Graphics from Klondike, The Lost Expedition. (Screengrab)

Graphics from Klondike, The Lost Expedition. (Screengrab)

Yukonomist: Gaming the Klondike

Tired of playing online solitaire at work? Why not try Klondike: The Lost Expedition?

It’s one of those trending online and mobile games which you can play alone, with friends or with random inhabitants of the internet.

Or, in the words of Klondike’s marketing department, “Face a challenging task of turning a deserted valley into a beautiful and flourishing farm. … Become the best farmer and gold miner of the Far North! You won’t be alone on your journey: hire your friends and locals to help you in this task and get ready for your exciting trips to other lands of Klondike.”

The game is designed to be addictive. You start with a mining pick, a rock that promises gold, some chickens and a cow. Within five minutes, an indigenous friend named Dull Echo wearing a parka in the summer was giving me tips and I had chopped down my first tree. Once you get enough resources, you can set off on expeditions including finding your father, who went missing on his own Klondike prospecting trip.

The game quickly asked me to invite friends to play, and dangled intriguing mysteries. “Why has father disappeared? Where does gold come from really? What otherworldly mysteries lurk in the faraway lands?”

The game is slick and has impressive visuals. Never mind that we don’t have raccoons and my farm looked a bit more like jungle than a spruce forest. The depiction of First Nations people is stereotypical in the extreme, complete with teepees. The developers definitely didn’t get the memos about de-colonization or how to apply to YESAB before cutting swathes of firewood. Nor were the branding experts at the tourism department looped in. The image of the Klondike the game projects is a weird combination of Call of the Wild, the wild west and Indiana Jones.

So, which Yukon game designers and coders are behind Klondike?

Actually, in an impressive display of globalization in action, the companies behind the game include Plarium in Israel and Plinga in Berlin. Plarium boasts 390 million gamers worldwide and coding centres from Michigan to Krasnodar, Russia.

There are almost certainly more people playing virtual Klondike right now than living in the real place.

You can add this to the list of ice cream bars, boots and 4×4 vehicles using the Klondike or Yukon brand without Yukoners getting any benefit. Given Plarium’s global reach, it is probably taking the Klondike brand to people in countries where they’ve never heard of a Klondike bar or Yukon XL sport utility vehicle.

But think about it. If coders in Krasnodar can make games about the Klondike, then we could make games about Krasnodar. Or anything else.

This is easier than you think. Instead of needing an army of coders to create your virtual world like in the old days, there are platforms such as Unreal Engine or Amazon Lumberyard. You come up with the game concept, and they make it relatively easy to create a game. You can drag and drop trees, husky dogs, dragons, mineshafts and volcanoes wherever you want. It’s kind of like making your own website with Squarespace. It may look similar to everyone else’s website, but it’s a lot easier than learning HTML yourself.

The possibilities are endless. You could have a game where you are a mining CEO trying to get your mine through the YESAB process, dodging lawsuits, protests and volatile mineral prices. Or how about City Council, where you try to find food banks and charities in your town and hit them with property taxes? Or how about Transfer Payment, where you try to spray an ever increasing stream of money over a restive population to win the next election?

Some very good plays have come out of day-long playwriting sprints. I suggest we do the same for digital games.

Plarium’s office in Krasnodar has grown from 50 people in 2009 to around 500 now, and currently has 25 openings.

It’s a reminder that the idea of remotely working from the Yukon is an increasingly mainstream idea, whether for individuals, small teams or entire offices.

We can offer an excellent lifestyle, low taxes and pretty good internet.

If we can get the cost of housing under control and do some creative marketing, we might have a strategy to play a game the Yukon has been playing with mixed results for 50 years: Economic Development.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist, author of the Aurore of the Yukon youth adventure novels and co-host of the Klondike Gold Rush History podcast. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.