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A day in the life of an imaginary DQ


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I was excited when I learned about DQ Tycoon, the video game based on the management of a Dairy Queen store. Finally, I thought, here was something that combined my love of video games with my addiction to soft-serve ice cream and my day job writing about franchises.

 

Our reporter's got game, just not the skills to become the next great Dairy Queen manager. But that didn't stop him from taking the blame - and heaping it on his slow-scooping employee.

I had visions of parlaying all the franchising knowledge I learned here at Franchise Times into a major, multi-unit development empire, without all that pesky financial risk. But it seems that serving Blizzards and banana splits to all-too-impatient customers is a lot tougher than it looks.

That probably comes as a vindication for Minneapolis-based Dairy Queen, which hasn't entirely lived down a mocking joke from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who once said he wouldn't hire a certain referee to manage a Dairy Queen. (Neither DQ, nor the NBA, was overly thrilled with Cuban at the time.)

That's not the real reason Dairy Queen agreed to license its trademark and product names to GameMill Entertainment to develop a time-management game based on the operation of a DQ. The game itself is part of the chain's growing effort to market its well-known brand. The company now has licensing deals for everything from lip balm to T-shirts.

"Licensing is an area that Dairy Queen hasn't done a lot of," said Jill Anderson, Dairy Queen's senior marketing manager. "We're reinvigorating that part of our marketing plan, taking advantage of our nostalgic brand."

 

DQ Tycoon

Here is a screenshot of one of the larger levels in the DQ Tycoon game, not that our reporter got this far.

DQ Tycoon is hardly the first video game based on a company's brand, but the vast majority of those are usually simple games played on Web sites. This is different in that it is a legitimate time-management game that can be found on store shelves. It's also unique from the game's standpoint - most time management/simulation games - such as one that requires players to wait tables at a diner - make up the brand.

DQ Tycoon is all DQ, from its store dŽcor to the fact that players can build up from a simple treat center to a full-menu "Grill & Chill." Players can read DQ trivia, such as when the first banana split was served, while waiting for the game to load. An eight-person team from Dairy Queen helped the game makers with all the details.

Dairy Queen did not originate the idea - GameMill Entertainment approached it. But it does help the chain stand out in the noisy advertising market while targeting a key demographic in casual gamers, especially adult women. "We get to extend the DQ experience into people's homes," Anderson said. And the company gets to show the world how hard it really is to run a store.

How to play

Regardless of gender, a player plays as Emily, a fresh-faced college graduate who decides to manage a Dairy Queen on the joking suggestion of a friend - who had hoped to use Emily's career into a summer of free DQ treats. Emily starts out managing a small treat center, serving modest items like cones and Dilly Bars before moving onto more complex desserts like Peanut Buster Parfaits and banana splits.

Emily has to serve those treats fast enough, within a specified period of time, to reach that day's goal. If she doesn't reach the goal, she has to play that day over again (a do-over that many franchisees, and franchise writers, would love to have in real life). If Emily does well, she receives tokens to upgrade equipment. If she reaches her goal for the week, her reward is another store to manage the next week.

In between she can work the sundae counter where she quickly makes waffle sundaes and other desserts. She can also take time to make ice cream cakes.

As she moves through the game Emily's stores get bigger and more complex, requiring her to manage more workers, until she's finally managing a Grill & Chill with a drive-thru.

At least that's what I've heard - I haven't even come close to that level.

I zipped through the game when I started, deftly managing the different treat machines with skill and speed. I learned to get a cone while the Blizzard machine was running and to take an extra order while the drink machine was filling a soda. I earned the coveted "expert" label each day, providing me with tokens that allowed me to upgrade to a faster shake and drink machine. I could totally run a Dairy Queen, I thought to myself.

Then I had to manage an employee, and it all went downhill. While Emily darts from machine to machine and can do two things at a time, it is not unusual to catch an employee yawning on the job - even the best worker is far slower than Emily. And they don't listen to directions, because they never did what I told them to, no matter how loudly I screamed at my laptop. (Screaming doesn't work when I get writer's block, either; I'm beginning to think that computers aren't equipped with ears.)

The employees' lack of speed and refusal to follow directions is most evident when a customer comes down with a bad "ice cream headache." When that happens, an alarm goes off, and Emily must break a glass box to access an emergency "Flamethrower" burger. If the customer doesn't get the burger in time, he walks away grumpy. If he gets it, he'll be thrilled and a wave of goodwill flows through the store's customers.

I can take at least some modest solace in the fact that I'm not alone in my frustration with my computerized employees, because it's the biggest criticism of the game, by far, on Internet blogs and in reviews. But, it seems, this is where the game may be the most true to life - as anybody who has ever had to manage an employee can probably attest.

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