Wellcome Collection, a free destination for the incurably curious in London features exhibitions and events exploring the connections between medicine, life and art. A key exhibition in the 2010/11 calendar was High Society, a show exploring the history of recreational drugs in our society and culture, from ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures through Victorian cocaine eye drops to 1960s psychedelic light shows.
We were asked to create a game with broad appeal, encouraging people to find out more about the Opium Wars, a very dubious period of Britain's imperial history. Wellcome Collection's core remit is public engagement, so the broader ambition was to use the reach of a game to increase awareness of their brand with a game as appealing and complex as the exhibition itself.
Collaborating with the Wellcome team, we created High Tea, an online game developed to focus on the Opium and Tea trade between Britain and China and the events directly preceding the historic ‘Opium Wars’.
You are invited to take control of your own Independent Trading company off the shores of the Pearl River Delta, leading up to the beginning of the first Opium war in 1838. Broker the best opium deals possible for sale in China, then buy as much tea as possible to send home and keep Britain happy!
Aims of the game are to make money and increase your fleet through trading opium in return for silver, and maintain Britain's happiness levels by feeding its relentless demand for tea. Various opium deals appear and disappear on the game map, and players must evaluate whether or not to accept them. Some deals have risks attached which can result in being busted by the authorities, so be careful!
Britain's 'mood-ometer' is what players ultimately want to keep as high as possible, but to do this they will need to send as much tea as possible back home.. If Britain's mood hits rock bottom, the game is lost.
A rank system and score rewards game progress with the player's scores being able to be posted directly to Facebook or Twitter, challenging their friends to better their scores. The player's score is also presented as a graph, plotting their opium and tea trades alongside China's addiction levels.
The game is designed to be portable and was seeded to all the major games portals. The tracking system was made extra granular to give Wellcome even greater visibility of player interaction, with a view to inform future game design. A dynamic promo was also created which will be used to message current exhibitions or promote new new games when they become available.
The project set out to demonstrate the power of games to engage a broad audience on a difficult historical subject. The success criteria will mix game metrics with qualitative research including user-surveys, anecdotal evidence and outreach studies.
The results have been very encouraging, with gameplays reaching over a million in the first week of release and topical debate springing up as the game begins to proliferate.
Update: Wellcome have recently published an evaluation report for this project which is freely available here.