Designing A Game That Teaches Real Business Skills

If a team of game developers wants to build this game, please contact me. It is a game that teaches real business skills. I increasingly see these open-world games which allow you to choose your life path based on what conversational options are chosen. How about we start leveraging this technology to better prepare people on the quest to become rich in the real world.

We may take common sense for granted, but the fact is that even making our bed requires training subroutines on subroutines and then running them at will from muscle memory. Our brains must rehearse the motions before becoming adept at something, and often the difference between having pre-established neural pathways or not having such etched-and-burned passages is the difference between feeling the drive to perform a given action.

Being business-savvy may feel common sense from a distance, but developing the skill actually requires embodiment. And that’s why a game that properly projects the player into real life business situations would probably hold more value than all middle school and high school combined.

For example, it is said that the most important question to ask the business seller is ‘Why do you want to sell?’ Nothing else matters until you understand why the seller wants to part with the business. And since you have to ask the vital question after you have established a rapport with the seller, this fact should also be built into the game’s structure.

And then say there are five main reasons why a business owner wants out. They are:

  • Burnout, health, partnership problems, or a desire for a change in lifestyle (common in the bar and restaurant trade).
  • Retirement. But, if it’s a good business, why is the seller not keeping it in the family?
  • Poor business or problems with the landlord. The player must learn to be careful here.
  • The vendor is not really serious about selling, but will do so for a high price.
  • The seller developed a start-up and wants to realize the capital gain, take a holiday, then start all over again. The player must be careful here not to lose his/her customers and employees.

Below are detailed responses to the crunch question: ‘Why do you want to sell your business?’ Set up the game so that some answers will be absurd, but the usual replies are as follows:

Partnership Problems

Sometimes the joint investors disagree on key management issues. However, the player must recognize that this usually happens when the business is underperforming. If the business is doing well, what is there to argue about?

Health Problems

Some sellers are forced to give up their business due to severe health problems. The shock of a heart attack may be the catalyst for a complete shift in lifestyle.

We can have the player come across one man who ran a number of successful service businesses and experienced a serious health problem that required surgery. Immediately, he placed all of his companies on the market for sale. His businesses were genuinely profitable and the reason for sale was quite easy to validate. Many of the neighboring businesspeople probably knew about the operation and some may have visited him in the hospital. (The player would gather all this data like a detective by exploring around and asking.)

Not Enough Time

Two common answers in the game are ‘Not enough time’ and ‘Need to spend time on other businesses.’ The player should learn through experience that both answers are unconvincing. If an owner is selling his business because of preoccupation with other commercial activity, maybe it’s because the original business is an under-performing concern. If the seller does not have enough time, find out what he does allow time for. Usually these sellers have given up on the first business and have already started another one.

I Need More Quality Time

Some semi-retired people buy a business to occupy their time and alleviate boredom. They often discover, to their peril, that the business is much more demanding than they had expected. The business may have potential but they don’t have the energy to exploit the opportunity. The seller’s reason for sale could be genuine, but the player should get confirmation.

Relocation

Many sellers say they want to relocate to another city, another country, or even another continent, or, or, even another planet (set it in post-Mars colonization period). A death in the family or severe sickness of a relative may provide a reason for rapid departure. If the reason given is genuine, they would probably want to sell quickly at a low price. Most sellers wanting out of the business and the location have some serious problems they may not be willing to discuss.

Due Diligence

Another thing to be taught is due diligence. Due diligence is the process of substantiating the seller’s representations including the financial statements. Due diligence is the buyer’s responsibility; business brokers do not have any responsibility (or enough skin-in-the-game) to check the information they pass on from seller to buyer.

Perhaps set it it up in third-worldish contexts. For example, small businesses in Thailand do not keep records or accounts. Thai businesspeople usually negotiate a tax settlement with a tax officer from the Revenue Department once a year; maybe every three years. Some businesses maintain two sets of accounting records: one set for the authorities, to minimize tax; and and actual record of the transaction for themselves.

One practical way of checking gross sales is to employ a person to count the number of customers visiting the business.

Daily Sales = Number of Customers x Estimated Average Sales Value

This would look like something in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, where you send others to work the streets at designated locations. But instead of indulging murder fantasy, the player absorbs these basic intuitions (which, again, aren’t so basic so as to be like vacuuming the house, but should be).

A game is absolutely the best medium for learning these things because of the time factor. Everything happens much quicker in a game and the information is tidy, so engraving the behaviors of the avatar into memory is much quicker than if one were to actually go out and spend “real-world” conscious computations at a marketplace. (I write that in quotes because I’m not entirely convinced that we aren’t already in such a game, and are being harvested for knowledge by computations running much slower.)

