“Trade Empires” is another in the relatively small niche of complex strategy games. The assumptions that the programmers put into the game are typical of the bourgeoisie’s view of itself. The basic strategic premise of business competition is the same as in Trevor Chan’s “Capitalism II,” but Chan’s game is the far more realistic and instructive.
As in Trevor Chan’s “Capitalism II,” Eidos Interactive takes up the bourgeois view that trade leaders are heroes who ease bottlenecks in the economy. Those players who bring goods that are in demand to the market make the most money—and the goal of this game is making money and owning other forms of wealth. As such, the game is actually a step up from other games by the same company such as “Commandos 2,” which are just the usual mindless militarism games.
In “Trade Empires,” if heroic business leaders do not see to supplying cities, the cities themselves will dwindle to no population. The variety and price of goods made available by merchants is what determines the population size of a city, and then also the amount of business it can do.
Players in this game fantasize that they are leaders of a major trading “house” or merchant family. One player is capable of flooding the market to the point where business is unprofitable but possibly causing growth in population and further demand. In fact, the trade empire itself pays for palaces, temples and barracks. These items are important for stimulating demand, raising prices and making trade profitable according to Eidos Interactive’s view of the world. There are no taxes or government in the game, but it is easy to see how government-like functions can be in the interests of a wellto- do merchant family.
Since trade empires last hundreds of years, it is very possible that it is profitable to the trade house to fork out the cash for establishments that produce nothing while creating demand for the merchant family’s goods. It may cost 2000 monetary units to build a palace, but if the merchants sell the occupants of that palace enough jewelry over the years, the palace can pay for itself several times over just by raising demand and thus profits.
It was not that hard for the programmers to throw in that little simulation of the “demand side” of the economy, but it is too bad that libertarians and anarcho-capitalists cannot understand even this basic point in “Trade Empires,” namely that the wealthy can in every way afford to imitate a government. The only question is whether the government will try to claim independence of the merchant family to be even more effective.
Contrary to sterile thought that holds that governments form for their own sake, for “power for its own sake,” it is clear even in this simple game that the origins of modern day government are in class differentiation. Without the legal possibility to make profit in the manner that they do, merchants would not hire guards or troops and nor would they build palaces and temples. Proto-government arises because of the private interests of the bourgeoisie and earlier propertied classes. Libertarians and anarchocapitalists who think the state can be eliminated without the underlying conflicts in society that give rise to the state are fooling themselves.
On the plus side, regarding the realism of the game’s assumptions, it is clear that there is a whole sector of the economy that appears as unproductive even to the trader bourgeoisie. For example, in addition to having temples and palaces sitting there demanding products, while traveling amongst countries, merchants need to hire military protection or face the wrath of pirates. This military protection costs money and what could be a profitable trade route might very well not be thanks to military and transport expenses. At the same time, a properly equipped trade outfit may do some marauding of its own and rob pirates of their treasures. This too helps the bottom line of profit for the merchant. It all depends on whether equipping military units costs more than the raiding profit they can obtain.
The militarism angle in the game is useful if properly understood. Occasionally in real life we hear some deluded pacifists or social-democrats argue that war is not profitable. The question is really profitable “to whom?” The fact is that in a society with private property someone is making a profit out of militarism—namely the betterequipped military units that attack others.
In real life, there are military contractors and mercenaries making money from war. This is what Marxism helps us to see in this and many other facets—that what is profitable for the individual is not necessarily beneficial to the society as a whole. Pirates/troops do not produce anything in their military capacities. When they are done fighting there can only be less wealth total than there was before the fighting, never more tangible wealth. Capitalism and the merchant class do not concern themselves with this fact: they see only what is profitable at the individual level and if that means equipping merchant traders with some military firepower to raid other merchants or pirates, then so be it!
Some of the more questionable assumptions in the game are: 1) that prices can only range from half to double the normal price. Unsold goods cannot cut prices more than 50% and will go to waste. 2) There is only a limited number of merchants available to hire! One benefit of the above assumption made is that we see that some goods will go to waste, simply because there is no demand even at half off the original price. In fairness to Eidos Interactive, the difference between a sale price and total waste is merely a question of proportions. Wasting more goods may result in higher prices for the remaining goods after all. With the game’s assumptions, merchants will also face time pressure to sell their goods, both because attending to low-demand markets means that it will take longer to sell goods and because there are only so many merchants to hire, so each merchant should be assigned the most profitable trade route possible. Each merchant hired by the merchant house can be thought of as a transport worker. We do not see that any profit is shared with the individual merchant. The greater the supply of merchants (transport workers), the more work they will do for less profit. In fact, we can even imagine from this game that having too many transport workers might make them all unprofitable. That is something Marx pointed out, that labor has to be for something “socially necessary” and that there is such a thing as an average profit or average method of production. There is nothing in capitalism that guarantees there is not an excess supply of labor; even though, from a strictly physical point of view or a socialist point of view, society can always benefit from the creation of more wealth, no matter how many workers there are (assuming we have the planetary-environmental space). It is not as if Karl Marx disagreed with so trivial a notion as “supply and demand.” In fact, he spelled out that bourgeoisie would be unaware of the real workings of the capitalist system, because it would only concern itself with what it has to do to make profit on an individual level.
While Chan’s game has the possibility of at least involving some labor struggle over wages, there is absolutely no sense of class struggle in “Trade Empires.” Like the vulgar bourgeoisie, it would seem the Eidos Interactive people would say there is nothing else to know other than how to make money.
Those who prefer games in ancient settings may enjoy the graphics, geography and music from ancient cultures better in “Trade Empires” than in “Capitalism II.” On the other hand, there are fewer realistic assumptions put into this game than “Capitalism II,” even though both are about “supply and demand.”
“I don’t know what rice is, I just know its price.” “Trade Empires” interface guides players’ quest for personal wealth.
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