Perhaps the most fun thing about matters of real estate is taking the opportunity to fantasize about owning a lake house, place on the beach or big-city penthouse. (Courtesy photo)

Market Musings: Landlord Go vs. Zillow

For a real estate break, choose dreaming over gaming

This morning, as I did my usual daily sifting through the wreckage of local real estate news, I realized that there is only one constant: through boom and bust, whatever the economy, people love to obsess about the ups and downs of real estate. And either way, somebody’s angry.

Either we’re railing about the rising costs of real estate, about the perceived lack of new affordable housing included in whatever mountainous residential developments are borne of real estate booms or we’re huddling in a corner, terrified at what’s to come when the inevitable crash arrives. Or we’re cheering the crash because we want it to act as a time machine set to 1964, or whenever it was before “they” showed up and ruined everything.

No matter what, we’re thinking about it, reading about it, always, with a great fervor.

For the past six months reading about San Francisco real estate has been a one-note exercise in apocalypse porn, with a single message (“People are FLEEING” San Francisco and San Francisco only) being hammered home with all the subtlety of a fire hose set on full. Now might be a good time to take a break.

But we’re still real estate junkies and despite the willful hopes of doom evangelists there’s still something glamorous about urban real estate, or at least that’s what the big brains at Reality Games were banking on when they released their new game, Landlord Go, in July.

Described as a “cross between Monopoly and Pokemon Go,” Landlord Go managed over a million downloads during its first month of existence, 37,261 alone in Madrid. Per a press release, it’s “incredibly accurate, reflecting real-world value of properties using details like distance from the city center and building amenities.” The game trailer emphasizes the go-go nature of deal-making, showing a hapless would-be trader (who nevertheless looks more than a little like late-career David Beckham in a narrow-fit suit) who is transformed through purchasing and leasing out gleaming downtown skyscrapers. “Each building has a unique daily performance based on real digital footprints,” the presser goes on to say. You can buy, sell and rent properties all over the world.

I’m as appropriately far from being fluent in gaming as someone my age should be, but it certainly looks like Reality Games has dug deep in creating “one of the most realistic and data-driven property dealing games ever conceived,” per its creators. Reviewers tend to agree, stressing its realism. Now, thanks to Reality Games, you can walk through a COVID-era zombie- strewn San Francisco and imagine you’re snapping up all of that commercial property nobody’s going ever going back to like a Latter-day Angelo Sangiacomo. Is this what people want?

“It looks like a boring Pokemon Go.” I am not fluent in gaming but my son is. “They need it to be about something interesting,” he said when I showed him the trailer. Granted, he is somewhat younger than Landlord Go’s target demo, but not by much. Also, there’s no Pokemon hiding out in these buildings; just tenants.

I do think he’s onto something: the “interesting” part. I’m just not sure that being a commercial landlord is the “interesting” part of real estate. The “interesting” part of real estate isn’t being a landlord, it’s being a buyer. And everyone who knows that knows that the best augmented reality real estate game is Zillow.

The part that hooks most of us isn’t the financials, it’s the dream; it’s imagining living in that house, living in that town, sitting on that deck and watching the sun set over that lake in Minnesota, that beach in Mexico, that skyline in Manhattan. This doesn’t seem to be what Landlord Go is selling. Also, note to Landlord Go: people in San Francisco hate landlords.

Maybe this particular email shouldn’t have ended up on my desk, because Landlord Go isn’t really a real estate game; it’s an acquisition game, where you strive to become the most powerful kid on the block by battling other people striving to become the most powerful kid on the block. It is like Monopoly and Pokemon Go in that sense and those are both very popular games.

But if you love real estate but need to escape the daily barrage of apocalyptic rhetoric offered up by the real world, skip Landlord Go. Fire up Zillow instead. Find that lake house. Close your eyes and imagine that deck.

Larry Rosen is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, podcaster and recovering former Realtor. He is a guest columnist and his viewpoint is not necessarily that of the Examiner. The Market Musings real estate column appears every other week.

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