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Misguided Layoff game takes on Bejewelled

By on March 18, 2009

Some people think it’s in bad taste; the majority seem to think it’s pretty cool. Personally, I think it’s incredibly damaging to the perception of business at a time when, frankly, we need to remember that business is the long-term driver of economic prosperity.

Layoff is a match-three style game in which you, as management, seek to combine workers in groups of 3 or more. Get a group and – poof! – instant cost savings.

But watch out for the businessmen. They can never be removed because, as the game says “Businessmen never get laid off”.

Layoff combines gameplay with economic facts, such as:

Adjust[ed] for inflation, the federal bailout of $8.5 trillion is more expensive than every war the US has ever fought, the Louisiana Purchase, the Marshall Plan, the New Deal, and the Nasa Space Program COMBINED.

Kotaku coined a new term for this type of game, that combines education, entertainment and pain: it’s edutainful.

Personally, while I think it is fun and informative, the gameplay needs a tweak. Workers take too long to swap places, leaving you very frustrated while you wait for your moves to go through. (Yes, I appreciate the irony of complaining that it takes too long to fire workers in a game designed to emphasise the human cost of redundancies. Still, it’s meant to be a game, right?)

Additionally, there is no sense of urgency. This is a failure on two levels:

  • For a game, you need to feel that you are fighting against something in order to feel satisfaction. Usually, in a match-game, it’s the clock, or new elements appearing. In Layoff, it appears to that you can merrily carry on firing workers for ever – or at least until there are no workers left, only businessmen.
  • As an allegory, it would be nice if the makers acknowledged that there is sometimes a need for redundancies. The scoring system is about “dollars saved”; perhaps the developers could have considered the player have a finite pot of cash,say $1 billion, which ticks down steadily (representing redundancies), while layoffs offer a temporary respite to this financial timebomb.

But the game was developed by a team of academics at Values at Play, a partnership between Dartmouth College and New York University, whose strapline reads “designing social values in computer games” and whose stated aim is “to harness the power of video games in the service of humanistic principles, or human values”. The game addresses “a social issue team members felt strongly about”, and maybe it was too much to ask for a balanced approach to business from a team of academics.

You can play Layoff at Tiltfactory’s website.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: