Review by John Sooja, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2016
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Offworld Trading Company

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Rare, combat-free strategy game focused on trade, finance

Subjects & skills
  • Math
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Fast and unique gameplay is quick to learn and tough to master.

Cons: Online play is fun, but the matchmaking isn't great, and students will be exposed to offensive language and content in chat.

Bottom Line: Great intro to basic economics principles with baked-in gameplay and real-world applications.

Teachers might task students with first completing the tutorial. Afterward, students can individually journal or log what they learned. Doing so may lead to critical thinking teachers could help unpack, connect to content, and assess -- for example, "First, I chose to start in an area with ample x resource, and then after I built some power plants and farms, I noticed player y buying up all the z, so I had to then try to manipulate x, y, and z ... "  

There's opportunity for lessons that compare the intricacies of what students learn in the game to the real world or to other economic and political systems as well as discussion about the ethics of trade. Small groups could take certain concepts and report on them or present them using their game experiences as examples and support. Teachers might also prompt students to research the kinds of elements on Mars actually could be mined and produced (imagining that we've solved the radiation and temperature problems, of course).

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Offworld Trading Company (OTC) is a real-time strategy (RTS) game set on a fictional future Mars. Unlike most strategy games, OTC has no combat or violence and instead focuses on economics and trade. Players choose from nine CEOs from four factions, each with different advantages and limitations. Each map and starting area is randomly generated, and each player makes ever-changing decisions based on the ever-changing needs of other colonies and players. Controlling the game is easy, as the action is point-and-click, but the meat involves constantly monitoring and adapting to market trends, supply and demand fluctuations, and opponents' corporate espionage attempts. Players compete to outproduce and outmaneuver all other companies by eventual corporate takeover. 

Players choose a home base, gather resources, build manufacturing facilities, manage supply chains, and buy, sell, and trade with others. This in turn affects the global market, and players work to take advantage of the overproduction of particular goods (as the value drops) to cheaply produce another commodity to then sell for high profit with an inflated price. Basic resources such as water, carbon, power, silicon, iron, and aluminum lead to more advanced materials such as glass and electronics. To gather and process resources, players build Harvesters, Refiners, and Processors. Once games really get going, players have to manage multiple tasks simultaneously, students can experiment with tons of concepts. Players will become well-versed in the workings of a free market, stocks, shares, trading, production levels, budgets, exports, market manipulation and price fixing, piracy, and corporate espionage.

Creative teachers can take full advantage of this economics and market simulator disguised as a familiar and engaging RTS. Economics concepts are tied directly to gameplay mechanics, so players organically learn these concepts through play. What students will experience is a kind of microcosm of the stock market -- set on Mars. Students will delve into ethical gray and not-so-gray areas of finance and capitalism, executing economic "attacks" via the myriad tools, methods, buildings, and technologies of corporate colonization and corporate quasi-warfare. This leads to engaging play but also will fuel discussion. Still, as with most consumer-oriented games, OTC presents challenges for classroom teachers. The system requirements, while not very high, could stifle some school machines. Students will also need to ramp up and play through each of the five in-game tutorials, which will take around two hours. This means OTC is likely best implemented in a flipped model where students can plug away at home and then teachers can help facilitate learning in-class.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

It'll quickly hook students with slick graphics, presentation, and ease of play. Once all the basics are learned, students will eagerly want to play against each other. No two matches will be the same.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students will learn about supply and demand, stocks and commodities, and budgeting and resource management -- likely without even realizing it! Teachers can help draw connections to class content.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The online community for the game isn't massive, but it features sufficient support via forums and player-made guides, wikis, and video walkthroughs. The in-game tutorial is solid.

Common Sense Reviewer
John Sooja Classroom teacher

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