As one might expect from Trevor Chan, the brain behind Capitalism Plus and Seven Kingdom series, Virtual U boasts a challenging computer AI, realistic underlying economic model that takes into account hundreds of variables, and a clean user interface. Given the game?s very narrow and esoteric focus, though, the learning curve in Virtual U is naturally much steeper than in Trevor?s previous games. The game is driven by a powerful simulation engine that models five broad areas in university management: resource allocation and finance, academic operations (including faculty hiring and course scheduling), enrollment management (including university prestige), physical plant activities, and performance indicators. Similar to Capitalism Plus, it will take you many months of game-time in Virtual U - including much trial-and-error - to understand the interconnected relationship between these areas and how to enhance the university?s reputation and expand its operations without breaking the bank.
The gameplay is similar to SimHealth and most presidential election games: at the beginning of every game year, you must establish broad goals for the institution for that year. You do this by selecting objectives from a given list, such as ?pay [faculty] better,? ?reduce tuition,? ?enroll more minority students,? ?win [sports] games,? and so on. You can even choose ?balance the budget? if you are confident of your skills ;) After setting the goals, the clock will start ticking. The game interface, like Trevor?s other games, is intuitive and cleanly laid out. You basically move around the Virtual U campus, visiting the relevant building where you gather information to make policy decisions such as decreasing faculty teaching time, increasing athletic scholarships, changing minority enrollment policies, and many others. As in a real university, many decisions have both positive and negative effects or ramifications, and often the timing of policies can spell the difference between success and failure.
As in real universities, Virtual U?s Board of Trustees monitors your every move, and will give you an annual evaluation of your performance at the end of each fiscal year. The Board?s evaluation letter is very useful and detailed. In addition to commenting on your overall performance, the letter singles out areas that you can improve, such as alumni giving, faculty morale, and institutional prestige. After viewing the letter and year-end balance sheet and profit/loss statement of the university, you can alter the budget and broad goals before moving to the next year.
Like Trevor?s other games, Virtual U is a fun and challenging game that is realistic enough to be used as an educational tool. Just as Capitalism Plus is still used in business schools worldwide, Virtual U is being used around the U.S. to train professional university administrators and education students. Its specific subject matter makes it a ?niche? product that may not be everyone?s cup of tea. If you are interested in well-designed business/management simulation or are curious about how universities are run, though, Virtual U fits the bill. Formerly commercial title, version 2.0 of the game has been made freeware, thanks to the support of the Alfred T. Sloan Foundation. Two thumbs up, way up!