Chocolatier is a business strategy simulation game where you are a chocolate maker in the nineteenth century. You travel around the world gathering ingredients and recipes, then have your factories make the chocolates, which you then travel around the world to sell. I played the game last night and I think I learned something about business in general from it.
First of all, I nearly went broke by trying to trying to maximize production of basic chocolate bars. It turns out that chocolate market is volatile, and sometimes the selling price for an item will be below what the item costs to make. Basic chocolate is a money maker at first, but later declines in price.
My next thought was, “Aha, the more complicated and expensive something is to make, the higher the profit margin!” Well, no, because again the market is fickle. People don’t care about how complicated something is, or how expensive it was to make, it’s whether they like it or not. That determines price and thus profit margin.
To do the game right, I realized that I would need to keep track of prices for ingredients and products. I would have to track historical prices and make sure that I wasn’t buying ingredients at too high a price. When ingredients were being offered at a low price, it was time to buy in bulk. Then I would have to calculate how much it cost to make items versus selling price at the current market. To do the game right, in other words, you need to set up a spreadsheet, or at least write things down on a piece of paper.
It’s a casual game, so you can make money just by cruising around and enjoying the sights. Real life, however, isn’t so forgiving. Chocolatier has gotten me to thinking that I need to be more analytical in my approach to business. I need to offer not just one inexpensive product but a complete product line, keep track of costs to make the products, scope out the market so that I know where and when to buy and sell.
But in the game, as in life, business really comes down to having something to sell that people want to buy. To me, the biggest business lesson of all is that customers buy products, not marketing strategies. Surprising how many companies forget that.