For example, we teach the player to estimate the average gross sales value per customer transaction. The business seller may provide this information, but it may be a better idea to watch what the customers order and estimate the average transaction value.

Because of the sped-up sandbox nature, we can also take into account the time of year and develop a gut feeling for the different monthly sales correlated with that single variable. If the business is tourism-oriented, we may even provide the player with an unlockable equation to fit their hard-earned reconnaissance, estimating annual gross sales in the following way:

Annual Sales = (4 x Monthly Sales [in low season]) + (8 x Monthly Sales [in the high season])

Sales in the high season may be three times higher than in the low season. But you have to estimate this multiple with the help of businesspeople in the neighborhood. The seller may provide an accurate multiple.

I envision a game in which you would continue due diligence testing until you are reasonably sure of the actual business performance. However, if the business is underperforming and you intend to develop the business, future results may improve significantly.

In order to avoid any possible conflict of interests, you would have to not use any advisors who are directly connected with your business broker or the seller. For larger businesses, you can hire an independent consultant, accountant, and lawyer to audit the financials.

The player should tend to go broke and lose the game if they complete the business transfer without sufficient evidence to verify the seller’s financial representations. If you have sufficient evidence that the seller has misrepresented the performance of the business, you are supposed to re-negotiate or withdraw your offer (and reclaim any deposit paid). After the business transfer, it would be very difficult to claim recourse; the seller may be sipping champagne in a jacuzzi on the moon by then.

The player should download the program of business evaluation with the same level of simple mastery as breathing:

Business Evaluation Checklist

Before you hand over your life savings to the seller, make sure you have evaluated the business thoroughly. This should be a checklist that unravels through extended gameplay:

Business Location: The player learns through experience if the location suitable for their purposes? Don’t forget that being only thirty meters away from a good location may be too far away without a sound marketing strategy. A noob might not know this and hence lose capital in the marketing, losing the game.

The Landlord: Are the lease terms reasonable? Is the remaining term of the lease long enough to recover your investment and make a reasonable return? Is there any evidence that the landlord will maintain the property according to the lease terms? Have you checked the rent level against the market rent for similar properties in the area? These are all important for winning the game. In easy mode (suitable for business classes and people with the sole intention of attempting to learn) you are guided through this process by being explicitly told that this is all necessary. In hard mode (suitable for people wanting a more realistic immersion experience) these are all things that must be discovered.

The Seller: Do you have good rapport with, and trust, the seller? Why is the owner selling? Is the customer base loyal to the seller, the business, or the product? There should be a gauge meter that gets filled on all these parameters based on the information collected by playing the game.

Accounts: Has your due diligence and research supported the seller’s representations and financial statements? If there are no proper accounts available, have you prepared your own budgetary forecasts? Perhaps set it up so that reckless players who did not undergo this process are always bashed with a bad business purchase. This may not be the case in real life, since you could get lucky. But we want the right kind of reinforcement learning if we are going to bother creating a useful simulation.

Legal Structure Of Acquisition: Are you buying the assets of the business, or are you buying shares in the seller’s company (which owns the business assets)? If you need a work permit, there are advantages to taking over the seller’s limited company. This avenue will save you government stamp duty, time, and lawyer fees; also, because the lessee does not change, dealings with the landlord may be more straightforward. It may save you a rent increase and transfer fees too.

Environment: Do you like the environment of the business? If you will be working full-time, or even part-time, you must like being there. The player will have an environment-satisfaction meter which depletes your motion and luck and available options when it is low. This should serve as a lesson highlighting the need to make tradeoffs between price of location and environmentally-induced happiness. Some players may be tempted to just go with the cheap locations and crummy looking shanty’s in order to save money at the beginning. But they must learn the hard way that in real life, initial environment plays a huge role in subsequent motivation.

In-Game Case Study (Asset Sale)

The following case study of a beauty salon is typical in the game:

A partnership dispute forces the sale of this six-month-old Pattaya beauty salon. The business is offered for sale at asset value. The shop measures forty square meters and is in a shopping mall near the city center. The partners spent 800,000 baht on fixed assets and 300,000 baht on the inventory. The salon has been well promoted and has its own website. There is a growing loyal customer base. The estimated gross sales for the first year are 1.5 million baht. Monthly rent is 24,000 baht and monthly salaries total 24,000 baht for three full-time employees. There is ample parking space for customers. The salon offers a full range of beauty services including massage and reflexology. Asking price: one million baht.

