Comb over your hair and practice your intimidating squint, because Real Estate Empire gives you the chance to experience the high octane life of the real estate mogul – except that where Donald Trump deals with billion dollar high-rises, you’ll be dealing with regular old neighborhood houses, trying to buy them up cheap and flip them at a profit.
Obviously a real estate management sim isn’t the kind of pick-up-and-play casual game that’s designed to appeal to everyone. Real Estate Empire is a niche title, but a title that nevertheless does a great job of capturing the nuances of its subject matter.
The game is divided into turns, with one turn represents one game month. The demo offers 12 turns, while the full game is played across 120 turns, or 10 years of game time.
Your first task will be to choose a profession for your character. Each profession comes with its own advantages, such as a contractor’s ability to save money on materials and repairs, or a realtor’s ability to get higher offers on a home, while trade-offs might include a lousy credit rating or a lower monthly income.
From there, you can start buying and selling properties. The action takes place on overhead map of a neighborhood with different types of housing from lowbrow trailer homes to mid-sized family dwellings to luxurious multi-floor mansions.
You’ll be competing against four other computer-controlled opponents who are trying to grab up the same deals that you are, and your ultimate goal is to fight your way to the top of the food chain by recording the biggest profit.
When a house comes up for sale, as is denoted by a little spinning green dollar sign above it, you can click on it to find out information like its estimated market value, how much the owner is asking for it, and what kind of condition the house is it to decide if the asking price is fair. You can put in an offer, or decide to wait it out and see if the price drops later.
If you choose to buy the house, you’ll be able to invest in various improvements and repairs to increase the house’s market value. These can be as inexpensive as tidying the yard or steam cleaning the carpet, or as costly as replacing the furnace or getting a new roof. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of spending money to make repairs for the sake of a being able to sell the house for a better price – sometimes the repairs are worth it, and sometimes a “fixer-upper” is just too much of a money-sink to ever be profitable.
When it comes time to sell, you can opt to use a realtor, who’ll take 5% of the purchase price, go with an ad in the paper for a flat fee per month, or just stick a For Sale sign on the lawn – a risky yet cost-effective move.
Real Estate Empire isn’t much to look at. Its graphics are sparse, with most information presented as raw text and numbers. The compelling part of the game lies in how the player is able to manipulate and interpret those numbers, juggle mortgage and repair payments with new investments, maintain the precarious balance between manageable debt and foreclosure, and judge when the time is right to buy, sell, or wait until next month.
The market value of a house is based on condition, neighborhood, size and overall “curb appeal,” but the price also fluctuates based on time of year and strength of the economy. Smart players learn to anticipate economic booms and downturns, and manage their portfolio of houses based on seasonal fluctuations. For example, the best time to buy is generally during the winter when the market is slow and sellers are panicky and inclined to reduce their asking prices. You can then prudently invest in a few repairs to drive up the value of the house in time for spring and summer months when the market heats up again.
One gripe I had with the game was that the computer controlled characters tend to snap up houses incredibly quickly, sometimes one or two seconds after they go on sale without even giving you a chance to click on the house to view its details, let alone make a decision to purchase. You have to have a pretty quick mouse trigger finger to beat those odds, and it’s rather off-putting given that the game’s overall vibe is about making very calculated and considered choices.
Overall, however, Real Estate Empire seems to approximate the world of real estate pretty closely. I went into the game with no knowledge of the subject matter and was overwhelmed at first. After a few rounds, however, I started to feel pretty savvy and was even holding my own against the computer characters. This is definitely one of the game’s strengths: real-life real estate dabblers should find enough detail here to be interesting, but even complete neophytes who are willing to invest the effort and put up with a bit of a learning curve can come away from Real Estate Empire knowing a thing or two about the real estate world.
Real Estate Empire isn’t as user-friendly or glossy as your average casual game, but if you can get the hang of it, it does have that “just one more round” quality. If you want a fun real estate game that holds your hand, try Monopoly. For a deeper simulation, there’s Real Estate Empire.