts on the team, but if you just want to spam the world with colored sugar then you can (if you want) run a sweatshop of cheap transient workers.
  4. The big three candy-selling holidays have massive demand and your margins will probably be far above usual, so you’ll want to sell as much stuff as you can. And of course they’re all packed in a nice 5-month period instead of being spread out evenly. But candy has a limited shelf life. (The quality drops over time once it’s sitting in the warehouse waiting for a buyer.) So you can’t make stuff too far in advance.
  5. You can do research to unlock new flavors / machines / shapes. If you’re the first one to invent a “super tart” coating, then you’ll be the only one that can sell to that audience. But once an idea is in the wild, it becomes cheaper for your competition to research. (It’s actually cheaper based on how many products use it. So if EVERYONE is making “super tart” candy, then the technology will become effortless to obtain.) This means that if you spend to get ahead in the tech curve, then you’re kind of paying a lot of the costs for everyone else. So maybe research and get lots of exclusives, or ignore it and save a lot of money to spend on infrastructure or workforce.

In Conclusion…

”Real” “fruit” “flavor”.

So that’s the concept. It’s sort of daunting to see it all mapped out like this. It would technically be much easier to code than Good Robot, but it would be far more challenging to balance and test. If I make lasers 10% more effective in Good Robot, I can fire up the game and within five minutes I’ll know if I like the new system. But if I was testing Candy Empire and I wanted to see the effect of making research cost 10% more? That could take a long time to get a feel for how much of a difference that makes.

And now hopefully I can stop thinking about this and put my mind on more immediate problems. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

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202020206There are now 86 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

  1. Warlockofoz says:

    Working title: Candy Rush Stager.

  2. Retsam says:

    The main takeaway I got from this post was that “procedurally-generated supply and demand” would be a really interesting concept. I don’t think Shamus explicitly mentioned procedural generation, but 1) it’s Shamus, and 2) I feel it’d have to be; no matter what rules you come up with for supply and demand, people are going to figure them out eventually and find really gamey ways to beat or exploit them. But if they’re procedurally generated, that would keep the game interesting every play.

    The trick would be finding a way to generate an interesting set of rules for supply and demand, that create a difficult to predict, yet not random, demand curve.

    • Volfram says:

      Randomly-generated candy fads?

      Sour candy craze(sour candies will sell faster), XX popular brand has released a version with nuts added(candy with nuts sells faster), popular red food dye found to be slightly toxic(candy with red coloring suddenly does not sell at all), rumors that a popular food dye is an aphrodesiac(candy with green coloring sells faster)

      • Retsam says:

        Reminds me of the random events from Recettear.

        But, no, I think that’d be way too far on the random side of things; for the procedural demand to be realistic and interesting, there’d have to be predictable, or almost predictable elements to it; certainly these sort of random events could be interesting additions on top of a procedurally generated demand system, but the system itself would have to be more interesting, I think.

        • Thomas says:

          So if you build in some fairly complex or emergent (maybe semi-chaotic) ruleset and then just randomise the starting factors? So randomly generated A,B,C,D would be the first 4 fads and if A was say Green Round Sugar sweets then the popularity of all the Green combinations, all the Round combinations and all the Sweet combinations begins to rise whilst the ‘opposite’ Red, Square and Sour sweets fade in popularity.

          But once any particular combination of 3 characteristics reaches a certain total level of popularity (so all the Green sweets and all the Round sweets and all the Sugar sweets total X popularity together) the market is ‘oversaturated’ and it sinks the Green Round Sweet sweet to the floor whilst boosting it’s direct opposite to the roof.

          Once you mix in 4 fads I think that system should be suitably chaotic but still be understandable if you know whats going on.

          The trick with any system like that though would be 1) letting the players know it’s something that could be figured out and 2) making it easy enough to intuit (and kind of easy to figure out, relatively speaking, people don’t apply much brain power to games).

