Video games and wine – the next level?


It’s a reasonably well-known fact that the video games industry makes more money than the film industry – more than twice as much, according to some headlines – but that statement is ‘misleading at best, and probably better described as wrong', according to this detailed rebuttal.

Yet such headlines will persist because they make for the more compelling story. 

Just like the one that says that California's almonds are more valuable than its wine, for example. That might be true for exports, and for the cash value of almonds versus grapes; but wine has an economic impact within California valued at $57.6 billion compared with $21.5 billion for almonds. So, in sum: believe whatever you prefer.

Either way, the financial success of the video games industry owes very little to the 2009 stinker Wine Tycoon. Nor did Winemaker Extraordinaire trouble the bestseller charts in the same year, despite it being ‘definitely as addicting as Chocolatier'. Praise indeed.

Both games attempt to offer a simulation of the experience of being a winemaker in France or Italy, respectively. You know, deceiving appellation authorities about your yields and secretly acidifying your overripe Grenache while haemorrhaging as much money as possible.

Ironically, because both games are so clunky, the frustration factor involved in playing becomes a painfully accurate depiction of the winemaker's lot. As witness this bizarrely funny video of one hapless gamer attempting to sort grapes in Winemaker Extraordinaire.

Perhaps a Sideways spin-off game would have been more successful, in which you can play as Miles or Jack, progressing through various levels of Santa Barbara wineries by either drinking or womanising to score as many self-loathing points as possible. The end-of-level boss could be a showdown with Stephanie (clip contains very strong language). [My favourite bit of Sideways – JR]

But my favourite find is the Amazon product page for Wine Tycoon, informing me that ‘customers who bought this item also bought Understanding Wine Technology by David Bird’ – as if somebody hoped that might somehow help them get to the next level.

Talking of which, eight years after the founding fathers of wine video gaming were released, wine gaming has evolved. We haven’t quite had Super Mario Burgenland or World of Winecraft, but there are quite a few ostensibly modern options available for the most devoted and/or masochistic wine gamer.

Search for ‘wine game’ on the iTunes app store and you get 117 results, although many are inscrutable even by wine video game standards. Titles such as Bottle Fight and Drunk Killer seem to require little more than a capacity to tap a screen as quickly as possible. Others are tediously overwrought drinking games. As for Kiss Her More and Commit 7 Deadly Sins – well, let's just say these two are definitely not as addicting as Chocolatier.

One of the more credible formats is the quiz, and one of the best known is the WSET Wine Game (pictured above), which requires you to connect wines to their correct geographical origin. Another, from the Society of Wine Educators, is a straightforward trivia game. A third, thanks to Revue du Vin de France, allows you to become the ‘best sommelier in the world’ by answering 1,000 questions. Clues to the answers can be bought for £1.99 per 150, which is a whole lot cheaper than taking the Master Sommelier exam.

Simulators have evolved too, and iPhone-owning wine lovers can choose from no fewer than three 21st-century versions: The Wine Garden, Euro Farm Simulator: Wine, and Wine Game Manager.

Euro Farm Simulator’s primary gameplay involves driving various different types of tractor. Just imagine the thrills involved! As the blurb itself explains: ‘sometimes your vehicles break down. Drive to the repair station to fix it. Also, the fuel can ran out [sic]. Drive to the filling station to refill.’

In Wine Game Manager, the scenarios are more wine-specific, though hardly more exhilarating – in a list of the game highlights, players are promised ‘weather conditions [and] various types of parasites from which to defend'.

Similar challenges are promised in The Wine Garden, though at least this has credibility conferred upon it thanks to its association from top Spanish producer La Rioja Alta. Indeed, this game is first and foremost a marketing tool, whereby the player is encouraged to share their progress via social media, thereby endorsing the brand to their friends and family.

The same goes for the Facebook game Vinoga Quests – Flavors of Rosé, which is bankrolled by three French wine producers, who allow you to play for free (the gameplay involves locating items in a scene, a bit like Where’s Wally) in return for access to your personal information, and permission to contact your friends to tell them just how much you love their wines. 

As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.