Projected profits for the first twelve months:

Sales…………………………….1,500,000

Rent……………………………..288,000

Payroll………………………….288,000

Depreciation………………..266,666 (800,000 baht of assets over three years)

Cost of consumables……300,000

Services…………………………60,000

Accounts and legal……….50,000

Total Costs……………………..1,252,666

ESTIMATED NET PROFIT………………..247,334

The net profit is apportioned between two partners. Each partner is expecting to receive 123,667 baht each year, or 10,306 baht per month.

If the partners aim to recover their capital of 1,100,000 baht over a three-year period with a return of twenty percent, they need net profits of 476,667 baht each year (compared to 247,334 baht).

If the business only generates net annual profits of 247,334 baht, they need just under four and a half years to recover their investment without any return. Clearly, the partners would have had fewer arguments if they had invested their money somewhere else.

Conclusion: the above business failed. The investors want to cut their losses and get out as quickly as possible. They are open to any offers.

If you, as as player, or one of your scouts (or in-game spouse, gf/bf) has unlocked knowledge of this trade, then all that is needed is to know that the location is good and the lease terms are reasonable, in order to proceed into making a low offer for the business assets. A list of the assets you want can be easily selected, and this includes an estimate of their purchase prices. The player is then free to offer a proportion of the total depending on the conditions of the assets. The sellers may eventually give the assets away – or even pay someone to remove them.

Property Prices

You will also be able to buy real estate. I’m not sure if there already exists a game that has well fleshed out mechanics for this. But we can’t have a proper business game without considering real estate properties. Just like in real life, I envision a game in which if you want to buy land or buildings, you must consider property values separate from the value of the business. If the buildings are old, and you need to demolish them, you have to research the market value of the land minus the cost of demolition and removal of waste.

Land prices are going to vary enormously from province to province, from city centre to rural areas, and even within confined areas. Say we set this in Thailand. In rural areas, land may cost under 100,000 baht per rai. In cities, it may cost over 40 million baht per rai.

One method of assessing the value of land is to obtain a valuation by the valuation by the nearest office administered by the Department of Land (DOL). However, the player must be aware that the DOL’s values are usually below market value because property buyers often register lower property prices to reduce land transfer fees.

You also have to collect websites and phone numbers.

Before the DOL release valuation data, they require the following information: property deed (chanote) number, map reference number, and the name of the administrative area.

We can use real information to texture the game. For example, the average cost of building a property in Thailand during 2006 was estimated as follows:

  • 5,000 baht per square meter for a bungalow.
  • 10,000 baht per square meter for a standard two-level house using concrete.
  • 15,000 baht per square meter for a luxury villa with high-quality fittings.

The cost of buying a condominium varies from as little as 10,000 baht per square meter for an unfurnished unit to over 60,000 baht per square meter for a furnished luxury apartment. The cost per square meter is an effective way of comparing condo prices (by dividing the asking price of the property by the area in square meters).

We can also teach caution by having the player charged criminally for not understanding law in certain countries. For example, it is unlawful for foreigners to buy land in Thailand. However, your lawyer can arrange a long lease of up to thirty years; there may be an option to renew the lease for a further thirty years. Previously, many foreigners purchased land using Thai limited companies with ‘nominee’ shareholders who neither invested in the company nor participated in the profits. This practice is illegal and the government cracks down on this method of property acquisition.

Ultimately, we want to cement this into the neuronal forests of the aspiring businessman playing the video game:

The Stages of Buying A Business

The key stages of buying a business are:

  • Defining your objectives
  • Research
  • Sourcing businesses
  • Business evaluation
  • Offer to purchase
  • Negotiation
  • Due diligence
  • Completion

Defining Your Objectives

To be clear about what you want to give – and take from – the business.

Once all of these computational roles are engraved in the axon and dendrite webs that form the silken memories of spacetime, we can rest knowing that entrepreneurs are better prepared to face the world.

For this one in particular, that is, defining your objective, there is a list of questions to ask:

  • What is your maximum total investment in the business?
  • What will be your role in the business?
  • What is your required payback period and return?
  • Which types of business will you consider?
  • Which locations will you consider?

And, again, having these menu screens in a game makes it easy to absorb and therefore replay in real life. The reason its easier by having it in game form (as opposed to reading about it) is that you can make rehearsing motions. It is easy to understand and most importantly: reachable. Like deciding to clean your room, like deciding to take a walk – it is actionable; it is small. Everyone loves bite-sized motions, and everyone panics at the prospect of dining int the real buffet of chaos.

Research

During the research stage, if the player is in Thailand, they should become as familiar as they can with Thai culture and etiquette. They should try to acquire a working knowledge of the Thai language. (Yes, I’m genuinely advocating for a game in which you have to invest your player into learning the language or else the subtitles don’t appear.) You also have to meet local businesspeople and find out how business is done in Thailand. There should also be an in-game version of the Internet, to add realism. You can look for businesses for sale on the Internet.