          If you make the system well enough, it should be fun enough trying to work out and manipulate the trends from the random beginning even when the player knows all the mechanics behind it. In fact considering they have to manufacture and test the sweets slowly, the mechanics need to be fairly simple

        • Felblood says:

          He was referencing actual events in the history of Candy marketing.

          I believe you can find out more about these particular fads by researching Warheads Candies, Snickers Bars, The Red 40 Scandal, and the Green M&M Legend.

          The thing to remember is that the public learns about these things around the same time you do. So, for example, if Brand X drops a new style of candy onto the market, you can decide if you want to gear up to ape them right then, or wait to see how the market reacts, before investing.

          • Adam Fuller says:

            You could make information more or less available to the player depending on how good of an in-house economist they have. And have the potential to hire marketing to try and create fads.

            • syal says:

              You can watch the news to keep up with trends, but the TV takes up floorspace.

              • Alexander The 1st says:

                Or just go full Willy Wonka; you can hire moles to spy on a competing company’s research, but you end up paying the wage of someone who’s not even producing product for you, and depending on the implementation, might actually have to increase your competitor’s output while there (If, for example, they aren’t a mole at the R&D level.).

                Thus asking the question – do you give up a lead now so that when your competitor tries to get ahead later, you can steal their market? Weigh that potential advantage with the trends – is it likely to even be a trend? Or would adding more moles to clog their inventory with something that won’t take off be what you’ll go for?

    • Halceon says:

      I was imagining a predictable curve – absent any other factors, a new type of candy has a steep rise in sales initially, then it drops to some sort of mid-range and either stays there indefinitely (with good marketing and rebranding once in a while), or drops into eventual obscurity.

      This can be modified by fads, originality, overall market saturation, brand strength, randomization and whatever other factors you choose to implement.

  3. Chuk says:

    Sounds like the Chocolatier games, kind of. Those were more about recipes and supply and demand rather than specifically designing individual candies, though.

  4. Ben says:

    I’m very glad Darth Vader isn’t my father.

  5. WillRiker says:

    Obviously the the game would be called Candy Scrolls Saga: Edge.

  6. RyanMakesGames says:

    Cool idea. Honestly, if you simplified some of the mechanics, it sounds like it could make a good board game.

    • Starkos says:

      A board game played with jelly beans!

      • Zeta Kai says:

        We did something like this with Monopoly. Our player pieces were mini-Butterfingers & Reece cups & whatnot, our houses were gumdrops, & our money was different colors of jellybeans. If you went bankrupt, the player most responsible would eat your piece. The goal was to win, of course, but some people couldn’t resist eating their money…

  7. WILL says:

    Now is probably the only right time to make a game like this.

  8. ooli says:

    You’re design get a lot of stuff hidden from the player -worker skill, next month demands, supply price, etc…

    Do you like game where the mechanism are hidden from you? I mean, when randomness is so important for the gameplay ( the bad worker you hired) you just reload.
    It’s far more enjoyable when you get all the data and need to choose -ie: hiring a cheap incompetent dude, or buying expensive supply cause you know demand will raise next month-

    I wonder what game with hidden value are fun to play. Yeah! I know all stat in real life are hidden, but game are not about real simulation, they never were.

    • ET says:

      I think that the best games I’ve played, are ones where not everything is visible, but not everything is hidden from the player either.
      Where everything’s visible (especially if it’s shown as a number on the screen), then the game usually ends up becoming a boring chore, where you work out the best solution on a spreadsheet program.
      Games where everything is hidden usually annoy me less, and this style can actually work fairly well in action-heavy games, like SHMUPs.

      Now, for Shamus’ idea, I was actually surprised that you thought employee skill would be a hidden stat.
      Me, I figured you would get semi-hidden, not-100% accurate feedback, with the flavor-text of it being a monthly performance report for the employee.
      My vision would be, that employees get ratings on their productivity (kilograms of candy per day) on each of the machines A, B, C, etc, and you could look up their past performance, by flipping your employee performance book back-and-forth between the months.
      You could put checkmarks for employees in columns for each of, perhaps, “good worker”, “OK worker”, “bad worker”, “learns quickly”, etc.
      Or maybe just give the player a little four-line text box, where they could write notes for each employee.

