Free Enterprise is a SimCity wannabe that doesn't come close to achieving its lofty goal. The object is to start and successfully operate a business in an economic climate that reflects real-world issues. With my perspective as a former publishing company marketing director and operations manager, I can tell you Free Enterprise is so far off the mark it's more like a lesson in how not to run a business.
First, the game lets you select a city in which to establish your company, then you find a building to rent; only then do you decide what you're going to manufacture. You determine how much money you'll start your company with, from $400,000 to a million. (The larger the sum, the more strings attached.) Finally, you equip your building with production machinery, offices, and people. Once set up, you start the clock and watch what happens. You'll receive memos letting you know if the employees are disgruntled over low pay, whether you're forecasting a positive cash flow, and if some areas of the business are overworked and need additional staffing.
The problems come in the details. The city selection is a joke; what you want to find is a location with minimal competition, plenty of raw material suppliers, a strong but not too expensive labor force, and accumulated demand for your product. So why not use the power of the computer to analyze all the cities? Instead you have to click on each city, one at a time, and go through a laborious process to gather less-than-informative data.
You'll need to go through a similarly tedious and unrewarding process to select your product line, which is always a very narrow niche like bowling balls or weed whackers. You must pay employees what they demand or the whole company shuts down. And gathering information on why sales have suddenly slumped or which employees are doing well and which are goofing off is nearly impossible.
Occasionally your daily activities are interrupted by televised reports on changing business conditions. These video snippets look horrendous. Tsunami uses ancient black and white generic business clips or pathetic color videos that have virtually nothing to do with the stories. For instance, an electrical storm has fried most of the area's home electronic appliances creating a huge demand - but the video shows looters ripping off Huggies disposable diapers.
Free Enterprise gives minutely detailed information on its employees' capabilities, from mathematical aptitude to typing skills. But this micro-management knowledge has no value in light of the game's other minimal controls and information. Not only that, but according to Tsunami, a worker who smokes creates many more problems than a drug abuser. And here's a new flash from the game manual: Did you know accounting skills are "good for an accounting type to have"?
With all of Free Enterprise's drawbacks, it has some potential. But to reach any level of effectiveness this product needs a thorough tutorial and several step-by-step scenarios. With the right supplemental material it could work well as a grade school or high school business education tool, but as a game it falls flat.