Sooo.. I found myself almost sleepwalking into adding a new feature to Democracy 3. I honestly can’t remember actually making the decision to include it, it just seemed to ‘happen’. In democracy 2, the model for income of voters is fairly basic. You can implement policies which affect different levels of income (luxury goods tax hits the rich, for example), and that would affect the membership of the poor, middle income and wealthy voter groups. So far so good.
But it turns out that life is more complex than that. My example of choice is ‘agriculture subsidies’. In the current game, Agriculture subsidies make farmers happy, and they also encourage people to become farmers (so farmer voter group membership rises). This is accurate, and logical and works well. But it has no actual effect on anybodies personal income. This is clearly wrong. So in Democracy 3, I’ve changed things so that each voter group has an ‘income’ value, and policies (and events) can feed directly into them. You also get an extra tab on the graph, and list of effects to see these things happening.
So now… Agriculture subsidies have their usual effects, but also they make farmers wealthier. The subtle effect is to push farmers out of poverty, and towards wealth. This may be more logical, and detailed and accurate, but why is it good game design? what does it add?
let’s say you have identified the poor, and farmers as two ‘core’ groups that you will base your support on. They are the bedrock of your voting block, and you will keep them happy. So far so good. One of your policies, as demanded by your poor farming supporters, is higher agriculture subsidies, and so you do their bidding. One of the side effects is now that a chunk of those poor farmers are now not so poor. They start joining the middle income or even wealthy groups, and that brings with it a host of other influences to their thinking (voters are in multiple groups, at varying strengths). Suddenly, there are more farmers thinking ‘hold on, I don’t think I appreciate this luxury goods tax, or inheritance tax. What were you thinking???’. Your policies that subsidized the poor and hit the rich (including those taxes on the rich you levied to pay for the subsidies) are now inadvertently affected the very voters you were trying to help…
it’s a subtle effect, but I think it’s real-world, and also represents an interesting trade off. I see this in British politics a lot. The left were concerned about child poverty and pensioner poverty, so to combat it, we got better provision of child benefit and winter fuel benefits for the elderly. Worthy goals, but they also push up the living standards of parents and the retired. This has side effects. Now, in a time of austerity, the government finds it extremely hard to reduce either benefit. This is the problem of so called ‘middle-class’ benefits. A policy designed to do one thing has had other effects, due to the changes on people’s income.
I think this is an effect worth modeling, and it’s fascinating to see it in game. When trying to make environmentalists happy, all my feed-in-tariffs and grants also make them better off, and suddenly I’m the champion of the wealthy and not the poor. I love trade-offs and compromises like that. They are the key to what makes Democracy interesting to play.