      • syal says:

        I figure you make every worker’s productivity known, but have hidden stats as to how they affect each other’s productivity. So not only are you firing an employee, you’re impacting the performance of the other employees, either positively or negatively.

        • Olly says:

          You could further supplement inaccruacy of worker capabilities with the inclusion of HR staff.

          By default, you could hire staff yourself quite happily whilst knowing very little about their ability, perhaps you get a single “ability” value that could be off by anything up to say 30%. This doesn’t tell you what the staff member is good or bad at, maybe they are fast and inaccurate, slow and accurate, completely middling. Maybe the score of 85% is actually 55%. You have some general measure of good or bad, but nothing specific.

          Say that HR staff are an option in the game. You hire a HR manager. Now based on your HR staff ability, you will get more accurate information about staff. Your HR member will help idenitfy particular staff traits, you will then be able to see a breakdown of performance in different areas: Speed, Ability, Strength, etc. and depending on the HR staff members skill level, you will get a much tighter range of values. For example on your own you see a staff member has a performance score of 60%, this could be anything between 30% and 90% and could be spread in any number of ways across all abilities. With a HR staff member hired, you now see the same staff member has values of 80% for speed, 30% for ability, and 20% for strength. The staff member over all is way less than 60%, but you can be fairly confident that if speed is all you need then this guy will fit the bill!

          • Zeta Kai says:

            The employee performance aspect of this candy-craft simulator could be an interesting game in its own right, at least as complex as the rest of the sim. I’d like to see that mini-game applied to other genres, like hirelings in fantasy games, or crew members in a space sim.

          • syal says:

            And then you have to guess at whether the HR guy knows what he’s doing because your statistics on him are as inaccurate as they are on anybody else.

          • Adam Fuller says:

            I love this idea, and it could be extended to other segments of the game as well. Want better info on market trends? Hire an economist. Etc.

            But there’s always a trade off…is the better information enough to offset the cost of the high level employee who provides it?

      • Axe Armor says:

        Needs alcohol to get through the working day.

  9. Paul Spooner says:

    Oh man! What an awesome idea! I really like how the various aspects all work together. Here are some more speculative suggestions and ideas to add to the foundation.

    First off, it would be neat if the system was built on a solid modular foundation, so that you could later do other games in the same vein, or allow modding to support other themes (clothing manufacturing comes to mind). With a flexible enough framework, you could just as easily map the same underlying trade-offs to farming, spacecraft production, or anything in-between.

    Going with the “unpredictable but not random” theme, it would be interesting if you could make estimates of prospective employees abilities which are general approximations. Just like you might forecast demand for products, you could forecast expected employee capacity.

    Management style seems rarely modeled, and I think it’s ripe for game exploration. Some companies run well with a strict authoritarian structure, while others thrive in a free-for-all get-the-job-done environment. As long as there were trade-offs involved, I think this could be turned into a compelling aspect of the game. As the company grows, you’ll loose the ability to manage everyone effectively, and so you’ll have to hire sub-managers. Like your employees, these managers will need to be trained in the culture that your employees expect, and old hands (your most valuable and most expensive assets) might up and quit if they feel the company isn’t enough “like the old days”.

    Another neat aspect you could fold in there is how difficult different equipment is to operate. There could be a pretty direct trade-off of skill versus floorspace, as larger simpler machines are easier to visualize and maintain, but take up a lot more of your valuable floorspace.

    The floorspace tradeoffs might be further excacerbated if your best managers require large offices, and your best employees want a big break room and spacious aisles. Do you operate using shelves and manpower? When do you install forklift accessible shelving and palatize everything? Do you want a fully automated pick-and-place warehouse?

