More states and countries are considering legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in some form, and more new businesses rise up to enter the growing market. It’s a present and lucrative enough opportunity that one of the biggest soft drink companies in the world, Coca-Cola, is looking into cannabis-infused drinks. The investor interest and increased cultural prominence makes it ripe for a tycoon game-parody. Enter Devolver Digital-published Weedcraft Inc., a title that takes marijuana business seriously while lampooning capitalism on the whole.
“Right now, it’s like the end of Prohibition meets the Gold Rush,” said Scott Alexander, the game’s main writer, who is working with Polish studio Vile Monarch on the game. “The federal illegality combined with the state-by-state legalization has created a financial morass and just a weird, interesting place. And we thought, ‘Well, that’s a tycoon game waiting to happen.’”
Weedcraft Inc. will take on many of the aspects of creating a marijuana business with the mechanics and granularity of a tycoon game, with elements that ape many of today’s issues. Instead of a free-for-all sandbox, the game has a narrative, structured through a series of vignettes with different characters.
Our demo was centered around the introductory vignette: two brothers who saw their ailing father lean on medical marijuana during his cancer treatment decided to open a pot-dealing business together in Detroit. Your beginnings are very humble: three pots in a basement, a small overhead heat bulb, some packs of seeds and soil. Plant seeds. Add water when prompted. Prune at intervals. Harvest. There’s a fast-forward option to change how fast time flows as you get more comfortable with the game’s rhythm. Those plants, in turn, become the first product you sell at the market, here with little to no competition and a handful of archetypical customers.
The game gradually introduces new, more complex systems that build off the basics. It’s not just updating the heat lamps; quickly you learn to optimize your grow room for aspects like temperature and your individual plants’ optimal NPK (as in, the chemical symbols for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) levels. Each strain has an optimal NPK that increases the value of your output, which you discover through either trial-and-error or by spending research points to find out sooner. (Growth settings can be saved on a per-strain basis to help streamline things going forward.)
As with many tycoon games, the micromanagement aspects eventually give way to macro strategy and automation, should you choose to take a bigger picture approach to the play. About 15 minutes into our playtime, the game opens up to allow for hiring employees that can take care of some of the more repetitive work such as growing / cultivation and selling.
Beyond this, Weedcraft Inc.’s mechanics mix with its politics and narrative. In our demo, a morally-unscrupulous cop suggested we donate to a police charity in order to look the other way. At the same time, a rival seller in the market brings additional pressure. “Employees, cops, and competition are all people you can research into, have relationships with, and have financial arrangements,” said Alexander. “You can bribe. You can blackmail. You can force competition out of business. You can fire your employees or refuse to pay them [fair] wages and they can quit on you.”
Because the business of marijuana is so big, Alexander said Devolver chose the vignette formula as a way to represent its scope, and how spreading legalization is an issue being considered by criminal justice and veterans’ affairs activists, Wall Street investors, the scientific community and more. The vignettes may not always be about starting your business from zero, he said, but could instead focus on larger issues like influencing state or city legislation, or choosing to set up a new business in a state that only allows for medical marijuana (more taxes and regulation, but less competition) versus one that allows for recreational use (more customers, less regulation, but more competition).
Depending on where your vignette takes place, the local laws and regulations can require various levels of discretion — like building storefronts to better hide your farms. According to Alexander, you’ll be able to play the game with various levels of legality and morality. “If I have a opportunity to affect legislation, I can try to get weed legalized in my state. I might say, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ And I know it will cause harm to people because it will be unfairly prosecuted, because the laws are unfair towards minorities. But I won’t have to pay taxes, I won’t have to stop using pesticides on my weed. I’ll be able to produce my weed for cheaper, sell it for more money and I don’t give a shit who I hurt. So now I’m illegal-shady.” (There’s one line the game will not cross, however: “We don’t have kids smoking weed,” he said.)
The game has an alignment system that offers rewards and new bonuses based on how you want to play. “There are certain perks you can only get if you’re super shady,” said Alexander. “There are certain perks you can only get if you’re decent.”
“Playing fully decent is like getting a cultural victory in Civilization,” he said. “[It’s like,] ‘Can I play the whole game without fucking anyone over?’”
Devolver Digital co-founder Mike Wilson said new scenarios could be added as post-release DLC, such as when as new issues pop up in real life. Wilson said the team has yet to decide the full scope of what will be included at launch, but the game is likely due out in the first months of 2019 for PC, with DLC to follow.