Today I present you the story I published in October 2011, when the first edition of Pret-a-Porter was released. It's one of my favorite articles I wrote. The day it talks about is one of "these days", day I remember vividly after all these years. Enjoy.
Talks with the National Bank of Poland have lasted for months. We knew there was an NBP department of education that finances educational projects. We knew we had a game that can teach finances. Perfect match.
So there were offers, there were talks and there were first prototype versions of the game. I have repeatedly visited Warsaw presenting draft stages of the game. It was a journey into a different world. In the world of the National Bank of Poland, there are people who dress in suits. At 7 AM they come to work with briefcases in their hands. They use a coded badge to enter the office. They have lunchbreak at 1 pm, and they have a vacation once a year which they spend in exclusive resorts abroad. And they use language I heard once in my life - when accidentally put Bloomberg on TV.
Each time I was there, dressed in my flannel shirt and combat trousers, with a rucksack containing a broken laptop that accompanied me on more than one incursion outside the city on my back, I felt I entered the world of adult human beings. Not exactly my world.
Finally, in early September, Pret-a-Porter was ready. The final, finished prototype. We had received a number of postulates concerning financial and market mechanisms to appear and changes we had to make in the game during those long months of discussions and consultations with representatives of NBP's Board of Experts. Some of these demands had been included, some rejected, as they made the game less exciting and playable, and those had been our top priorities. Above all, we wanted to make an interesting game that would smuggle in the meantime, a bit of knowledge about the world of finance.
There came a time of the final meeting.
I have never felt such dread in my whole life. The fate of the project depended on this presentation - NBP wanted to subsidize the game's production.
And so I'm going to Warsaw with a box under my arm, and the whole time I'm just a step away from the retreat. I'm terrified.
Finally there - as it is typical there - a lot of suits, guard at the entrance, passes, phone calls, ya know, the capital. The National Bank of Poland. I'm being led into a conference room; I prepare the game's setup. There comes the project supervisor, the man who finally decides whether to give the game the green light or to pause the entire project.
"Have you met all the experts' demands posed during our past meetings?" they ask bluntly.
"No, not all of them." I answer.
"And why is that?"
The conversation heads in the wrong direction. I feel the room lacks oxygen. When I entered here, I think I saw an air conditioning. Apparently, it just broke.
"Maybe we should play first, and I will show you how the game works, and then I will explain what we haven't done."
"Great, then we should play."
OK, the execution postponed.
And so we play. I analyze what is essential during the first fashion show, I look at what comes later on, how to plan the play. I'm awfully stressed, there's emptiness in my head. I see only that the Quality will be most important now, yet from my experience, I know that opting for expensive high-quality materials strategy in the first quarter is very risky. I watch the first opponents' moves. One seems to go for the Quality, the other was lucky with designs and will probably exhibit three. I will try to win Trends and PR and hope it will work out somehow. We play. One move, two, three, boom, the first maintenance phase. I can see that one of the NBP employees, the one responsible for this project, practically spent everything he had. The second player, the invited financial expert, plays without hurry. I play chaotically; I cannot help it, I'm devoured by stress.
February. The first and the second move. I see what the project manager is doing and I see that he is on his way to bankruptcy, he bought what he wanted, yet he doesn't have enough for the maintenance. Damn. He will have a surprise in the maintenance phase; he will have to get a loan. The expert, on the other hand, did what he wanted to, he calmly took Credit, bought the materials in the Warehouse, and he will go for the shows with three Designs absolutely undisturbed.
And I. I don't even know what I'm doing. Chaos. I just stare at project manager board and I know what's coming...
The second maintenance phase comes, the project manager, the guy who now has to accept the game for its production and confirm the NBP grant is in deep shit, his company is going through a rough time with no money for employees' salaries. I explain to him this massacre, and I tell him that he must get an expensive loan because he overinvested. "Hard luck," he says. Meanwhile, the expert paid all the salaries ending up with 2 $ in cash left. He cut it fine. Either he is fortunate, or he can count. I bet on the latter.
Finally, the fashion show comes, our supervisor wins in Quality, the expert is a leader in Quantity, and we have a tie in Trends. I get the scraps in the form of winning PR. We count our profits after the first show. My outcome is poor, the expert has earned quite well, after Credit's repayment, he gets a nice profit. My project supervisor earns a lot from winning the most important feature, but after repaying the private loan, he barely makes any profit.
"Well, I think we have seen enough to assess the project. We don't need to play more.", he says pushing his cards, money and the board to the further part of the table.
In this split second, my heart stops working. I think I am having a heart attack. Shit.
The guy played only the first quarter, lost it completely and now he stops the game and says he is done with it.
I could have advised him not to go for the damn Quality in the first quarter. Shit. Shit. Shit.
"I do not know about you, Marek," he says to the expert, "but I'm delighted!"
Whaaaat? Did I just hear him saying the word "delighted"? My heart is confused. Do we proceed with this heart attack, or what? Maybe just faint?
"It is an excellent game." The expert answers.
"I intentionally risked too high costs to see whether the game reacts. As you well know, Mr. Ignacy, above all, this game has to be educational, has to show young people the consequences of certain actions. I have overinvested, I didn't take care of a credit line, and it ended up with my company being barely on plus even though my clothes collection was the best. In turn, as I have seen, Marek played very calmly, when he needed to push forward he took Credit and ended the first part of the game with the best result, right?"
"Yes, I wanted to see to what degree taking the Credit and obtaining additional funds would allow me to invest in larger purchases of materials and exhibiting more extensive collection. The return rate seems to be very well balanced. "
I hear what they say, but at this very moment, a little reach my brain. They begin to talk about numbers, whether the private loan has an appropriate handling fee, whether employees' salaries are well balanced and whether the dependence of credit value on the investment size – that is the size of collection – is a suitable solution.
At some point, I realize that they are talking to me.
"I congratulate you, Mr. Ignacy. You have made an excellent game. I am glad that we have trusted you and undertook this project. The project has my full acceptance, and Pret-a-Porter can move to the production stage. " my supervisor says.
I have worked for months to hear those words. I tell you, it was worth it.
"I'll accompany Mark out and get back to you in a minute, we have a few formalities to determine," he says and leaves. After a moment, the door opens again, and I can see Mr. Marek.
'When this game is published, I could count on a copy for NBP here, yes? I want to play with our team here. I like it a lot." He says with a conspiratorial tone.
'Yes, by all means." I answer.
I'm left alone. The feeling is amazing. I'm here, in the heart of National Bank of Poland. Yes, the National Bank of Poland. I have just played a game with Bank's experts. And they are delighted.
This is it. The moment.
Still, though, I think I might faint.
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