    On top of all of that, you could easily throw in disasters, power outages, and various governmental bans on ingredients, along with a raft of taxes on everything from capital to inventory. The shifting nature of food industry regulation certainly could add another layer of challenge to this already involved game.

    • Brandon says:

      This is called feature creep. Take note everyone.

      I like some of these ideas though. They would probably look good rolled into the game if it were ever to be made.

      Hey Shamus, if you ever want to put together a team and build this game, I’m a pretty decent programmer.

    • silver Harloe says:

      “Going with the “unpredictable but not random” theme, it would be interesting if you could make estimates of prospective employees abilities which are general approximations. Just like you might forecast demand for products, you could forecast expected employee capacity.”

      In fact, it would be unrealistic NOT to have “some idea” what people are capable of. If your job ad is for a industrial machine repair specialist, you don’t get 500 random people, you get 500 people who either have the resume (or the wherewithal to fake the resume) of someone who has at least some experience working with or repairing industrial machines. HR quickly weeds it down to a few and your current team members do interviews and help you pick one… so you’re not guaranteed to get a good worker, but you’re “more likely” to get someone who has some skill with industrial machine repairs than you are someone who is better suited for painting landscapes. You can improve the process by investing in HR, but since it detracts from the core mission, you might prefer in a game to simplify HR to a money sink – assume they did the weeding-down-500-resumes phase to some degree of quality determined by your money input. If you don’t think it’s a distraction from the “management” game, then you have to hire HR people (or outsource it) somehow.

      Of course, unskilled labor is often hired without HR and in a more random process based on job applications rather than resumes, but also the decisions are made by low tier management (both in hiring and turnover) – so if you go with a “sweatshop” you might just play the HR game for line managers and then give your line managers a “number of mooks they need to keep on the line for various times of year” number. Getting “good managers” is probably harder than getting good industrial machine repair specialists, since job performance is harder to measure (real-world attempts to quantify management performance are often a rating of the aggregate of their employees, under the assumption that having a manager somehow contributed to that performance – but the assumption isn’t necessarily true for all teams all the time).

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Yeah, if the game is all about management, then human management should certainly be the most challenging aspect. People are just so much more complex than buildings and equipment!

        You seem to have a rather optimistic view of HR though. You might want to see your doctor about that.

    • MrGuy says:

      What if there were, like, a dissident group of pro-union employees that were secretly trying to bring the factory owners down. And, like, one day, their agent could bring you a coded message telling you to fire a certain employee who’s planning to rat them out, and another day you could hire someone without checking their qualifications. And if you do all their stuff, you kind of get screwed, but you get the totally sweet ending…

  10. I’m 90% certain that the Human Resource thing was done almost verbatim to the way you describe it in Theme Hospital, and it genuinely worked. Junior doctors would learn on the job; having them work with consultants in a specialisation would have them picking up that skill; I think they even had a natural ability level that determined how efficient they could possibly be. They certainly had a stat for how quickly they would tire out that was innate. They were also large part of your monthly bill… that and your loans.

    Now I really miss Theme Hospital. Thank goodness for GOG…

    • Intro says:

      The HR bit is also somewhat reminiscent of Out of the Park Baseball (and possibly others sports management sims). Most rookies start out fairly limited, and the quality of your knowledge of their abilities is determined by your scouts. Each player also has a “potential” rating also judged by the scouts, but they may or may not actually eventually reach that, depending on how they do in the minors, on the quality of their various coaches, etc.

  11. ThaneofFife says:

    Shamus, I know you’re swamped right now, but you should really do this! I would so play this game. I am not aware of any good economics simulators out there (other than MMOs), and I love the RPG-esque aspect of training employee skills.

    The game the concept reminds me the most of is Sweatshop, which is a flash-based pseudo-tower defense game set on a factory floor. It’s meant to highlight the poor conditions of workers in the developing world, and the economic incentives that encourage their poor treatment. Your workers are the “towers,” and the products that they’re building are the “creeps.” and you can either maximize profits by upgrading workers with perks (e.g., training, water, and bathrooms) or hire a large, but cheap untrained or child labor force.

