Nov 20, 2015

Why a Good Theme and Background Story is Important Even for a Financial Game

Wongamania started its roots as an education game in the mid of 2014 in collaboration with the Stock Exchange of Malaysia to engage college students and get them interested in the world of finance and economics. We design the game based on the perception that young adults will be more interested in a quick to play card game designed primarily to be fun with subtle economics and financial concepts embedded within the game. The game was extremely well received and we went on to release the retail edition of Wongamania in Jan of 2015. Wongamania was considered as a commercial success as we were left with less than 30 copies of our 1st print run to date, considering that we are operating in an extremely small tabletop market, which is considered to be commercially unsustainable for any publishers to survive. Most of the game designers went on to design digital game, which is strongly supported by the Singapore government, leaving the tabletop design industry a virtual wasteland. There are currently 4 active Singaporean table top publishers with products out for retail sale, and all of them are less than 3 years old. We were one of the first publishers to be born for this new wave of board game resurgence in Singapore and we have few points of references locally when we first started. There are many concepts which we failed to take into consideration when we first started designing the game and one of which, is the background story and theme of the game.

 Once Upon a Time ...
With its roots as an education game, we sorely neglected one important aspect of the game, the theme and immersion of the game. Every good story and game begins with a "Once upon a time" but Wongamania sorely lacks a compelling background story. We were so engrossed in trying to design a good game such that we overlooked the theme and story all together. When explaining the objective of the game, we just go "Make money and stash them away in another country!" We did not have a how and why to that story. The first thing we started to do while designing Banana Economy is to sketch out a back ground story for the game to improve immersion.

Bananas? Why Bananas?!?

As we look at the world around us, we asked why people will want to stash their money away in another country. Secondly, we asked how did these people make their money in the first place. While researching, we came upon the economic term Banana Republic. This term has nothing got to do with the US clothing brand Banana Republic of course, but rather, it is a term used to describe a country whereby the wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a few while the rest of the population is seen as a means to enrich themselves. We thought that the theme, fits Wongamania perfectly whereby one player manipulate the economy for his own ends and other players suffer as a result of that decision.

Banana has another significant meaning in Singapore and Malaysia. During the WWII Japanese occupation of Malaysia, the Japanese government issued a new form of worthless currency which was also known as Banana Money. Essentially, the economic mishandling and wanton printing of bank notes made the Banana Money virtually worthless and this term is still used widely today in South East Asia when referring something that is worth nothing.
No, the inspiration for Banana Economy is not from the "Minions"

Financial Kaijus: Weapons of Mass Destruction!

The next headache we have is the illustration of the various financial terms we used throughout the game. How do you illustrate inflation, tax, debt crisis or a junk bond? What creative ideas can we think of to highlight the chaotic and despotic nature of the theme? Drawing fantasy creatures, spaceships, zombies or even cowboys are pretty easy for most illustrators, but when it comes to the world of finance, most of the illustrators we approached could not help us bring out the flavor and theme of the game. We need to find an artist who understand economics, financial stuff and politics. That is when we approached Andimoo  , one of the top satire comic artist in Singapore who is able to shed light on day to day economic struggles of an average Singaporean in a comical and light-hearted manner.

However, we could barely think of any good idea while brainstorming for an art direction of Banana Economy.

One day, I was browsing through my economic notes for an upcoming talk while Godzilla was streaming on my TV set and I came across the famous quote by Warren Buffet, "Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction".

Hmmmm. How about we combine Godzilla and Debt. Debt is similar to Godzilla, a double edged sword that can help/hurt people. The 2008 financial crisis did more damage to the lives of people than any other wars and illness in the 21st century.  How about taxes? America became a free country thanks to overbearing taxes.

The idea of financial Kaiju and Debtzilla is born.

After launching the new theme, the feedback has been unanimously positive and there are some who indicated that they will buy the game, base on the artwork and the novelty of the financial Kaijus alone. Previously, for Wongamania 1st ed, there has never been such feedback. So our conclusion is, having a good theme and background story do add a lot of flavor and interest to a game, as compared to another one with a bland, uninspiring theme.

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