Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Perfect Business Model

This weekend we learned about the most successful business venture in galactic history. Here's how it happened.

On our way to the campground, we decided to play a little of our Savage Worlds game in the car. We didn't really get started until we were across town, and then we had to stop as we neared the park so I could pay attention to the navigation, so that gave us about an hour to play. All three of my daughters played (my youngest is an elfin princess named Aurora, joining our Savage Worlds game for the first time), and my wife even joined in, playing her robot character "Robot" while driving.

They started where we left off, having just been through customs. Robot had an "accident" and needed paper towels to clean up the oil she spilled on herself. Lucia was jonesing for some java. So they decided that they wanted to hit a convenience store right there at the spaceport before they did anything else. One at a time they told me what they wanted. Lucia wanted a triple grande espresso latte with whipped cream and caramel. I have no idea what that is or if such a drink truly exists, but it sounds to me like an expensive Starbucks drink. Starbucks is the kind of place my wife goes to, so I consulted with her and we arrived at $5.50 as a realistic price, especially taking into account premium spaceport prices. Remember: I'm aiming for real world prices. Next, Ramoka was looking for Shenarian coffee or tea. Nothing beats the flavors of your homeworld, right? I figured 50-50 chance they had it, used my dice rolling program on the iPhone, and determined that no, they did not carry those. But they did have Shenarie Blast!™ soda, made with real gooberry extract, for $1.75. Meanwhile Aurora took a more pragmatic approach and purchased two oranges and three bananas for $2.50. Finally, Robot simply used some of the store's napkins to clean herself with, then purchased some new XV-15 grade motor oil for $3.95. A quick scan of the characters' retinas (and Robot's bar code?) and the deductions were made from their bank accounts. We only had one pencil in the car, so I took care of the paperwork for simplicity.

After that little excursion the girls got down to business: they needed a place to live. After a quick debate over whether to choose an apartment, a condo, or a hotel, they settled on apartment and needed to know where to find one available. We figured there's probably "an app for that," and $0.99 later Robot had the equivalent of the iPhone Around Me app running on her system (by the way, Robot took advantage of the spaceport's free wi-fi to download the app, but in subsequent games she's going to need to subscribe to a data plan). Robot found some apartments for rent in a pretty broad price range. They settled on a place called "Sunny Gables" which was on the edge of a shopping district called Nipon Square one level above them but still subterranean. Sunny Gables had apartments starting at $800 per month.

To get there they had a choice between ground transportation and air transport. Air transport amounted to air taxis, whereas ground transport was analogous to our modern subway systems. The subway is always cheaper, of course, so that's the way they went. I came up with a system of 10¢ per stop, 50¢ per vertical change of level. The trip to Nipon Square's East Gate Station was $2.20 apiece. There was one changeover, and the vertical train was a fun little roller coaster of a ride for the players to imagine. When they got off the transport, that's when it happened.

The advertisers had East Gate Station covered like a blanket. This involved a barrage of holographic advertisements targeted specifically to the characters based on retina scans being taken right there at the station. Naturally I lifted this idea wholesale from the iris identification mall scene in the movie Minority Report. Lucia was shown a young woman with circles around her tired eyes, dragging through her day, and a voice asked, "Has the caffeine worn off yet, Lucia? Well, when it does, remember Nipon Coffee House!" Ramoka, seven feet high and covered in purple fur, was told of a sumptuous grooming spa (and she later decided it would be a good idea to go there to make sure she hadn't recently picked up any "space fleas"). Aurora was shown scenes of a lively elfin farmer's market just a few blocks away.

Then Robot got scanned. "Need new parts?" asked the voice. "Find everything you need, at RadioShack®!"

That's right: tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years into our future, RadioShack® is still there. Thriving, even, and with the same tried-and-true business model: small stores inside of shopping malls; young, moderately aggressive yet aloof sales guys who seem busy, but it's not exactly clear what they're actually doing; and an inventory of obscure, niche, home electronics products that 99% of the population will never need. A recipe for long-term success if ever there was one, and I mean really long term.

So that was the big joke that just kind of came to me on the fly. My wife laughed out loud, but it pretty much sailed right over the kids' heads, so I had to explain it to them. They didn't see the humor. Oh well.

The kids went on to discover that Nipon Square was not square at all. Rather, it was a gigantic underground dome, with a sky-like ceiling and a blindingly-bright glowing orb floating unsuspended high overhead, simulating the sun. The space above them was filled with sky cars circling in well-ordered traffic patterns, the main points of entry and exit easily identified. Built into the perimeter of the dome were residential and parking properties. Beneath the imitation sky, at dome-ground level, breathed a lively, glistening city within a city, with many mid-sized buildings sporting all kinds of interesting architectures reflecting the influences of many species. It was a very clean looking place, and in the center, an enticing amusement park. A hundred thousand people called Nipon Square home, and many more visited there daily. It had everything, being one of those places you could live your whole life in and never need to leave.

Sunny Gables apartments was built into the east wall of the dome. The rental office manager was a disgusting, oozing blob with open sores and bubbling eyeballs whose vocalizations consisted of squirting noises reminiscent of unpleasant experiences in the necessarium. Fortunately he had a "translator" panel installed (a clear panel, floating above his head, displaying his words in the common language) so he could do business with the party. Through him they learned they would need to cough up the first and last month's rent, plus an additional $200 deposit if they wanted a furnished apartment. They took the deal and split the cost four ways, but first, the credit check. None had bad credit, per se, but the problem was that most of them didn't have any credit at all. Fortunately Aurora was a princess, so she did, in fact, have truly excellent credit. Thus they were approved for the contract (one year), their retinas scanned again (to be used as keys), and they checked into their two bed, one bath apartment on the 20th floor, overlooking Nipon Square.

Next up: who knows? It's totally up to them!

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