This "Startup Simulator" Game Lets You Disrupt the Tech Industry
Innovate, hire, and fire—a simulator game where everyone can be a startup founder.
The Founder, courtesy of Francis Tseng
When Francis Tseng, an interaction designer and developer, relocated from New York to San Francisco a few years back, he became disillusioned with the tech startup scene in Silicon Valley. “I was knee-deep in startup culture. It felt so distant and isolated from the rest of the world even though so much of its rhetoric was and still is about 'the world' (at least in some abstract sense),” he tells The Creators Project. Feeling repelled yet fascinated by this strange culture, Tseng began putting together the beginnings of what, today, is The Founder—a business simulator intended to put single players through the instabilities and moral consequences faced when founding a startup.
The game begins with simple choices—hardware or information products?—that you make from your own ‘apartment.’ From there, you select staff based on skill sets required, and on what you’ve spent so far on building the company. Already, the choice between pouring funds into modeling your product or assembling a kickass team presents the player with a deeply personal dilemma. How and in what way will you place value on your startup? But there’s more: you can choose to add a vertical to your company, or invest in information, biotech, hardware, or innovate by combining these different factors together. It’s impossible to tell which combination will succeed, and which one won’t. This is your chance to disrupt!
Most companies never even get this far in the game—for every Uber, AirBnB and Facebook, there’s millions of failed startups that don’t make it past the apartment stage. But Tseng wants you to dream bigger, soaring past disrupting already established tendencies to remain on the cutting edge of technology and eventually, to become much more than just a product—to become a way of life, a better way of life, a philosophy that many startups disturbingly preach. In Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel, The Circle, the CEO of an incredibly powerful tech company echoes words often heard in startup manifestos: “We don’t have to be tempted by darkness anymore... I think we can be better. I think we can be perfect or near to it. And when we become our best selves, the possibilities are endless. We can solve any problem. We can cure any disease, end hunger, everything, because we won't be dragged down by all our weaknesses, our petty secrets, our hoarding of information and knowledge. We will finally realize our potential.”
Tseng’s game is intended to poke fun at Silicon Valley culture, and, like most games out there, creates difficult challenges that are exciting to navigate. The only difference is that The Founder mirrors real-life scenarios that are playing out all across the globe, perhaps at the same time as you’re brainstorming your latest cause washing campaign, or adopting an office pet to increase employee happiness. The incentive to maintain an ever-expanding yet sustainable model is addictive. “This pressure to grow necessitates a lot of morally-compromising and damaging decisions and inevitably catches you in this circular logic of creating products that facilitate your growth so that you can create more products to keep growing,” says Tseng about this aspect of the game. “And within the structure of the game, that absurdity seems like the right (or the only) way to proceed, much like in the real world.” The game isn’t officially released yet, but the Kickstarter ends on August 26, so keep your eyes peeled.