Classic Game Review: Speculator

“At 6:49 A.M. CST, Hong Kong Gold reports are that gold is weaker against the U.S. Dollar.” You hurriedly phone your broker and put in an order to sell gold “short” (that is, sell gold that you don’t have at present on the assumption that you can purchase it at a lower price before you have to “deliver”). In SPECULATOR, you get a chance to interpret news reports and estimate their effect on market conditions. Unlike many simulations which reflect price changes over weekly or monthly periods, SPECULATOR practically puts you in the pit. It simulates “real time” trading with a scale of 1 minute of playing time equal to 6 minutes of “real time.” The graphics even allow you the privilege of watching your broker answer the phone and view the floor broker moving to the appropriate post to execute your order on the floor of the exchange.

The realism used in this simulation is remarkable. One is able to buy at the current market value; buy below the market value using an MIT. (Market if Touched – becomes an active market order when a certain price is reached) order; sell at a pre-arranged MIT. order; sell at a given price OB (Or Better – will sell at a given price or higher price); sell short; use a spread order (simultaneous selling and buying of related contracts which are related to one another); using GTC (Good till Cancelled – order remains with the specialist on the floor of the exchange until a certain price or contingency is reached), OCO (One Cancels Other – an offsetting mechanism where if one part of the order is filled, the other part is cancelled) orders; and having the flexibility to execute orders at the immediate beginning of the trading session (On Open) or at the end of the session (On Close).

The effect of all these options (though they are not all immediately available to the first level or “novice” player and must be earned as a performance bonus as the player improves to “Speculator” and “Floor Trader”) is to give the player a more intimate understanding of the mechanics of futures markets. It also seems to allow the player feel more “in charge” of the situation because he is able to communicate EXACT conditions for investment.

It’s also a multi-player simulation and one of the few “realistic” simulations based on actual market conditions to allow this. TYCOON reflects actual market conditions and an excellent degree of realism, but only 1 investor can compete within the same market environment. In SPECULATOR, up to 6 players can compete at the same time. This feature also presents a problem, however. It is very difficult for more than 1 player to use the keyboard at the same time. When the market is about to open, there is only 1 minute to enter “On Open” orders whether there is 1 player or 6. Further, since the market keeps on moving, even when 1 player is in transaction mode, there is an inherent advantage in entering one’s orders first. The scaled “real time” is a vital ingredient to the feeling of being there within the simulation, but either there needs to be some other way of providing input from the players than from the keyboard or there ought to be a feature which allows the “freezing” of the “real time” until all players may enter their orders.

Another important factor is the data disk. Because the events, contingencies, and price fluctuations are geared to an actual 45 day profile of market conditions on three different exchanges (Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Mercantile Exchange and New York Commodity Exchange), there is a significant correlation between what May orange juice does the first time you play the game and what May orange juice does every other time you play the game. In order to circumvent this tendency toward sameness.

Software plans to market several different data disks to reflect different market histories. These will be a welcome addition to the game, since it will keep the game fresh and playable. In spite of the fact that SPECULATOR allows the investor to play much closer to the market than its closest competitor, TYCOON.

It is harder to be a fundamentalist in SPECULATOR, however, since one only has a 30 day history chart to work from where TYCOON offered annual histories of each commodity in graph form. It is easier to be a technician in SPECULATOR; however, since one may place a buy-sell order immediately after news which will affect the basic supply and demand for the commodity hits the ticker. For example, you read that meteorologists predict a severe winter on the east coast (not an actual event). This indicates that there could be a freeze in Florida which would reduce the supply of orange juice. Reduced supply means increased demand which means higher futures prices. Therefore, you want to buy orange juice futures before anyone else can. In TYCOON, there is a definite advantage to following the news, but the price fluctuation has already begun by the time the player reads about it. In SPECULATOR, the player has to move in a hurry before he loses out on the advantage which the news gives him/her.

SPECULATOR is the first investment program I’ve seen which eclipses the fine line of Blue Chip Software investment simulations in tutorial value. The two books of documentation which are packaged with the program (the Game Manual which explains everything from booting the program to how to place an order and the Market Reference Guide – which explains everything from the size of a contract to factors that influence prices) are understandable and make a valuable resource for perusing the financial pages and/or publications distributed by brokerage houses. Between the two booklets, almost any conceivable order is defined from both the perspective of real trading and playing the game.

SPECULATOR compares favourably with any other investment simulation on the market to date. It is competitively priced for the basic game and should be an especially worthwhile investment with the addition of new data disks. I look forward to the projected release of a stock market simulation in the near future.

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