We have been evaluating policy simulation games, both for design ideas, and for a sense of whether they might be useful for real world policy processes. Balance of the Planet is supposed to allow players to understand problems of a global nature, but is still under development.
The basic gameplay seems to involve clicking on buttons, but it is unclear which buttons actually do something and which buttons open up different screens. Clicking “execute” seems to make things happen (at least the numbers change), But it’s not clear when you are changing parameters and when you are allowing time to move forward (or if you are).
In the first play through (~5 minutes), I think I increased coal taxes, and then I clicked “execute” for a while, resulting in an extremely high quality of life with no biodiversity or sustainability.
Our best guess for how this game works is that whenever you click “execute”, time goes forward. To make changes, you click on “formula”, and move the sliders. Each formula page shows the equation in the underlying simulation.
However, there seems to be no separation between policy options and other parameters. For example. the following page appears to let me change how corrosive sulphur is:
If you start with the initial simulation parameters and just click “execute”, you end up with a quality of life that is extremely high, but the entire ecosystem dies off. This seems to indicate to me that the game is currently unfinished (it is still alpha, after all), and that the dynamics of the simulation aren’t all that useful.
One other annoyance is that I found the numbers to be difficult to read. For example, here is the standard policy screen:
The “M” and “B” indicate million and billion. Showing the numbers this way makes it hard to notice that the fertilizer tax income is 3 orders of magnitude smaller than most of the other numbers on the screen. Keeping numbers at comparable scales would be much preferred.
That said, I did like the simplicity of the interface, and the ability to play quickly. But the game simply isn’t ready for actual use.
Installation and Development
To install this, we went to http://sourceforge.net/projects/botp2004/ and clicked on the green download button. Unfortuantely, it didn’t work on the Mac we tried first, so we went to Windows (this may have something to do with ongoing Java issues). We unzipped the file and double-clicked on the html file.
The game is free and open source, and seems to be by a single developer. There doesn’t seem to be a community around it, and mostly we couldn’t make head nor tail of the game.