Prosperous Universe – Simulogics Interview

First things first, tell us a bit about yourself! Who is Martin Simons? Who are simulogics? And what have you been working on until now?

Well, I’m a self-taught developer who stumbled into creating a web-based airline business simulation game all the way back in 2002. This game – aptly named AirlineSim – turned out to be the foundation that simulogics as a company was built on several years later. Since then we’ve been mostly working on AirlineSim and freelance web-dev contracts, but we started working on our second persistent browser-based game Prosperous Universe in late 2015, which launched into a public alpha in 2018.

We ask all our guests the same question, whether it’s in an interview or on the podcast: What are you playing at the moment?

Not much, actually. Back when I had more time to play games, all kinds of business sims and city builders were my jam. Stuff like the Anno series, Railroad Tycoon, Parkitect, Tropico…that kind of thing. But at some point those games really started to feel too much like work. So I actually got a PS4 for Christmas and when I get around to it, I dabble in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a bit, for a complete change of scenery. I have to admit that I look forward to Evil Genius 2, though.

On to Prosperous Universe. Can you give us a quick intro to the game?

Prosperous Universe plays in a science-fiction world in which humanity has left Earth and the solar system using “near-future tech”. They travelled to other parts of the galaxy using generation ships and – once there – started doing what humans always do: trade. So you can imagine yourself sitting on a space station or on a more or less habitable planet, running your own company. What exactly that company does is pretty much up to you. You can exploit resources, produce any of the hundreds of materials and products in the game, trade and gamble on the commodity and currency exchanges, transport goods from A to B and so on. All of this happens in the browser, so you can pretty much play as much or as little as you want at any time and without having to come back to the game at any set interval.

And what was the inspiration behind it?

What I always disliked about AirlineSim was the fact that it addresses one particular slice of the overall economy only, namely the airline industry. That means that everything affecting this industry in the real world, we had to simulate in the game. Passenger demand, for example. The whole motivation behind making AirlineSim a browser-based game in 2002 was to get around the need for implementing an opponent AI by allowing real players to compete against each other. So the idea to do a more comprehensive multiplayer economy simulation to get around simulating singular aspects of the economy was pretty much born the moment AirlineSim started. It just took a very long time for us to actually muster the resources to pull it off.

So it’s spreadsheets… in space?

Since most real-world businesses are pretty much based on Excel sheets you could probably say so, yes. I think any somewhat serious player starts a spreadsheet minutes after entering the game.

Now there was a certain article on a certain well known site just before the New Year. Did you know the article was coming? Did you even know they were playing your game?

We had no idea. And we didn’t know a journalist of a large gaming outlet was quietly playing the game. It came as a total surprise. The article was released over the holidays, no less, when pretty much the whole team were on vacation.

And as a result of said article, you had a major influx of players. An event that’s even been named by members of the community. Can you share just how much your player base increased in such a short time?

At some point right after the article dropped, we had six to seven times the amount of daily active players than we had before. In the long run, it roughly doubled the amount of active players. Granted, our community was and remains pretty small in absolute terms. But still, in relative terms, the impact was massive.

The other interesting side effect to this was the sudden demand on basic resources. Of course, Prosperous Universe is a game about making money off of supply and demand, and as such the prices skyrocketed! Just how rich did existing players get off of preying on the newbs??? 

All we can really say is that the money supply in the economy as a whole grew dramatically due to the influx of new players. How much single companies profited from the resulting inflation is hard to tell. And it’s just that: Inflation. So while you might profit from higher prices in one area, you likely had to cope with price hikes in others yourself.

I jest of course. But did you have any predictions over how much the market would fluctuate? 

I’m afraid the single most important fact about markets is that they are impossible to predict, even and especially if someone tells you otherwise. So no, we didn’t have any predictions and we also didn’t try to come up with any. In a way, it’s exactly the kind of thing that excites us about Prosperous Universe…wild market fluctuations and complex knock-on effects caused by seemingly random events. 

Of course, one of the major reasons for the demands on the market was that new players were finding themselves off of what is known as CX worlds. Can you explain a bit about the differences between Commodity Exchanges and Local Markets. And how the players can use them both to their advantages? 

Both allow players to trade. But while the local markets are basically an unstructured bulletin board on which players can buy or sell fixed amounts of goods at whatever price they see fit, the commodity exchanges work with an order book for each commodity and prices being determined in a double auction. The former tend to be used for more private trades between partners or as an alternative to proper commodity exchanges where they don’t exist. But due to the unstructured nature of local markets, they don’t scale particularly well. Once you have hundreds or even thousands of offers there, it becomes hard to impossible to find the best price. That’s when using a CX is a lot more convenient and transparent.

And now that the dust has settled, are there any lasting shifts in the player base or markets? Have there been any findings that will produce a shift in how you are developing the game?

The most useful effect of this sudden influx of players is that we learned a lot about the early game dynamics of Prosperous Universe. Things like the starting worlds becoming overcrowded and not leaving enough space for new arrivals. Or general on-boarding and usability issues that keep players from sticking around. We also learned that our technical infrastructure held up quite well, even though the higher load uncovered a few bugs and performance bottlenecks that went undetected before. So all in all there wasn’t much in terms of unexpected market developments, but rather interested game design insights.

Finally, Prosperous Universe is in what you are calling First Access, where it is free to play currently. Do you have targets set for when the game will transition into Early Access, and when it will be released? And tells us about the pricing structure for the game when it does release. 

First Access is our way of avoiding the term “alpha version”, really. We know that the game is far from done and we want to clearly communicate that anything and everything can change at any given time, including resets of the game world. The plan is to use the Early Access label once we switch to a monthly payments for so-called PRO access which in turn we plan to do once we feel like the core gameplay has more or less settled and there is a decent amount of early- and mid-game content. We’d love to be able to take this step some time in late 2020, but it really depends on whether we make enough progress to warrant it. If we do, we are eyeing a single-digit price point somewhere above 3 EUR but definitely below 10 EUR per month, with discounts when you buy for several months in advance. But all of this is not set in stone yet. 

Thank you Martin, for taking the time to answer our questions. I’ve been playing spreadsheets in space Prosperous Universe myself for the past month, and I have to say I love it! We wish you all the best with the future of the game. 

Thank you very much for having me and enjoy the game!

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1 Response

  1. February 24, 2021

    […] A little over a year ago, @paul linked me to an article on PC Gamer about a game he thought I would like. Labelled as “Spreadsheets in Space”, he knew I would be hooked. Of course he did. Prosperous Universe has kept me entertained throughout the day, every day, for the past 13 months. We’ve even featured an interview with the developers at simulogics. […]

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