Rebel Inc. is a unique and immersive political/military strategic simulation with over 4 million players. It offers a deeply engaging, thought provoking look at the complexities and consequences of foreign intervention and counter insurgency as you work to stabilise a war torn country. We previously reviewed it at PAXsims here.
James Vaughan is Founder of Ndemic Creations, and creator of hit mobile game Plague Inc., Plague Inc: Evolved and Rebel Inc.
I had the pleasure of a quick interview with James before our upcoming Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development. At the Forum we’ll have a lunchtime conversation with him and policymakers, diving deeper into some of the questions below.
How did you come up with the idea for Rebel Inc.?
I actually came up with the idea for Rebel Inc. back in 2011 before I made my first game Plague Inc. The core idea was about the game of cat and mouse between soldiers and insurgents – defeating insurgents just causes them to move to a neighbouring area – instead you need to carefully position soldiers to surround/contain them as well as considering broader civilian and military issues to ensure stability. After the runaway success of Plague Inc. I was finally in a position to make Rebel Inc. as I’d planned all those years ago – a game that simulates insurgency, the failures and mistakes that have been made and how things might have gone differently.
What is it based on? What kind of research did you do for this?
James Vaughan (Ndemic Creations)
Rebel Inc. is heavily inspired by events in Afghanistan but also by numerous other events including the Columbian peace process with FARC. As a former economist – I love getting my hands on all sorts of data sources to build my simulation models – one of my favourite books was Farewell Kabul by Christina Lamb, the quarterly SIGAR reports were extremely eye opening and I was lucky enough to talk with a huge number of experts, journalists and politicians to get their thoughts and experiences. Said T. Jawad, the Afghan Ambassador to the UK gave me a number of personal experiences / vignettes which I was able to put into the game including one about resolving an issue regarding the stop and search of women by female soldiers.
How did you build in realism but still try to keep it fun?
Developing a game based on real world issues is both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. In order to make Rebel Inc. an engaging and sensitive game which makes people think, I had to find a balance between realism and fun. Too realistic and it would be overwhelming and too complicated to follow, not realistic enough and it risks sensationalising / exploiting serious situations – and losing credibility
Through my research – I identified a number of key themes that I wanted to capture in the game (e.g. corruption, inflation, the need for a peace process, foreign soldiers going home etc) and then spent years experimenting with different game mechanics. Trying different combinations and methods until all the pieces of the model finally game together and worked. Often it’s about finding the core part of a mechanic and displaying that rather than trying to cram in all sorts of tiny details which although important – can prevent people from understanding what they are being shown. The end result is something I’m extremely proud of – and discussions about where / why the game is not realistic can often be more educational than including them in the game in the first place.
Who plays Rebel Inc?
4 million plus people from all over the world – and more every day! (The most popular countries are the US, China and Russia). Our target audience are people who want to play intelligent games that make them think whilst still being accessible!
Are your players interested in stabilization, post-conflict development and international assistance?
Yes – although not all of them will have realised this until they started playing! We get a lot of messages from people who have military / diplomatic / expert backgrounds saying how much the game resonates with them and their experiences which is always great to hear. On the other side of the coin (!) , we also get players telling us that they never really had any understanding of what is going on in places like Afghanistan until they played Rebel Inc. They say it helped them think about the complexities and compromises that are necessary in order to stabilise regions. “now I understand why we couldn’t just send lots of tanks to Afghanistan” etc.
We’re looking forward to having you at the Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development – what are you hoping to get out of the Forum?
I’m really excited to engage with and hear from people who are experts in the field. It will give me all sorts of ideas for future Rebel Inc. updates as well as identify areas where we can improve the simulation. I want people to tell me what they like about the game but just as important – tell me where they think I got it wrong! Some of the best parts of Rebel Inc. are where I’ve included personal stories and experiences into the game in the form of decisions for the player to make – I want to add a lot more! There has also been quite a lot of interest in using Rebel Inc. for training and education purposes so I’m keen to see if something can be facilitated here.
What are you working on now and what do you have coming out next?
I’m currently working on the next update for Rebel Inc. as well as working out how to get it onto PC. I’m also busy working on updates for Plague Inc. and an expansion for my physical table top version – Plague Inc: The Board Game. No rest for the wicked!