    I imagine that your game could have a sort of mini-game where you try to optimize the production line’s speed or quality with gameplay similar to that in Sweatshop. However, even if everything is very high-level without micromanagement, it still sounds fun. I think it would sell well too.

    Come to think of it, it could also be good as a not-evil free-to-play title. You could have players pay to receive in-game cash. The cash could be then used to buy new equipment or factory space, headhunt top employees from competitors, or expedite candy research. Of course, players could also just earn the cash by selling candy. You might also be able to get ad revenue from product placement deals with real-life candy companies.

    • ThaneofFife says:

      One additional thought: This would be a perfect game for Railroad Tycoon- or Sim City-esque historical scenarios. You have people try to make candy in different periods or places.

      For example, you could have a business that starts in 1900 with people hand-making candy with boiling pots of sugar, and show the gradual process of mechanization of the job. Over time machines become cheaper than skilled candy-makers. However, maybe quality goes down, or workers with new skills are needed to service the machines.

      Other possible scenarios:
      – Research the recipes and machinery needed to build a successful chocolate bar business in the 1890s-1900s before Hershey corners the market?
      – Can your business survive WW2 rationing?
      – Can you create an entirely new selection of candies for the World’s Fair a few months away?
      – Can you build a modern, mechanized production line in a developing nation, and adapt your candy to local market tastes?
      – Focus on quality to become the premier name in high-quality chocolates and beat back the Belgian invasion (which is a fun concept in itself).

      If you had mod support, you could imagine a lot of interesting player-generated scenarios popping up too.

  12. MichaelG says:

    The How Its Made link seems to be wrong. I get some other episode (the season and number are right.)

    Try this one

  13. Shamus, what you describes is in many parts similar to how the old game is.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_%28computer_game%29

    I was unable to find it anywhere (shame Good Old Games didn’t have it).
    I had this on my Amiga way back in the day.

    I did find this for the PC version, http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/270/Detroit.html

    It is not such a daunting task, it is only if you start to throw in modern day fancy graphics and animations and 3D modelling that such a game would be expensive.

    But a game like Detroit but focused on candy but using 2D graphics would work well, and if designed properly it could work on PC/Mac/Phones, maybe try your hand at turning it into a HTML5 game? (HTML5 + CSS + Javascript + maybe some WebGL)

    • AndrewS says:

      The blurb on Free Enterprise looks a lot like Shamus’ idea with the individual worker characteristics.

      I remember picking up an old text-only game on Abandonia or Underdogs called simply “Business Simulation”. I can’t find it now, and with such a generic name, I’m unlikely to – but the business was robotics, it added a new level of complexity each season (start off importing and reselling – then add manufacturing, then R&D, then multiple territories…)and it had a heavy focus on cash-flow management (products had lead time, you could make deals with your suppliers and customers so that payment would be in advance or delayed etc.) Makes me think that it’s probably better to pick one or two aspects of business to explore in detail and make a game mechanic out of (like Shamus’ HR idea).

  14. HiEv says:

    Really? No Easter candy season? Those poor chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps feel so neglected. :-(

  15. Abnaxis says:

    It’s too late for me to go Googling around, but I can tell you from experience that labor is not even remotely close to your biggest cost in manufacturing, especially starting out. At a company I once worked at, more than a nickel on the dollar was a high labor cost for a product. The most high-volume product we sold had a labor cost of $1.25, for a $50 part.

    It always baffles me when manufacturers bemoan paying workers higher wages–they are literally haggling over a tiny, tiny fraction of the sell price of whatever widget they are producing.

    Now in service and creative industries, like programming and fast-food, it is definitely true that labor costs can make or break. However, a candy factory where giving the oompa-loompas a $1/hr raise puts you out of business is not at all true to life. You have to remember, in a proper factory set-up you’re producing tens to hundreds of pounds of product for each man-hour.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I don’t know where you’re getting your numbers, but be sure you’re not overlooking employee overhead. The cost of labor is more than double the paycheck value when you factor in health insurance, taxes, bookkeeping, etc.