Sourcing Businesses

In “real” life (yes, I’m still using quotes), if you are good at networking and doing independent research, sourcing businesses for sale is straightforward, with or without a broker. So the game should be set up such that it is beneficial to ask as many businesspeople and expatriates as possible. Many expats and locals (say, Thais) have friends who want to sell a business. The introducer would normally receive a three percent commission from the seller upon transfer of ownership.

So you are wandering this country of your own choosing, and you might be tempted to play by the rules. To always just go with what is written. Using menu screens like rigid Monopoly instead of moving on two feet and free-exploring. The player should be penalized with lack of opportunities if they don’t actually go running around embracing randomness.

For example, they’re building their business in a place like Thailand. And in Thailand, the majority of businesses are potentially for sale ‘at the right price’; but the selling price may not suit you, the buyer. Therefore, an important lesson becomes: don’t restrict your search to businesses that are actively marketed for sale.

A good starting point is the online listings of local business brokers. The website addresses of the major brokers should be listed in some menu option. The player is then free to select any of the listings that interest them and visit them.

But businesses are also advertised privately by owners in the Bangkok PostThe Chiang Rai MailThe Pattaya Mail, and Bahtsold.com. The player should learn where to get the information as opposed to just being given linear missions. And while part of the point of a game is to reduce the complexity of the real world, there should be a sweet-spot. In the fake, in-game internet, the website addresses should be unlockable with experience and form a list in some kind of “References” menu option. The website addresses are limited unlike in the seemingly unlimited havoc of the real Internet, but nonetheless serve to ease the player into an understanding that collecting tangible Schelling points is crucial. (In game theory, a focal point is a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication, because it seems natural, special, or relevant to them. The concept was introduced by the Nobel Memorial Prize-winning American economist Thomas Schelling in his book The Strategy of Conflict.)

Business Evaluation

Businesses for sale sometimes display a ‘for sale’ sign outside their premises, like bunny-eared girls raising up their skirts, but these owners are usually desperate to sell. So the player should be wary and also check local public notice boards. If you see potential in any of these businesses for sale, work out what it is worth to you, discount the number, and make an offer. This process would be partially automated, to remove the tedium of calculation but you would still have to press the commands. Then there would be up-and-close actions that can help you. For example, the sight of crisp bank notes can sometimes facilitate a quick (and favorable) decision by the seller.

But, like with the real world, you should be careful if you choose to approach business owners directly. If you are in Brazil, you visit with a polite, presentable Brazilian colleague so he can deal with the Brazilian owners. If the owner is Brazilian, it is usually wiser to ask whether he/she knows of any businesses for sale in the area. Some people may even be offended if you ask them directly if their business is for sale.

In the game, direct canvassing of specific businesses in targeted locations can be very effective. If you know what you want, there are few businesses to target. A buyer might approach fifteen guesthouses in the same area on the same day. Exchange name-cards with each owner and follow up a few days later. The game is set up so that you have to quickly press the button for exchanging business cards at the beginning of a conversation, or else you can no longer press it with that seller (to simulate punishment and you don’t neglect its importance when translating to real life.)

You ask as many local businesspeople, including real-estate brokers, if they know of any suitable businesses for sale. The best freelance sales people have adept customer-service skills, commission-induced motivation, initiative, and resourcefulness. They are worth their weight in gold. In a game-context, the developers can exaggerate that faculty of nature and build that muscle in the player.

Some brokers distribute circular letters ‘for the attention of the business owner,’ written in both English and the local language. This approach could suit a buyer too. You can then write a polite letter to the owner explaining that you are looking for business in the area, and also have it translated into Thai, or whatever.

Offer To Purchase And Offer Price

A key aspect of the game is unlocking formulas. For example, if you play the game well (make good decisions, and don’t crash your initial stages) you can collect formulas under your belt that are automatically used (Again, there is no need to actually do tedious calculation by hand. But there is a need to understand that these formulas exist and that they bring more profit when used.) They are weapons or power ups. For example: How much is the business worth to you? At some point you can use the following formula to estimate an appropriate offer price:

Offer Price = (Payback Period [years] x Adjusted Net Profits [real earnings] – Additional Costs)

The payback period (in years) is the maximum period to recover the total investment. Additional costs include property refurbishment, replacement of furniture equipment, and advances to the landlord.

Example: Tidus wants to recover his investment within a two-year period. The real earnings of the guesthouse are 1.5 million baht per annum. He estimates additional costs, including replacement of furniture, to be 350,000 baht. Using the above formula, his offer price would be 2.65 million baht.

