Negotiating purchase prices, selling assets, and collecting rent isn’t just a part of real-world real estate — these are key features of Hasbro’s Monopoly CityStreets, a new online version of the classic Monopoly board game that incorporates Google Maps as its game board.

"It’s definitely a way to learn about real estate cash flow and investment," said Nick Roman, a Realtor with Melbourne, Fla.-based Tropical Realty of Suntree.

On Sept. 9, the day the game launched, about 1.7 million people worldwide attempted to log on and play, which led to server delays and the eventual restarting of the game on Sept. 17, said Donetta Allen, Monopoly spokesperson.

Of those who logged on, a portion included real estate agents like Roman.

"If anything, I thought (the game) would generate a little real estate publicity," said Robert May, a Realtor with Lethbridge Mortgage and Real Estate Info in Alberta, Canada. "I’m surprised they didn’t work in real estate advertising and do some geo-targeted marketing," May said.

Both Roman and May began playing on Sept. 9 and quickly exhausted their initial $3 million in Monopoly money to acquire streets within the cities they currently reside, as any street in the world can be purchased and built up with various properties.

While using Google maps as the Monopoly board brings a realistic aspect to the game, the price paid for a street is not.

According to Allen, the value of a street is determined by its length, as the longer a street is the more building potential it has.

For instance, Downing Street in the U.K., home to the prime minister, initially cost $231,000, while Pennsylvania Avenue, which joins the White House and the U.S. Capitol, cost $2 million.

"They’re not differentiating between residential and commercial zones," May said, adding the value of a street is also determined by how many lanes it has.

"There are better Web sites they could have used (to determine street values), like a postal or ZIP code system," he continued. …CONTINUED

Once a player purchases a street the player can set up houses, hotels, skyscrapers and other buildings along that street to increase property values.

The cost to build various structures is generally accurate in one regard: a house costs less to build than an office building, and an office building costs less than a residential tower.

However, the dollar figures to build these structures does not necessarily correlate to real property values, as a house costs $50,000 to build and a Monopoly high-rise tower costs $100 million.

Similarly, rent earned on each property is not based in reality, as a house will automatically earn a player $50,000 in rent per day — it’s entire cost!

But such heavy embellishments are intended to enhance activity in the game, as acquiring a significant amount of rent per day encourages players to build more structures and purchase additional streets from other players.

"The online experience for Monopoly CityStreets emphasizes the exciting dealing and negotiating elements of Monopoly," said Sarah Hoskin, senior marketing manager for U.S. marketing at Hasbro.

Players can negotiate the purchase price of a street with its current owner and pay with cash or properties.

The game incorporates red "for sale" signs that indicate which streets are available, and taxation.

According to the Monopoly CityStreets blog, the first five streets a player owns are tax-free. After that the tax rate is 3 percent per street.

For example, if a player owns 15 streets the tax would be 30 percent of the total rent collected each day. If a player owned 25 streets the tax would be 60 percent.

As expected, well-known U.S. streets such as Rodeo Drive and Wall Street were among the first to be snatched up when the game launched, May said. …CONTINUED

Prior to the restart of the game, the hottest city searches, from first to 10th, were: New York, Paris, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo, Dubai, Shanghai, Barcelona, Las Vegas and Madrid.

However, May said he noticed a significant number of players first buying up their local city and neighborhood streets.

"You’d be surprised how many people locally are playing the game," Roman said, as a significant amount of streets in his home city of Melbourne, Fla., were bought up before he could get to them.

The game has a viral aspect to it, as players are rewarded with $1 million dollars, in addition to rent, for each day they sign in.

If a player is inactive for two weeks, the bank will automatically repossess all that player’s streets.

Similar to the original Monopoly, unexpected "chance cards" are part of the game and can lead to players sabotaging one another’s properties.

Some chance cards give players the ability to set up hazard areas, such as power plants, prisons and sewage plants. These hazards drive down the value of a street and properties.

Chance cards also give a player the opportunity to bulldoze hazard areas and build bonus buildings, which can protect streets from being sabotaged.

The online game was launched to demonstrate some of the aspects featured in the upcoming Monopoly City, a new board game where players build a 3-D city in the center of the game board, Allen said.

As of right now, Monopoly CityStreets is scheduled for online play through Jan. 31, 2010, but that could change.

"I have a feeling the online game may stick around after (that date)," Roman said.

Erik Pisor is a freelance writer in Southern California.


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