Essays and Stories
by Seyed P. Razavi

© 2020

My (short) Life as a Corporate Shill

A Watch the Skies 2 Megagame - After Action Report

I’ve never been more prepared and confused before the start of a game. I came with a bag packed with press releases and standard contracts ready to do business. As the PR officer for LexCorp, I figured my role was to interact with the press and deal with PR issues with a side-order of salesmanship. Last minute, I’d prepared some handouts for other players outlining our core offerings: infrastructure upgrades, our Space Intereptors and our troop upgrades. The corporations side of the game was new and it was clear we’d have to do a lot of educating of our potential customers.

Dressed sharp in a tailored suit, with home-made “hi tech" badges prepared by our science division,  I set off to the great hall where the game would be played. On the way, I had the great idea to set up a Twitter account; giving me direct access to the media and other players in order to give our spin on events and make our sales pitch. Full of corporate BS ready to fling in every which way, I couldn’t help a moment of complete angst as I walked in and realised the sheer scope of a game with 300 players. Yes, that’s not a typo - **three hundred players**.

Immediately, we realised the small table we’d been allocated could barely house the contents of the LexCorp game pieces, manufacturing and research sheets. We turned our chairs into an extension for our PR and contracts. No big loss, I’d get to sit for approximately 5 minutes during the next 7 hours. We tried to cope with the information overload but already people were lining up to speak to us. First off, the guy from Humanity First wanted to enrol us as a corporate sponsor promising benefits in relations with governments and the press. Then a still hopeful-eyed reporter from Badger News came along. Then discussions with the UK Prime Minister in what was still a promising start the relationship before it eventually collapsed under acrimony. As a corporation based in the UK, we wanted to minimise the tax costs and establish a good professional relationship with our government. They naturally wanted to maximise the benefits of having our HQ in London. Somewhere in the chaos, they didn’t deliver and we left without so much as “see you later."

The first phase of the game I smacked down press release after press release as I whirred into action establishing _Most Favoured Customer_ deals with as many player countries as our limited political action tokens would allow. It was an easy sell and we probably undersold the value of the _Major Infrastructure Projects_ we could offer but as the pay-off was 7 turns away not everyone got it. The roleplaying was immersive as I spun the corporate message and I was getting good at it. I was starting to believe my own spin! A bad sign but I was LexCorp’s face and some early relationships that would blossom into long-term partnerships to maximise the synergies of our design-driven product offering….   Time to step back out of character.

Much of the middle game became a blur of walking all over the (game) world to pimp out our latest upgraded Space Interceptors, plasma weapons, whatever else the science division had concocted to cause terror, I mean bring world peace. I’d be tweeting as I went, passing on gossip, stirring discontent against our corporate rivals, giving plugged in customers first notice of the prices for our latest gizmos. I’d hang around the map tables or linger around discussions between heads of state trying to get the gossip to bring back to corporate HQ. Nobody else in the team had the time to stick their head up and know what was going on. In hindsight, I learned so little (who knew the whales were sentient and in comms with the aliens??). I saw the inklings of peace in the Middle East but the Saudis (one of our MFCs) had warned us against deals with Iran so I was late to congratulate the Ayatollah for the historic accord. The government of Turkey was always trying to extract money out of us and there didn’t seem much of an opportunity to sell weapons to one faction in order to start a war. How is an evil arms-dealing corporation supposed to make the greenbacks with that kind of attitude amongst good-old fashioned enemies??

By around turn 7, I’d really got into the groove and well, the salesman job had slowed right down. The French and Germans were reliable business partners but in the end they were small fry compared to our main customer, the USA. Two things had become apparent. We were more minted than anybody else and the country’s were poor, poor, poor. The best move we had made in the game was pivot dramatically to establish the USA as a MFC and then relocate our HQ there. Their generals and spy agencies were a great source of business. The Vice President of the US and myself were often in conference when she wasn’t chasing our CEO for some high value deliverables. This was a country with global aspirations, saving humanity at every turn and we were glad to be greasing the wheels to make it all happen. USA #1!

It wasn’t all legitimate business and press relations. On the latter, it became evident early on the press just wasn’t up to the job of dealing with four or five press releases a turn. Worse: other news always trumped us. Who cares about asteroids or abductions in Angola when LexCorp have a new model army to sell you? And won’t anyone think about what those evil AIM guys are up to? Bah!

Rolling in dough, the CEO finally handed over responsibility over our agents and gave me a pot of cash to spend on secret projects. I must admit I’ve never played a board game where I had absolutely no in-game resources to manage until the late game but it was thrilling. My weapons were my words, my strategic reserves my personal stamina and the only victory points I cared about was being top dog on the share price charts. Yet, now I had cash and agents it took me a while to figure out what to do with them. After being rebuffed by the Chinese government who were in bed with AIM, I decided to focus my power and influence against them. Spies were deployed in the eastern bits of China whilst ethnic divisions exacerbated in western China. I’m pretty sure it didn’t make much difference either way but hey, it was fun!

More successful, or at least it would have been if the game had made it to turn 10, was my efforts to manipulate the stock market and bring the share price of our competitors down. As it was, the game ended a turn early, my evil plan never took effect and our CEO, who clearly had lost sight of the value-add to the corporation, was moonstruck and heading into space to meet some pesky aliens!

There is a lot more that happened that honestly are all a bit of a haze now. It was intense. The game flowed relatively smoothly once you accepted the fact it was part roleplaying and part semi-organised chaos. My own role was somewhat handicapped by the difficulties with the press game but I was not short of things I could do. The corporations certainly felt really peripheral to the main game and the economics of the game didn’t work well enough. It felt a bit tacked on but kudos to the corporate controls who engaged with us at every step. Less happy with some of the other controls, on the map etc, who seemed to have no time to deal with a corporate guy trying to do actions. I understand they were overloaded but equal treatment to players who were representing countries or aliens would have been nice.

Would I play Watch the Skies again? Yes! It was thrilling and such a huge experience that we were still running through things in our minds days later. Hopefully, some of the issues particularly with the press will be resolved in the next version. I’d also end by saying, the game only really got interesting mid-game so may benefit from a quicker acceleration into a more competitive scenario. Yet, given how confused and new most players appeared to be, it would be a hard balance to achieve. As my first megagame, it has really wetted my appetite for more.

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