Before unlocking the formula through decent play, you would be free to offer whatever the hell you wanted, and unless you were already business savvy or had a reputable textbook at hand, you would get slayed in the game.

Direct Offers

Now this is what games are made for. So you can get scammed there and not in “real life.” (Although we may be getting scammed if we are already ems paying for our continued existence to Multiverse level IV entities or whatever else is running our simulation. But you get the point.) In the game, if you are not using a business broker, do not support your offer with a deposit unless you are prepared to lose the money. If the seller is unscrupulous, he or she may accept a higher offer the next day, and it may be difficult, in some cases impossible, to recover the deposit.

You need to convince the seller that you are a serious buyer and have the funds. After establishing the terms of the new lease, you arrange a meeting between your Thai representative, the seller, and landlord. Then exchange your certified bank check for a signed lease and specified business assets.

Offers Via Brokers

The offer to purchase marks the beginning of negotiations. The business broker prepares the offer document on behalf of the buyer. The offer is accompanied by the buyer’s deposit (of between ten percent and twenty percent of the price offered). Your broker will tell you that an offer without a deposit is not a real offer.

The offer provides the names and addresses of the buyer and seller, the date of offer, and the proposed date of completion. The document also states the price offered for the business, the deposit paid, and balance payable. Assets included in the sale are specified (such as furniture, fittings, equipment, trademarks, goodwill, and inventory). All business liabilities remain the responsibility of the seller unless agreed otherwise.

Most offers stipulate specific conditions. Typical conditions are:

  • Landlord’s permission to modify the property as required.
  • The maximum acceptable rent on the new lease.
  • The minimum lease term.
  • The landlord’s security deposit is included in the selling price
  • No competition by the seller in a similar trade within a radius of two kilometers of the premises for two years.
  • Training and support for two weeks after transfer of the business.
  • The seller is responsible for the payment of all business liabilities as at the date of completion.
  • The seller agrees to finance the transaction by accepting sixty percent down-payment with the balance payable in two equal installments, three months and six months after completion.
  • The seller agrees to allow the buyer access to all accounting and financialrecords between the offer date and completion.
  • The seller agrees to terminate the employment of (name of employee) before completion; the buyer will reimburse the legal cost of severance.
  • The seller agrees to include a minimum value of inventory in the sale.

Your broker takes your signed offer to the seller. There are three possible outcomes: acceptance, outright rejection or counter-offer. There are many variables to negotiate, other than price, including exclusion of the security deposit or specified assets, and buyer finance (or credit terms).

Once the offer has been agreed and signed by both parties, it is the seller’s responsibility to meet the conditions of the offer. If the seller does not comply with the offer terms, the broker must return the buyer’s deposit in full. The buyer has until the agreed completion date to fulfill all due diligence and validation of the seller’s representations. If the buyer can show evidence of misrepresentation by the seller, the offer is annulled.

A common obstacle in business transfer is the landlord increasing the rent to a level unacceptable to the buyer. Sometimes the landlord is not prepared to offer long enough lease terms to suit the buyer.

So in the game, you obtain a detailed list of all assets included in the sale, signed and dated by the seller. Unlike in real life, you don’t actually go through this list item by item and estimate the value of each asset before completion, instead this is process is shown to completion automatically.

Completion

Completion proceeds after the conditions of the offer to purchase have been fulfilled and the seller’s representations have been validated by the buyer. The date of completion is the cut-off point for due diligence. The key stages of completion (in order) are:

1– Signing of a new lease by the buyer and landlord (the buyer pays rent in advance, plus a security deposit to the landlord).

2– Agreement of the terms of business transfer.

3– The buyer pays the agreed purchase price to the seller by bank check or in cash and receives a written receipt.

The business transfer is complete when:

  • The new lease has been agreed and signed by the buyer and landlord.
  • The business transfer agreements (including asset transfer agreement) have been signed by the buyer and seller.
  • The seller has complied with all conditions of the offer.
  • The seller has agreed to settle all liabilities of the business as of the date of completion.
  • The buyer is satisfied that all assets and inventory included in the sale are on the premises.
  • The buyer pays the seller for the business.
  • If you use the in-house lawyer of your broker, he will probably insist that you sign legal disclaimers relieving them of legal responsibility.

In addition to independently choosing the right options with regard to these variables from a list of actions, the player should also attend the completion meeting with a totally reliable local representative or lawyer, in order to stand a greater chance of winning the game (you win the game by making successful business purchases, and becoming the richest in the chosen neighborhood – this requires tons of correct choices.)

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s