Cannabis is bigger than ever. As all of Canada and several US states continue to move towards legalization, the industry is facing a major economic boom, despite complex legislation and ever-changing cultural perceptions.
'Weedcraft Inc', an upcoming economic simulator from Devolver Digital and developer Vile Monarch hopes to capture all of that excitement, fervor and controversy in a fun, eminently playable video game.
While this is far from the first game to feature selling weed as a major gameplay function ('Grand Theft Auto' and 'Drugwars' have been occupying that space for years), it is one of the first to be largely centered around the the booming legal cannabis industry - and be so lofty in its ambitions.
The game is intended to be very much of-the-moment, with gameplay reflecting the current political and legal climate surrounding cannabis.
"Crazy things happen during the legalisation process," Kuba Palyska, the lead designer on 'Weedcraft Inc', told Civilized. "It is a huge business and some people tend to curb their ethics when a load of money is at stake."
Addressing the binary, quasi-legal nature of the plant was major sticking point for the team in crafting the story and tone of the game. For them, this is in large part what makes the industry so fascinating. Consequently, the thin lines between legal, illegal and "grey area" cannabis production became one of the driving forces for conflict within the game.
"In each US state the law is different. Because of that, the rules of Weedcraft Inc gameplay should be different, too." Palyska explained. "Who do you want to be? What strategy will you use? A classic drug dealer can make good money without paying taxes, but he will be always looking back for the police. People will more gladly buy cannabis when it’s legal, but every businessman should be aware of strong competition when operating legally. It is your choice to be one of them, or someone in between."
Narratively speaking, the team was also able to draw comparisons between the burgeoning marijuana sector and the video game industry, as both have been plagued with harmful, limiting perceptions of those involved with either. Because of this, Palyska said they tried to avoid pratfalls and clichés typical of marijuana-based media, as they saw "no reason to multiply stereotypes of stoners or nerds."
"We wanted to treat the topic fairly, so we resigned from obvious, cheap, jokes about smoking weed. It was important for us to show different perspectives of this complex issue, so we implemented several scenarios, each one tells a new story about how a regular person ending up in the cannabis business is more probable than it seems."
This nuance is important. While they don’t want to fall back on stereotypes, the game is not intended as a vehicle for cannabis advocacy.
"We don’t promote any drug abuse," said Palyska. "We just want to show you different perspectives on the industry. I would even say that after playing, you will be more aware of how complex the issue really is".
According to Palyska, play testers reviewing the game have described the tone as "laid back, but never silly," which he said was always the goal. That is, to be open-ended, satirical, but taking the fundamentals of gameplay and storytelling very seriously.
"That doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of the very peculiar paradoxes of the cannabis world, and how very interesting they are to highlight in satire. Mix these with adult-cartoon graphics and you’ve got something very interesting for a much wider audience."
In terms of gameplay, the team has drawn from several business tycoon games, citing the classic 'Capitalism' and 'Pizza Syndicate' game series in particular, but added that since there is really no industry quite like cannabis right now, there is "a lot of space for creativity".
Fans of tycoon games will find themselves right at home playing 'Weedcraft Inc', but the developers do not want to limit the audience to those familiar with the mechanics of an economic simulator, so making the gameplay user-friendly and intuitive was paramount for the team.
Vile Monarch has also made it a point to ensure that the marketing materials for the game don't focus solely on cannabis, but instead on the opportunity to make big money fast. They are hoping to attract any player interested in business strategy and development, regardless of whether or not they use cannabis.
"The game will be enjoyable for anybody who is interested in the possibilities of how to 'trade this green for some green'," Palyska said. "It is not a stoners-only game, but rather a user-friendly tycoon game in which you can choose your strategy based on the play style you like. A great businessman can be a person who is able to analyze the market, manage their relationships, or simply flood the market with good but cheap product."
'Weedcraft Inc' is expected to be available on Steam in 2019. Watch the announcement trailer below.