      Plus I suspect the candy industry is a fairly tight margin sector. Even if, as you say, labor is a minority of the cost, so is the profit margin. Manufacturers bemoan the cost of capital equipment when they are negotiating with the OEM as well (I know this because most of the companies I’ve worked for produce manufacturing equipment).

      It’s a constant struggle to improve efficiency across the board. Labor disputes are often more popularized (for whatever reason) but manufacturers would love to shave pennies off the dollar any way they can. If they could switch electricity providers, or location, or equipment providers, or anything else, they would (and often do).

      • Abnaxis says:

        I’m getting my numbers from actually running cost analyses on physical goods the manufactured by the company I worked for (they were kinda weird, in that the individual engineers worked on every step of releasing a product, including manufacturing cost analysis). I have also actually worked the lines in more than one manufacturing facility.

        For the analyses I ran as an engineer, the products were actually quite labor intensive–very few procedures could be automated in assembly, requiring human finesse and dexterity to properly assemble and calibrate the final product. Nevertheless, even newbies could get work their way up to ~100 units on their station an hour the way our lines were set up. Since there were seven stations to move through, and the factory workers were paid $9/hour (a rate which we doubled to $18/hour for cost estimating, exactly as you say), the cost came out to $1.26. On a product that sold for $35-$200 (average about $50-$60) to distributors.

        For the factories I worked in as a laborer, the products were much more basic, and hence much higher volume per man-hour since the machines did most of the work. I haven’t worked in a candy factory, but similar to a candy factory the factory where I worked had lower margins, but they also got way, way more volume than the place where I engineered, by multiple orders of magnitude.

        This is fairly typical of most manufacturing. Going by what I learned in school, we’re talking 5-10%, maybe 20% (certainly not the majority of cost) for immediate labor, and that’s been supported in every single facility I have experience with.

        As far as cutting costs is concerned, I can understand that companies want to do whatever they can to save those extra pennies, and at least in the short term cutting labor is much easier than a similar cut to material or overhead costs. Still, it puts my teeth on edge when labor is portrayed by manufacturers as some great monumental burden, liable to put them out of business if they have to pay a single nickel more than they can get away with. It’s just not true.

        Also, sorry if I’m swinging too political. I’m doing my best to keep from being incendiary, but if I’m saying things that hit too many nerves, go ahead and mod-clobber me, Shamus

    • Trix2000 says:

      It really depends on the product being sold – different things might take more labor to make relative to the amount of profit you can expect from them.

      • Abnaxis says:

        While there certainly is variation from product to product, any product that had labor as the majority of it’s cost would be an extreme outlier, at least as far as large-scale manufacturing is concerned.

        And either way, we’re talking about candy. Candy doesn’t take a lot of labor, it takes a worker flipping the switches on the candy-making machine, a worker or two flipping the switches on the candy-packaging machine, a couple workers doing QA, a mechanic to keep everything running, and logistics (though logistics might or might not count as labor, depending on how you account for overhead).

        I mean, I guess when I put it that way, it sounds like a lot, but you have to remember that hundreds and hundreds of pounds of the stuff is spit out by the machines every hour–by the time you distribute the labor costs over the output, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it’s more than a few cents on the dollar.

  16. Hitchmeister says:

    I’ve spent too much time packing virtual candy into boxes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chocolate-fix/id409705623?mt=8

  17. I’m not usually a big fan of this *type* of game, but this is EXACTLY the kind of conceptual framework I wish a lot more of the games I DO like would bring to the table. Tradeoffs are important! But instead they just throw up some junky diminishing-returns system with no interesting tradeoffs whatsoever.

