Talking about Tobin Tax

Thanks to FOTW being on Steam sale this week, a new raft of players are trying the game for the first time. As such, it seemed like a good chance to talk about one of the original game’s most important cards: Tobin Tax.

As a real-life idea, Tobin Tax has been around for over 40 years, being first proposed in 1972. The initial premise was of a tax levied on currency exchanges, to act as a brake on the type of short-term speculation that led to George Soros and friends breaking the pound in 1992.

The goal of the real-life Tobin Tax (aside from raising lots of money for the government) is to mitigate the sort of catastrophic bubbling that financial systems are inevitably prone to, as residents of the Western and Chinese economies will only too gladly tell you.

It’s an idea that may soon have its day: the EU is planning to introduce a Financial Transactions tax in less than six months’ time (assuming it doesn’t get postponed again). We shall see then how effective it proves.

In the game, the Tobin Tax card is found in the rainbow-coloured “permacards” deck (so called because once played, they remain in an agent slot until their effects complete, or they are cancelled). If you play it in a region, the GEO receives an immediate $100 billion into its coffers, and the region’s inhabitants lose a little bit of respect for your authority. Play it enough times, and there’s a good chance you’ll get kicked out of a region for your money-grubbing ways.

What makes Tobin Tax such a powerful card is that it is the only “instant effect” card you as the Player have access to. Every other card requires you wait a turn until you see any benefit, but Tobin Tax gives you the money immediately. This allows you to juggle different regions’ budgets much more effectively.

In the early game, you can use Tobin Tax to turn the goodwill of rich nations into hard cash, allowing you to pursue a very rapid expansion policy in the poorer regions, and hopefully getting them into a stable situation by the time that the developed regions start sharpening their pitchforks, and you need to cut them some slack.

If you want to beat the higher levels of the game, you need to use Tobin Tax a lot.

Some people have commented that, useful as it is, the Tobin Tax card isn’t actually a very good simulation of Tobin Tax. This is a fair point, as the card’s design occurred purely by mistake.

Whilst messing around in the game editor, I noticed that you could put a negative value into the card cost, which I promptly did in the same spirit a QA Engineer orders beer. As soon as I tried the test card out in game, I realised just how powerful, useful and necessary it was. All it needed now was a name, so we chose the concept which seemed closest to its effect.

Of course, if we were making it now, we’d call it Piketty Tax….

FOTW sale announced, and work on board design

I was hoping to post this dev blog last night, but then a nice man called Charles bought us beer, and things got a little hazy after that.

Anyway, the first piece of exciting news of this week, as members of the mailing list will tell you, is the fact that Fate of the World and the Tipping Point expansion will both be on sale for a 50% discount all next week on Steam.

This is something we’d been wanting to do for a while, as we saw on the forums people wanting to play the game, but also wanting to wait until it was on sale. Hopefully this will give you all the chance to try it out.

In other news, we had a very positive design discussion earlier in the week, on how the new game board will be modelled.

One of the key features we want to introduce in FOTWO is proper land usage modelling, so we can track things like permafrost melting, increased desertification, degradation of agricultural land, and more nuanced deforestation (new growth forest is not as effective a carbon sink as old growth, for example).

To make this simulation task manageable, we have to split the world up into chunks. Our first guess was to use square cells 10 miles on a side. At this resolution, the world’s biggest country (Russia) would be approximately 500 cells wide and 400 cells deep.

Conversation then moved on to whether this was too much of a design burden to manage, and whether using a scale of 100 miles was better, or too crude.

It was at this point, Delnar suggested using a Goldberg polyhedron like this one, and modelling the whole globe as hexes (with a handful of pentagons thrown in for good measure).

Clive fiddled around with his Domestic screen mock-up, and came up with this sample of what this underlying system might actually look like in game:


Overall, we’re quite taken with it. Lots more experimentation and discussion to go, but it’s one of those solutions that just feels right. And, if we ever start modelling military activity in the game as well, having the world already turned into hex map sounds like a pretty good idea….





Launches and crashes

First off, a very big thank you to everyone who’s signed up to the mailing list so far. We’re currently readying our first mail-out to you, where you’ll be the first to know a breaking piece of Fate of the World news. Expect to see something reach your inbox in the next couple of days.

If you haven’t joined the mailing list yet, then it is a matter of great ease to do so; the red widget at the top right of this webpage will be only too happy to take your details.

Dev-wise, design and team continue to assemble themselves slowly but inexorably. We’re also having some great dialogues with community members, and being reminded about some of the cool things the original game did. Fracking, austerity protests, heatwaves, extinctions, reforestation initiatives… playing the original FOTW is very much like watching the news today.

