The world's largest Monopoly game kicks off today, and the whole planet is up for sale.
Hasbro Inc., owner of what is perhaps the most ubiquitous board game ever made, is teaming up with Google Inc. to launch Monopoly City Streets , a massive Web-based version of the classic game that turns every street on the planet into a potential real estate opportunity.
The game uses Google's map data as a board, allowing players to buy up everything from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to Vancouver's Burrard Street.
Prospective slumlords and real estate barons can then build sheds, skyscrapers and everything in between, collecting rent and sabotaging each other's empires in the process.
Already the subject of much Internet buzz, Monopoly City Streetsis actually an elaborate marketing campaign dreamed up by Hasbro's ad agency, Tribal DDB, to hype the latest (real-life) iteration of the classic board game, and facilitated by Google.
The partnership illustrates what both companies will likely do a lot more of in the future.
Google is looking to monetize its huge stores of maps, books and other data, and Hasbro wants to breathe new life into titles such as Monopoly, which has been around since 1935.
"We're trying to show that board games are contemporary," said Donetta Allen, a spokeswoman for Hasbro.
"This is a fun and unusual way to introduce the game to a new generation."
In the virtual iteration of the game, players the world over will start with $3-million (U.S.) in digital cash, which they can use to buy just about any street recognized by Google Maps. The streets are priced based on a formula that takes into account their length and proximity to various landmarks and the centre of town. (Toronto's Queen Street East goes for about $1-million, while New York's Fifth Avenue is one of the world's most expensive, carrying a $28.7-million price tag). Players can then build and collect rent from structures ranging from single-storey houses to the $100-million Monopoly Tower.
"You're not going around a game board," Ms. Allen said. "It's all about how far you can expand your empire."
Besides the trading and negotiation elements that made the traditional board game so engrossing and infuriating, the online version will also include a healthy dose of attrition. The move is a lead-up to the new board game coming this fall, in which players can sabotage one another by, for example, building a sewage plant on another player's property, thereby driving property values down.
Tribal DDB approached Google earlier this year with the Web-based Monopoly idea, which the Web giant agreed to facilitate. In addition to providing map data, Google also made available its development team behind SketchUp, a 3-D modelling tool, to work on a contest allowing players to design their own buildings for use in the game.
The deal will likely serve as a blueprint for further endeavours - Google says it's looking for more partners to work on similar marketing campaigns that take advantage of the Web giant's massive collection of information, such as map data and street images.
This isn't the first time Hasbro has opted for a "non-traditional product launch" to advertise its titles. Tribal DDB previously developed a "real-life" Monopoly game using the streets of London as a board and taxis fitted with GPS receivers as playing pieces. Hasbro has also teamed up with McDonald's Corp. for a scratch-and-win promotion, using the board game's iconic street names.
Rumours have been swirling for the past two years that the next reincarnation of Monopoly's marketing machine will be even more ambitious: a major Hollywood movie based on the game. However, Ms. Allen would neither confirm nor deny those rumours.