    I think this is one of the reasons why I like Dungeons and Dragons Online so much–the number of tradeoffs in that game is unbelievable. I mean, here is just ONE off the top of my head for just ONE type of character:

    Evasion vs. no evasion: lots of enemies spam spells in DDO so evasion–provided you have a decent reflex save–is WAY more valuable than it is in Pen and Paper. However, getting evasion either means splashing 2 monk (you must be lawful, use specific weapons, and wear robes–and you give up the “capstone” ability of your primary class), splashing 2 rogue (must wear light armor, no capstone), 9 Ranger (that’s not a splash, that’s a fundamental build change, and, once again, light armor), taking the Shadowdancer destiny (all the good abilities only synergize with a high-int character, stuck with light armor again), or the Primal Avatar destiny (kind of a weird destiny, mostly good for druids, and you have to either fight in animal form or use two-weapon-fighting to get the evasion ability, plus, you know, light armor).

    And that’s just SOME of the complications and tradeoffs involved in pursuing ONE ability. The game is crazy complex, but it’s not all that difficult to build a good character. Building a GREAT one, though . . . you can make yourself insane that way.

    And then I go play something like Skyrim or Dragon Age and the whole tradeoffs issue becomes, really, Not A Thing. The number of options and the impact of those options just isn’t there, so I get bored with it after a while.

    Diablo III kind of epitomized the failure of this to me. The options were basically meaningless and you could change them at any time so your monk was all monks. The only thing that mattered was what gear you managed to find and it was all randomized so the only thing that made a difference was how big your % magic find was so you got more drops of better items. Tradeoffs? Complexity? Forget it.

    • Mephane says:

      And I find the trade-off “be more powerful” vs “higher magic find stat” one of the most un-fun ever in RPGs, because you need magic find to get stronger gear, yet you won’t want to wear stronger gear because you need magic find to get even more and even stronger gear, ad infinitum.

      And then it gets worse in games that let’s you change equipment on the fly, even mid-combat, and suddenly you find yourself switching to magic find armor right before a mob dies, loot it, then switch back to actual combat armor.

  18. William Friedman says:

    This reminds me a lot of Game Dev Tycoon, though not perfectly. A lot of the same ideas.

    What I’d suggest for new factory workers is to introduce the Peter Principle: Workers’ skill is a result of both a randomly generated “Skill at this specific task” and “Ability at everything”. The latter is most important for management jobs and less for specific work jobs.

    Bill

    • William Friedman says:

      Edit – Sorry, apparently I didn’t state the most important part of this in my original post:

      You only see the character’s total stat as it results in his work. You have no idea what part of his attributes belong to which of the two traits.

  19. Zaxares says:

    *scrolls down past all the candy pictures to the comments section*

    Shamus, DAMN YOU for giving me a candy craving. :P

  20. Pkrcel says:

    Man, there are a LOT a good ideas in this post…I may pursue those for the fun of it (or won’t ever come close to it, as most prolly)

  21. BvG says:

    I always thought that someone should make a version of “Factory: The Industrial Devolution”. Especially the idea of different machines for different types of candy products gels perfectly with this puzzle approach. Obviously it’s a bit basic for todays standard, but if one could do something with the money earned during the work shift, that could be made into some kind of managment-meta game where one buys new parts for a conveyer belt of some sorts, maybe even automation-tools to speed up or simplify the task.

    Here’s a video review:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URqyNdAdEz0

  22. mdqp says:

    I like the idea, but I feel like we already had this game (sort of). Did anyone play pizza tycoon around here? It’s a nice game, and a very close fit to Shamus’ general concept.

  23. arron says:

    I think that candy based diabetes driven survival horror is a possibility. Trying to cope in a dystopian world filled with candy whilst trying to find insulin and manage your blood sugar effectively. And your path to escaping the nightmare is littered with the sad tales of those people who succumbed in the sucrose driven madness that surrounds you…!

  24. Benjamin Hilton says:

    This actually does seem like a game that would be very deep and interesting were it pulled off correctly.

