From game board to Google Maps

Credit: Celia Ludwinski Credit: Celia Ludwinski

Wall Street. Whitehall. Bourbon Street. Sunset Boulevard. Pennsylvania Avenue.

Property magnates like Donald Trump can only dream of owning all of these iconic spaces. Of course, the same property magnates probably wouldn’t choose to construct a sewage treatment plant on the National Mall or a power plant at 10 Downing St., but with the new Monopoly City Streets (www.monopolycitystreets.com), all these things, and many more, have already happened on properties worldwide.

Monopoly City Streets, which went live on Sept. 9, brings the greed and scheming of the classic Monopoly to a new level. In order to promote the newest edition of this board game, the producer of the game, Hasbro, has leveraged the scalability of Web 2.0. Anybody who has wasted hours exploring the world using Google Maps can understand the appeal of being able to own property on any street on Earth.
The few weeks since Monopoly City Streets launched have not been without the usual problems faced by online services, however. According to the official blog, the site recorded over 1.7 million unique visitors on its first day, which quickly overloaded the servers. Since then, the game has expanded its capacity and is now operating more smoothly. The first few weeks of service were rife with glitches and bugs, but Hasbro engineers have now addressed most of these issues. A complete game reset took place a week after the release to prevent unfair advantages due to early bugs. As with the classic game of Monopoly, though, cheating players have been a problem since the game’s launch.

While cheaters in a board game are fairly obvious and easily dealt with, cheaters online can be more difficult to catch and have far-reaching consequences. Players using multiple accounts can take advantage of more starting funds, which allows them to control more property — imagine being able to start with $30,000 instead of the usual $1500 in the board game. More money in the game also causes inflation, which means normal players have a harder time finding property at reasonable prices.

Game play in Monopoly City Streets is straightforward. Starting with $3 million, players try to find streets to buy. According to the official FAQ, all streets in the OpenStreetMap database are available, which allows for a lot of choices. After buying streets, players have the option of using their remaining funds to build on those streets. Possible options include the frugal “Green House,” costing $50,000 and giving $8000 daily rent, all the way up to the “Monopoly Tower,” which costs an impressive $100 million and yields $850,000 in daily rent. Earning money in City Streets is deterministic: A certain rent is paid daily based on the number and type of buildings owned, provided a player logs in on that day. After two weeks of inactivity, the bank repossesses all properties. As with any Monopoly game, Chance cards appear from time to time, in this case at random intervals. These cards might add or detract from a player’s balance, or they might allow the construction of a special building, such as a stadium or power plant. Other Chance cards contain codes for discounted purchases on Hasbro’s online store.

At its heart, Monopoly City Streets is still a marketing tool, and is not enough to displace the popular World of Warcraft. The initial appeal of being able to buy the street where one grew up does not last for more than a few days, and most major streets are already taken and require a large sum to buy, so owning Forbes Avenue will be out of most people’s price range. The deterministic nature of rent payments detracts from the game’s excitement. The Monopoly board game is fun because of the luck involved; one can win or lose on a single roll of the dice. In the online version, players can try to buy properties from other players and use special buildings to sabotage their opponents, but often the people on each side of this transaction will only know the other’s username.

While Monopoly City Streets will not replace the classic fun of the board game or the city-building strategy of games like SimCity, it displays great creativity on the part of its designers. The breadth of information freely available on the Internet means that this will not be the last attempt at integrating classic games with novel technology.