In April 2016, Sara Verrilli and Rik Eberhardt (MIT Game Lab staff) visited China to test our game with undergraduate students who are studying urban planning, architecture, real estate development, and landscape architecture at Inner Mongolia University of Technology and Tsinghua University. The purpose is to get a sense of the scale of real estate development currently in progress in these cities.
Our first stop was in Hohhot, at the Inner Mongolia University of Technology (IMUT). An incoming graduate student and an instructor at IMUT gave us a two-day architectural tour of Hohhot. We saw construction sites in every phase of development, along with a healthy mix of new and old architectural styles. Outside the city, we visited villages in various states of renovation - some being rebuilt, some occupied after renewal, and some still in use, awaiting an upgrade. The field research inspired new ideas for the look and feel of our prototype game.
The night before we met with the IMUT students, we taught the game to the instructors and graduate students who were our guides. They enjoyed the game, and were a great help with translating the rules of the games and assisting the students in learning the game the next day.
For the actual test, we played the game twice. The first game was a shorter introductory one and the students played in pairs, so they could aid each other in learning the game. As they learned the rules, they also discovered translation errors both in the game and on our reference cards. Fortunately, we had IMUT instructors who knew the game and could translate and make suggestions for future improvements.
After lunch, the students played again, and this was our main test. We divided them into two groups of four, and each group had an IMUT instructor and an MIT staff member to answer questions and observe their game. To keep the game competitive, we offered an MIT t-shirt to the winner from each group. While this inspired more competitive spirit, the students still helped each other out. The games were played on a single shared tablet, and while the students could choose to keep the tablet private on their own turns, they tended to keep it on the table for public view. The students clearly enjoyed the game both times they played it, and at the second time, they were able to play the game much faster and obtained much higher scores than they did in the first round.
After Hohhot, we conducted another test with students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. They quickly mastered the gameplay and made nuanced observations about how the systems in our game compared to the real world. Describing what they wished the game could do, these students asked for features and mechanics we had already started designing. Their responses confirmed that we were on the right track.
Based on the feedback from these tests, our team spent the remainder of spring semester at MIT making changes. The user interface and the in-game symbols received significant criticism, so we revised the game’s appearance. We also updated building names and did another game balancing pass. We want players to consider practices of social responsibility that help the city thrive, but we also want them to explore the system of debt and profit within the game. Players also need to learn how to wisely use capital and take calculated risks, as most entrepreneurs must do.
The game is currently being tested as part of the comprehensive curriculum of the MISTI-STL Summer Camp that will be conducted in China during this summer. Rik will participate in the camps in Qingdao and Xiamen, as well as the tests in Shanghai and the two cities. People participating in the testing will include high school students who are considering real estate development as a career as well as professionals who are already practicing real estate development.
In the upcoming phase of the project, the Game Lab will focus on prototyping and design research to continue incorporate more mechanisms into the game to best introducing the concept of socially responsible real estate development and entrepreneurship to Chinese youth.
--Rik Eberhardt and Sara Verrilli, MIT Game Lab Staff