One of the mechanics that was hotly argued about at the time was the mechanism we had for predicting financial crashes. There was a core algorithm in the game which constantly monitored whether a region’s economy reached a state where Commercial GDP was more than double the aggregated value of Agricultural and Industrial GDP. If so, there would be an economic crash of some kind, and that region’s GDP and infrastructure would diminish.

This was a pretty ad hoc, hand-wavy kind of rule, but one which addressed our concerns about what constitutes “value” in a Capitalist system: to us, it seemed that there was only so much economic activity which could be sustained by the resources used – not just the fuel that powers vehicles and power stations, but also the food, clothing, equipment, and materials used in the conduct of a free market economy.

The reason this rule made players so cross was because they tried to optimise the economies of their world regions to be primarily Commercial in activity, as this had the lowest carbon footprint. Players would never abandon the Agricultural sector completely, as this dropping too low would cause Famine events, but they would happily diminish their Industrial sectors to 0. There needed to be a mechanic which prevented this from happening.

Many players cried foul at the time, but when we looked to the history books, we saw that our hunch was largely correct – most financial crashes in history happened when Commercial activity was around 1.5 times the aggregated value of Agricultural and Industrial.

Interestingly, this viewpoint has been backed up by recent research, and it seems certain that it’s a subject we’ll return to. Improvements to the model that are in discussion include separating Finance out from Commercial as an economic sector, as well as analysing what GDP really means – especially once illths such as resource usage and emissions are factored into activity.

It’s a fascinating subject, but one I can’t be allowed to dwell on too much at present; far too many other things to do. There’s a mailshot to get out, video scripts to write, UI designs to be sketched, and no doubt another dev blog to write in a day or two. Still, at least it’s not too hot.

Sensitive subjects

Things move forward, though never as quickly as you’d like. The important thing is to make progress, as Jadav Payeng will doubtless tell you.

Meanwhile, Klaude has been posting some very interesting and thought-provoking pieces on the Facebook page, in particular the question about religion I mentioned last time.

A range of viewpoints presented themselves; we saw detailed explanations of how it could be modelled, while others were more concerned with asking why and if the subject should be included.

One comment that stood out was the notion that we didn’t need to include it, because we were already modelling political outlook. This chimed true: we can see throughout history that all religions have been capable of both enlightened and barbaric outlooks. What is important in game terms is to capture the political will of a culture: in the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Climate change is a people problem”.

In the original game, we had a single political slider, which described how Green or Consumerist a region was; Green regions disliked high emissions and short-sighted adaptive strategies like Sulphate Aerosols, while Consumerist regions were more focused on their quality of life.

This delivered good gameplay, but equally it was rather crude, and omitted large chunks of political discourse. To capture the nuance of human society, we need to dig a little deeper.

The Migration DLC for the original game introduced the notion of people fleeing poorer regions to richer ones in search of a better life – something we can see happen every day of the week on the Mediterranean in current times, amongst other places. The result in the game was increased political tension in the region that received the migrants.

Modelling the effect of migration that happens during the course of the game is all well and good —  but what about migrations that happened before the period modelled by the game? The racial composition of the world’s nations reflects thousands of years of history, much of it unhappy. The consequences of our past affect political outlook now, and will continue to do so in future. We can use real world data to analyse and project possible outcomes for many of the world’s racial flashpoints. Should we do so?

Gender is another topic not previously covered in the game model. The role and status of women in society is possibly the longest-running civil rights issue in history, traceable right back to the origins of agriculture. Women’s calls for justice and equality will not cease until they are heard. As the leader of a nation in FOTWO, it will be your choice to acknowledge them, or try to suppress them.

Gender raises other issues too. For example, in China there will be 30 million more men of marrying age than women by 2020. What social effect will that have?

If we include gender and race, then how to model them? Key civil liberties such as the right to vote and access to education are obvious flags, but they do not capture all of the story. Perhaps the truest reflection of injustice is wealth: according to a 2011 World Bank report, women own only 1% of the world’s wealth. Some commenters take issue with this figure, but there is no doubt that men own at least 90% of the world’s assets. Similar disparities are typical of racial inequalities. That, in the age of internet education, is some powder keg.

Gender, race, and wealth inequality. Three of the most charged political debates of our day. They affect every aspect of our societies, which in turn affect every aspect of our environment. There are other key social issues that clamour for attention too, such as the rights of the gay and trans communities, or prejudices towards disability and mental health. It seems essential we include as many of them as we can.

