Everyone knows Monopoly: the game with the potential to destroy relationships and ruin perfectly pleasant rainy afternoons. There is, however, something timeless about the real-estate peddling simulator. The colourful banknotes (that are inevitably embezzled by a corrupt banker), navigating the board as a Scottie dog, and the smug feeling of having won second prize in a beauty contest all make for a memorable experience. Enter a not-so-timeless Hasbro board game, 2013’s Monopoly Empire. This set sees families facing off not in the arena of real-estate, but that of brands.“What’s the goal of Monopoly Empire?” I hear you ask. Rather than developing an exploitative colonial power, as you could be mistaken for assuming would be the core mechanic, players buy brands and slide billboards onto their own personal tower. Rent is collected from rivals based on the height of your tower and the first to plaster an entire structure with ads wins – just avoid that pesky tower tax. Drawing chance cards yields a range of corporate successes and failures. You may find yourself indulging in a casino night, enjoying the fruits of a well-orchestrated ad campaign, or just going to jail. Corporate greed has its downsides after all.
“Own the world’s top brands” the box boasts, resplendent with the bright lights of a city skyline and an array of colourful logos. So who’s made the cut? There aren’t too many surprises; Coco-Cola and Mcdonald’s naturally feature, as does everyone’s favourite company, EA. Presumably paid affiliation came into it at some point as there are equally a host of notable absences (Apple, Google, and Disney, to name a few). It seems unlikely that Carnival Cruise got in on merit alone. But here’s where it gets hilarious – Hasbro themselves feature. Lacking the self confidence to categorise themselves as dark blue, or even red, the manufacturers of the game only asigned themselves pink, at a meagre value of 150K. Chin up Hasbro.
What this game does provide is a snapshot of major consumer brands’ relative standing in 2013. While it seems unlikely that most of these companies are going anywhere, Yahoo has lost considerable market share in the last three years, decreasing from around 12% to 4.7%. In contrast, Spotify reported 140 million active users in June of this year, a marked increase when compared to the 24 million it boasted in March of 2013. Whilst the likes of Google, Facebook and Spotify enjoyed growth in the last three years, Yahoo has failed to capitalise on the social potential of acquisitions Flikr and Tumblr and consequently found itself in decline. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if Facebook or Twitter cropped up in a present day Empire iteration – both platforms have widespread usage and in turn cultural sway. Such is their influence that they’re even acknowledged to have significantly impacted recent political changes.
So what’s the relavance of this frankly ridiculous boardgame? Monopoly Empire typifies the hypercapitalist system in which companies and consumers operate. Players deal in the same big-name brands that jostle for their attention, and in the process give them just that. Behind the bright lights and even brighter logos the 2013 game serves as a reminder that what qualifies as a household name is changing, and that companies must either adapt or run the risk of fading into obsolescence.