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October 3rd, 2006

Lemonade Stand: Innocent computer game or ruthless corporate training program?

Posted by natdavauer in Uncategorized

Have you ever played the computer game Lemonade Stand? To put that another way, did you own a computer in 1980? There were only so many games at the time and it wasn’t very hard to own all of them. This game had to rely on conceptual value as the “graphics” were not much to blog home about. The complete graphics capability of an entire computer at the time equaled what is now necessary to render just one earlobe of just one of the 64 characters on the screen at one time.

No, this game does not have a CGI endowed heroine that awful movies are based on. It would more appropriately reflect a profitable decade that capitalist greed mongering would be based upon.Who knows, it might have been the first project of the Regan administration to get kids out on the street and in business for themselves while mom and dad were still at work. “Say NO to drugs by saying YES to lemonade and high quarterly profit margins!”

My brother played Lemonade Stand back in his formative years and turned me on to an online version of the game that I could download and play within five minutes. A chance to revisit the 80’s without any help at all from VH1? Rad! I mean, five minutes is a pretty long time to wait for anything on the net these days n’ all but I suppose I can watch a couple of YouTubes while I wait.

The lame graphics popped up on the screen and immediately I remembered that I hated this game. When the game started you just got busy trying to get more money until it was time for Dukes of Hazard or something and you just shut the computer off. It was a little too close to reality at the time. Mom and Pop would basically “play Lemonade” all day without the graphic accompaniment or Dukes break time. Granted, all 80’s games revolved around getting more and more points and were basically a thinly veiled (or graphically forced) practice run for making money in the reality game to come. Lemonade actually had no other point than to make money.

Although it was the one game that I would rather practice piano than play, I thought I would give it a whirl now that I can appreciate how great it would be if my fake Lemonade Stand money could be web-transferred to my online savings account. For my following experience to make sense I’ll give a brief outline of the game. The game randomly predicts the weather for the day (displayed in awesome 8 bit splendor). You choose how many glasses of lemonade you want to prepare for the following day @ pre-determined cost/glass. You choose how many signs to make and you choose how much to sell each glass for. An Apple II+ powered calculation takes place and it tells you how much profit or loss you take home over your manufacturing/advertising costs. You then take what you’ve learned and play again and again, each play measured by one day, moving on to make a business that will hopefully be bought out by Wal-Mart instead of crushed by it.

I played the first four or five days changing the amounts and trying to base my production and advertising costs on something that reflected the weather. Three minutes into the game I had made a small profit of a few bucks. It was clear that this is how one should be playing the game. Master your product, learn your market, make informed decisions about trends (8 bit weather) and run your business honestly and you will make enough money to retire… I mean win.

You don’t see a lot of successful companies hiring little kids to sit on the street and make lemonade based on the weather forecast. You do, however, see a lot vending machines sitting there in one place selling cold drinks for the same price no matter what the weather. Inspired by the apparently successful approach of vending machines I thought I would try a different strategy: fill in the fields with some conservative numbers and then click “OK” as fast as you can. I hardly noticed because I was clicking so fast but I did take some hits when there were thunderstorms. In about 30 seconds I had made $100 in 140 days.

That wouldn’t pay the bills now-a-days but if I had any idea of how much that would have been when I first played this game I probably would have started a union. We were payed 25 cents to mow a lawn the size of Wrigley Field. It took all day!

I had become a lemonade CEO who only cared about the bottom line. As long as I saw the profit field increasing I had no regard for customer satisfaction or local impact of my lemonade stand. I would soon have enough profit to hire someone to click the OK button and I could take my private jet to the best disc golf courses in the world.

I have realized that adults probably shouldn’t play this game. Too much baggage. The lack of extreme graphics didn’t help either. I decided to throw in the Lemonade soaked towel before the shareholders realized the boat was sinking and I had laundered all the cash. Before I did though I thought I would go out with a bang a la Enron. I made a financial decision that I thought would wreck my business in two or three “days.” I made 500 glasses of lemonade where I was making 20 max. I made 50 signs where I was making two. I priced my lemonade at $.99 a glass - a 500% markup from my previous day’s price. I clicked the OK button with the sick pleasure of watching my lemonade stand crumble under its overhead.

Lemonade

This is the screen that was waiting for me the next day. It seems that the construction workers bought every glass of lemonade! I made $450 in one day on outrageously priced lemonade. I got really excited and then realized I was playing a very old computer game. What is this supposed to teach you though? Price gouging is the best way to make a profit?

All of a sudden the game started to seem even more real. Whole Foods just opened on the East Side and I’m thinking it’s CEO might have trained with this program. It got me thinking… The Marquette interchange project will be running for 5 or 6 more years. A lot of construction workers. Not a lot of access to refreshing lemony beverages up there on the gridiron. How hard could it be to make 500 glasses of lemonade every day?

It turns out you don’t even need an imagination to play lemonade anymore. The same is true of needing to imply larger economic trends to a pretty simple and straightforward game. You can play Lemonade Tycoon. Oh wait, that’s already outdated. You can play Lemonade Tycoon 2! You can now control recipe, location, hire staff, implement marketing strategies and even post your results on the lemonade stock exchange. And you better believe the graphics kick ass.

It’s probably true that I would make more money selling fake lemonade to nerds online than selling real lemonade to those grisly guys downtown working on the bane of my automotive existence. The real-world economies of virtual games are now surpassing small countries. People are spending more on virtual clothes for their virtual selves than they are spending on real clothes for their much less attractive and agile real selves. One gamer even purchased a virtual space station for $100,000 and plans to use it as a virtual nightclub in a “massive multiplayer online game.” Wikipedia will quickly bring you up to snuff if this last paragraph made no sense at all.

Well, I don’t really like to work a lot anyway whether it be in the real world for fake money or in the fake world for real money. Who wants to play a game about work and for that matter play a game about living when you’re not working. There should be a game about avoiding work. Dang it!

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