What do you think? Come to the comments on the Facebook post, and join the debate.

Discussions with Delnar

It’s been something of a mixed week.

On Wednesday, I wrote a lengthy Dev Blog, analysing the turn-based mechanics of the original game, and detailing our proposals for how this would change in FOTWO.

I finally finished it around 11 at night, proof-read it thoroughly, then pressed the button to publish it. WordPress promptly crashed. Nothing was recoverable. Making a mental note to save local back-ups in future, I stomped off to bed.

Thursday, on the other hand, was considerably better, as it was the first time I got to speak with Delnar Ersike.

Delnar, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is the person who created the unofficial patch for the game, which addressed numerous problems that the original dev team never got the chance to.

Nearly all of the improvements he made to the game were changes to the work that had been implemented by myself and the other designers. This is because our work was freely editable via a LUA text file, while the rest of the code remained impenetrable.

Yesterday, Delnar and I spoke for about four hours (occasionally interrupted by a temperamental router), and it was a profoundly interesting experience to discuss an old project with someone who not only knew much more about it than I did (it’s four years since I had hands on with the code), but could also explain in precise mathematical detail some of the errors that we’d made.

This was not the only subject we discussed; our conversation was far-ranging, encompassing everything from the roots of gonzo journalism to multiplayer strategies in Civilization 5, and why Venture Capitalists don’t like funding games you pay for.

He spoke knowledgeably and at length about the strategy games closest to his heart; game mechanics that did the best job of modelling diplomacy and economics; what works well for multiplayer and what doesn’t; which games stood out for modelling the terrible social impact that war has.

For my part, I shared reminiscences of the original development, giving him some insight into some of the decisions we made, and why certain parts of the game turned out the way they did.

In truth, we could have spoken several hours longer, but real life intruded, so we suspended discussion for the meantime.

I took two key points away from our talk: firstly, there is no doubt in my mind that Delnar’s involvement in the sequel is highly desirable, and likely to make it a very good game indeed. Secondly, it looks probable that this is something we can make happen.

Klaude and I will be discussing a draft contract for Delnar next time we speak. In the meantime, you could spend a few interesting minutes heading over to the Facebook page, where Klaude has posed an extremely salient and complex question: What, if any, role should religion have in FOTWO? We look forward to reading your opinions.

The vision so far

Apologies for the longer-than-usual gap between updates, but I’ve been traversing the country for the last few days, hopping from machine to machine, and it hasn’t been conducive to contemplation.

Anyway, I promised to share some insights with you on where the game vision stands, so here’s a couple of points that Klaude and I agree on so far:

1. It will be Multi-Agent

What this means is that the game will have several players, any and all of whom can be AI bots or real-life people. This is in contrast to the original game, which was definitively single-player: there, you were a de facto global dictator, trying to lead the peoples of the world to a happier future. By contrast, in FOTWO you will play as one leader amongst many; primarily, you will be a national leader, though you may also end up leading organisations such as NATO, OPEC, or the EU.

The benefits of this are many: firstly, it’s a truer simulation of the actual situation, where action on global matters must arise from consensus rather than diktat, and where political realities can frustrate otherwise simple activities. This is in accordance with the guidance we’ve been given by the original game’s economic adviser Cameron Hepburn, who himself uses multi-agent systems to create complex models for real-life policy makers.

Secondly, it makes for a genuine game. Single-player games are fundamentally puzzles, even if you factor in random events. The only real tension that exists is that which artificially imposed by the designer, with the game’s difficulty determined by how many viable solutions exist for the player to discover.

Multi-player games, on the other hand, can be played again and again, with the outcome always uncertain. It’s the difference between playing poker, and playing solitaire. Even if someone only ever plays against AI bots as opponents, they will still experience a game that is more unpredictable, more engaging, and more replayable than the original.

2. It will be Online in every sense

We see three elements to the Online suffix we’ve added to the game’s title.

Firstly, it is a commitment to ongoing development, to a product we’re going to be constantly updating and improving. Our game casts its attention far and wide, attempting to simulate every aspect of life on Earth, and there will always be brushstrokes we’ve made too broad or in error. Thankfully, we have an alert and passionate fan base, and we’re determined to incorporate their corrections and improvements wherever possible.

Secondly, it is a commitment to online gameplay. Once the multi-agent game model has been created, it is just a matter of technical implementation to permit people around the world to play against each other online. Yes, it will probably be our most expensive game feature, but it is one we feel is definitely worth it. It is likely only a few players will have the dedication to see through a full 200-year game, which could take upwards of 20 hours to complete, but there will be plenty of shorter-term scenarios which will be highly enjoyable for all.

