This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Though obviously right on time with the right concept, this game is too terrible technically to be worth playing. "Big Oil" is more like a pilot project or "concept deliverable" for a startup company, not a product. Perhaps the programmers are looking for someone to buy them out.
The deficiencies of "Big Oil" include: 1) a lousy 17 page manual and no help, just a CD; 2) clunky navigation to the point where one cannot even reach one's headquarters city without scrolling around the world or happening to catch up with a tanker; (There's no concept of click on a city name to get there really, except for production cities. On the other hand, geography teachers may be happy to force students to know the contours and rough ecologies of the globe.) 3) needing to be tricked just to be installed and 4) crashing repeatedly at start-up. Yes, we played the game with a hardware system well beyond the minimum requirements.
Once started, the game did not crash: we will say that much, until 60% of the way through a scenario. Of course MIM played the Lenin's death scenario. Yet substance-wise there is no Lenin. It appears that we are British capitalists stuck in Odessa. The game starts with snide comments about the discipline of Soviet workers. Neither Lenin nor Stalin are to be found. However, there are some fairly frequent headlines for Hitler's rise to power. From 1956 to 1982 there are no news items in the game newspaper for the scenario, though it takes up one of eight program buttons on the screen. Egypt took over the Suez canal in 1956 and then the next news item was a breakthrough in oil technology.
The oil bourgeoisie in this game appears to be the center of the economic universe and is responsible for building city infrastructures such as schools and hospitals--fair enough especially for some of the cities represented on the global map. (There is no zoom or goto option offered through a global map.) Generally though, there is no political or military role for the oil capitalists in this game. Occasionally the news will report that the player paid a bribe to a government official. The government can also step in to tax the player for environmental losses which boils down to not moving fast enough to win in this particular game. There was also a tax for World War II and some ships ended up sunk by Germans. News and politics in general appear as interruptions to business. When the British come to cause trouble in an important city for the oil business, the player cannot help the natives or anyone militarily to chase the British away for disrupting business. Germans come to bomb some French cities and disrupt business, and the technical depiction of that is just awful.
Politically, the game is tantalizing. Players scour the planet for oil and places to deliver it. There is no loyalty of the capitalist to any particular nation. It is modeled out in a very simple way.
Some of the promising elements of the game do touch on political economy. For example, it is easy to make more money in the stock market than in one's intended line of business in oil. With "normal" opponents in the "free play mode," the player took a big lead but made the mistake of not permanently hiring oil explorers. Then they all disappeared, perhaps hired by a competing company that did not use them. So for 60 years or 60% or more of the game, there were no new oil wells and the old ones dried up. Nonetheless, the reviewer drove all the other competitors out of business by playing the stock market better.
The oil industry is one of the easiest to set up contrary to the heroism implied of doing scientific and engineering research. One could easily conclude one should not bother running research institutes and just focus on making profit except in the beginner's mode relative to the profits to be made many costs in the game are small. (Heroic capitalist and engineering abilities are crucial in the advanced mode.) The ability to go off into the stock market implies that people with capital and revenue may find better things to do than physically construct pipelines, build tankers and explore for oil--counter-intuitive as that will be to the needs of the people.
In the more advanced game, the bourgeois specialist is central. Once again as in another bourgeois game about trade that MIM reviewed, the bourgeoisie has an historical idealist view, one in which the economy is about heroic capitalists hiring talented heroic individuals and filling market needs right on time. In free play mode, there appeared to be about 10 specialists ready for hire to explore for oil, but that appearance turned out to be false. When there are "no good people to hire" as the capitalists call it, there is no oil to be found, period. Economies of cities and companies grind to a halt. So we can say that this game takes the oil industry view of itself. Nothing better proves that when the lack of a single oil exploring engineer dooms entire cities and companies.
In actual fact, we Marxists would observe such a phenomenon and criticize it mercilessly. The capitalists' "no good people to hire" line should be taken as 1) they only hire people they know and do not know how to factor in risk for hiring people they don't know and are thus "unproven" to them; 2) capitalists are so easily distracted by their millionaire life of luxury and decadence that they are not going to work very hard trying their hand at productive activity. Marx pointed out, as it turns out true in the game, that sometimes a corporation will fail to find people, but sometimes it will also hoard people they know and give them useless jobs just to prevent them from going to a competitor. There is a combination of bad thoughts there that the profit motive does nothing to dispell.
On the whole, in "Big Oil," contrary to the manual, the player should not care as much about the population of oil producing cities as oil refining cities. Oil refining cities are allowed to buy gasoline, heating oil and other high profit products. So it will pay for the player to appease the population in those cities and cause them to grow to boost demand.
Another annoyance in the game is connected to the relation between oil producers and consumers who use the refined products. There is no way to connect a pipeline from an oil producing city to an oil refining city; although one can waste one's money trying. Thus the game revolves around prioritizing use of one's tankers or possibly the railroad. There are a very small number of tankers allowed in the game; even though the corporation could afford many more. It looks like another cheap programming fix to cut down RAM use, along with there being about 10 oil explorers in the world even possible to hire.
We admit that the 10 oil explorers in the world point may indeed reflect certain organizational realities of the real world, and not just a programming fix to make the computer software use of RAM lower. After all, competing with other corporations is about getting control of business. If one is going to care that one's corporation wins a business instead of caring what the industry does as a whole, then it's only one more step to saying our company should win with our people--covered with rhetoric about how our company knows how to pick people to hire, unlike other corporations.
We were hoping "Big Oil" would be a simple game for youth to pick up strategy computer games and possibly get into some of the truth of our times. However, this game is too much of a mess to deliver on its potential promise as a concept. Even then, the concept is wrong, with the oil industry view of capitalists and engineers.