    The only issue I could see with making this is getting people to see the deep mechanics. I think allot of people would just look at it on the surface and see a silly game about candy and not look into it any further.

    This is all hypothetical of course ;)

  25. steam_dad says:

    You know, The Movies kind of did very similar. I haven’t played it in years, but I remember you had a certain size lot, so you had to balance your “buildings to run a studio” vs your “sets to make a movie”. When you hired people they had certain starting stats, and you could decide if they were going to be and as the actors/writers worked in a certain genre they got higher stats, and your builders/janitors would get better at their jobs. As time went by world events would dictate what movies people wanted to see, Comedies during the depression, scifi during hopeful times, war movies during war times, etc. and certain stat comboes worked better for certain genres, so if suddenly action movies are popular and you have no rugged hansom middle age agtors then your box office reciepts wern’t that good. It was a very complex and very fun game. AND on top of all that they had a make your own movies type thing which was limited but still awesome. I think they should have come out with a seperate deal which was just an expanded version of the makeing the movies part, with more control and stuff. There was a pretty big MOD comunity there for a time which did some cool stuff.
    And, it’s been mentioned on one of the Diecasts, which was cool to hear. “hey I played that game that is apparently now obscure. Am I now a video game hipster?”

  26. Kacky Snorgle says:

    The article mentions “the big three candy-selling holidays”. I’ve always thought in terms of four (Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter) and now I’m wondering which of them is smaller than I think.

  27. MrGuy says:

    *sniffle*

    Lemonade Stand is all growed up.

  28. Neko says:

    Your talk of employees having individual stats which build up over time and factory layout management and research puts me in the mind of UFO: Enemy Unknown. I’d love a re-skin of that where you’re just making candy – shadowy government agents holding briefcases of money and all.

  29. SKD says:

    I think this sounds like a very interesting concept. I also see that this could be used as an educational game as most people really have no understanding of what it takes to make a product, sell that product, or the planning and prediction that takes place in every business to ensure that they remain a viable company over the long term.

    You mentioned the limited shelf life of candy as the quality goes down over time and the problems of ingredient price spikes and storage space that limit your ability to purchase bulk supplies when they are cheaper. Another factor to consider would be that ingredients degrade over time while stored and that different ingredients degrade at different rates as well.

  30. Duffy says:

    Your outline sparked the memory of a game play problem I was trying to solve in reference to markets. When I was playing EVE a lot I got into general trading: figure out demand, buy low, sell high, ship stuff from one place where it’s cheap or not selling to a better location etc…

    In the long run I kind of bailed on it because ultimately I didn’t end up finding it very fun. However, the aspect I didn’t enjoy wasn’t the buying, selling, shipping, and organizing part. It was figuring out the prices and margins, it was easy work, but it was tedious and boring to gather the information. On the flip side, with the right tools and data you could make that part of the game trivial.(It particularly annoys me as a Database Developer, I could whip those queries together to maximize profit in less than an hour)

    The point I’m slowly getting to is that I often see negative commentary about mechanics that make it too ‘easy’ by removing the work but at the same time optimal play is to just slog through the tedious aspect and do exactly what the streamlined tool would have shown you anyways. Do you think this is just a general design pitfall that requires more interesting game play surrounding such an aspect to make up for it? Or is this totally just a personal preference thing on me?

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I generally come down in support of your point. In-game drudgery and lack of automation often hides a fundamental lack of depth. I suspect it’s often easier to obfuscate than to improve. The games with a good mod API are much more tolerable, as you can write the required tools yourself. Once you see it, though, the “game” is usually over. There are a lot of games that survive entirely on this lack of tools, or interface obfuscation, or data interface ambiguity, or any number of other similar smokescreens for shallow mechanics.

      On the other hand, learning to see through the false challenge of lacking the proper tools takes some people a long time. Before that happens, doing things “by hand” can be an enjoyable challenge. And there’s something to be said for knowingly “playing query parser” as an excercise, if you like that kind of thing.

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