Finally, it is a commitment to community. We’ve had an amazing response to the sequel announcement, with huge amounts of positive, insightful feedback coming our way. It’s clear that a great many of you share our belief in this game, and the lessons it can teach. We want to work with you to make sure it’s the very best game it can be.

Well, best leave it there for now. Time ticks on, and Monday morning looms. Thanks for reading, and watch out for more updates this week, as things start to swing into gear.

Some words on Sian and Delnar

One of the cool things that’s happened as a result of the announcement is getting back in touch with the original team. There’s been some fond reminiscing, and talk of a reunion at some point. It’d certainly be nice to see everyone again.

Meanwhile, though, I wanted to talk about a couple of people who are very relevant to the new production.

First of all, Sian, the Art Director behind the new logo, website, and concept art, who has been absolutely critical in helping us get to this point.

Sian has a long and distinguished career in the games industry, working for EA Europe’s internal advertising team back in the mid-90s, and subsequently EA’s ad agency OWNP. She’s now the Senior Partner at MDM Creative, the design agency she co-founded in 2000.

Sian’s worked on a huge number of AAA campaigns, creating packaging and advertising at the highest level, such as this award-winning poster for the Alien franchise, which graced Times Square. We’re very, very happy she’s onboard.

Delnar Ersike, on the other hand, is the creator of the unofficial patch for the original game, published nearly three years after launch, by which time the dev team had long since disbanded.

His work addressed some significant unresolved issues with the original, particularly in terms of visibility and feedback on what various cards do. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about the original game.

Right now, we’re talking with him on e-mail, working out how he might be able to fit into the new team. He seems like a very smart, very capable individual, and we’d love to have his input as we reactivate and reimplement the core game systems.

In the meantime, there’s a huge pile of admin tasks to take care of, e-mails to answer, and relationships to rekindle. More interestingly, Klaude and I have been discussing the product vision at length… I hope to share some of our thoughts with you on the next blog.


First press, first reaction…

It turns out Friday night is actually a pretty good time to announce an indie game. It gives a small PR team enough time to put the message out, see the initial response, make course corrections, and still have the opportunity to get all the press releases sent off by Monday morning.

One of the first people we wanted to notify was the journalist Dan Griliopoulos, who you may have noticed putting party political manifestos through Democracy 3 in the run-up to the UK elections.

When he covered the Green Party, he was thoughtful enough to give us a paragraph mention, which was the first press coverage Fate had received in over two years. The team got to read it as we were slogging through the thousand tiny frustrations of the design process; it gave us just the fillip we needed to press on.

On Friday, Dan retweeted our announcement immediately, along with paying us a compliment that we found frankly humbling (though we did stick it on the front page of the website too).

Monday saw us get our first press reaction, as Rock, Paper, Shotgun gave their response to the news.

RPS have always had the nicest things to say about Fate, with their quotes illuminating not just our home page, but the TV Tropes entry too, so we were thrilled  to see them pick up the news.

Meanwhile, Klaude is itinerant somewhere in Central Europe, while Sian and I continue to push the boat forward. Oh yeah, we got an e-mail from some guy called Delnar, too…

And we’re live

The site went fully live yesterday evening.

We’d spent the day ironing out some minor teething problems with the mailing list, and getting the redirect from the old site in place.

I finally got to speak with Klaude at around 8 in the evening, when I told him we were ready to go.

He quoted a celebrated piece of Chinese wisdom at me: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next-best time is now.”

And with that, he broke the announcement on our Facebook page. Things have been pretty busy ever since.

So far, the response has been very gratifying; there are clearly many people out there who share our belief in the game, and the desire to see it pushed forward.

From our point of view, it’s fantastic to finally be able to talk about our plans; it’s taken us over 12 months to get here, from initial negotiations to the IP acquisition, before moving onto web, interface and game design.

I’ll be updating this blog as frequently as possible, keeping you all fully up to speed with our progress and proposals. If you have any feedback or thoughts to share, please get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or Steam forums, and join the discussion!

First look at new interface

This is the mock-up of the main interface that Sian has been working on.

It’s one of three main game screens; the others are the Domestic interface (where you issue governing actions for your home country), and Diplomatic (where you interact with the representatives of other countries, in negotiations and summits)

It’s still very much “work in progress”, but it shows you the direction we’re heading in…. clean, simple, with vital information foregrounded.