Francis Tseng takes on startup culture with new sim game, ‘The Founder’

A dystopian simulator where the only imperative is Never Stop Growing.

Francis Tseng has a lot of ideas. He’s the human behind Humans of Simulated New York, an early attempt at societal artificial intelligence he made during a fellowship at DBRS Innovation Lab. We expounded upon the possibilities the project could have in policymaking, allowing lawmakers to demo ideas before implementing them.

But Tseng’s new project is a sim game called The Founder, a “dystopian business-simulator.”

In it, players attempt to start and grow a business, recruit employees with perks rather than a steady salary, hype up their company and never stop growing, no matter what.

We caught up with Tseng, who’s currently in China, via Gchat.

The following has been lightly edited for clarity:

### Brooklyn: So The Founder. I wasn’t sure if it was earnest or a joke until I got to “Hype Your Company to Cult-Like Status.” What will it be? A sim-type game?

Francis Tseng: Yup it will be a strategy game with some sim management components. If all goes well I should have an alpha within the next month.

TB: Nice. Can you tell me a little about your career so far and what’s piqued your interest, what you’re really focused on?

FT: Sure. Since school I have been working as a designer and software developer so I’ve always been on the periphery of startup culture. So The Founder was inspired mostly by that. Over the past few years my work has moved more towards machine learning and AI and lately I have been focusing on simulation and politics, like with Humans of Simulated New York.

TB: Nice. What made you want to make The Founder?

FT: Mostly frustration with Silicon Valley: how it works and how its logic is spreading everywhere, in particular their “disruption” ideology and really shallow kinds of innovation.


TB: You think innovation’s been shallow? Seems like hella stuff is going on?

FT: Yeah, I’m not saying there hasn’t been any good or valuable innovation but a lot of startups and what Silicon Valley lauds are not really very interesting innovations, or maybe only innovations worthwhile/accessible to certain classes of people.

TB: Like the people who already live in Silicon Valley?

FT: Yes and no. Well, if you include the entire Bay Area a lot of people who live there are also excluded.

TB: So how does the game work? What are the perverse incentives?

FT: The only incentive in the game is that you have a board of investors, and they expect you to grow your profits by a certain amount every year so you have to keep growing and growing and growing and eventually it becomes unsustainable. The core part of the game is a strategy segment where you and a competitor battle it out in “the market.”

TB: It sounds like Pokemon.

FT: Haha, a little bit.

TB: Do you get to pick your business?

FT: Yup. You start out only being able to choose between hardware and information products but over time you can expand into new verticals each vertical gives you access to different product “types” so things like a “gadget” or a “social network” and you “innovate” by combining these product types in novel ways to create new products.

TB: A social network for weapons!

FT: Haha, yeah exactly. You can do weird/unexpected combos and some will work really well, and some won’t.

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