“Million Dollar Listing New York” star and top broker Ryan Serhant called me into his office, handed me money and told me if I want to be successful, I had better buy new clothes.
Then he told me to get a haircut.
This was my first day in the world of “Agent Empire: New York,” a new mobile game where charm, personal appearance and a full stomach can — hypothetically — set you on the path to become New York City’s No. 1 broker. The game, released in partnership with StreetEasy, is a mix of “The Sims” and Pokemon: You create an avatar that must be fed regularly (but has very little other human needs, sparing users the horror show that unfolds when a Sim character’s bladder is neglected), while capturing clients and listings roaming in the wild.
As an agent in the game, your main avenues of convincing clients are limited to: charm, respect, deadline and pressure. Pushing the respect and deadline buttons cause your character to espouse its virtues: “My reputation is on the line,” or, “I will find you a tenant in no time.” Charm consists of acknowledging that the apartment lacks basically everything the tenant is looking for, but hey, “This place is special. You deserve a special place.”
I had varying degrees of success with charm. With landlords, unleashing charm too early meant an immediate rejection of my services. This might’ve, however, had something to do with my life choices — more on that later.
The logic of the game, for now, is imperfect. As you move and act, your mood, food and look levels fluctuate. Eating a veggie hot dog deducts 5 percentage points from your look while a regular hotdog is cheaper and only takes 3 points. A blonde hairstyle with terrible bangs gives you more charm than an edgy brunette hair-do.
Conversations with clients are a roller coaster of emotions: Immediate rejection from a renter is followed by an agreement that this is possibly a once in a lifetime deal. A landlord praising my trustworthiness will then ask why he/she should trust me.
Successful deals earn you respect points, while botched ones cost you. The fictional brokerage that employs you takes a staggering 95 percent cut from each deal — a portion that decreases as you progress in the game. (The usual split is 50/50, but Serhant said he wanted to create an added challenge).
“It’s very much a game,” he said. “It’s not a real-life depiction of real estate brokerage.”
Also, traveling between listings is miserably slow. Many of the game’s subway stations don’t work — possibly in an attempt to make the actual MTA look slightly less miserable — so you’re forced to walk the six miles between Inwood and East Harlem. Walking drains all three levels. You can buy a car in the game, but unless you are some virtual dealing-making wizard (or just better than me), it takes a long time to rack up the necessary funds. You can also give StreetEasy real world money to get quick cash, but I don’t roll that way.
Aside from eating, improving a character’s levels isn’t straightforward. An outfit change didn’t seem to help: I dropped $200 on a yellow skirt suit — Zephr in “sunny she” — and my “look” remained at 0 percent. True to real life, the best I could consistently achieve in the look department was “rough,” even after discovering that exercise seemed to improve my percentage momentarily (who knew?).
I spent the first hour of the game obsessively tending to such needs, subsisting on veggie hot dogs for “days,” with the death of many a Tamagotchi in mind. But there’s actually no real consequences for starving a character in the game — so, I eventually chose to operate as a “miserable,” low-energy deal machine.
Sergei Dubograev, CEO of Pinxter, the company that built the game, told me they are still figuring out how neglecting a character’s welfare should impact its interactions with clients. He noted that choices like clothing, hair and continuously starving your character could impact charm (re: life choices).
My qualms aside, the game is addictive and has fixes in the works. This is the first version and will be updated every four weeks, Dubograev said. Serhant said taxis will soon make an appearance in the game, in response to a request from users. The game will also feature a more realistic three-dimensional map of the city. Serhant said that real listings from StreetEasy may at some point appear in the game as a marketing tool for agents. It’s up in the air whether or not agents would pay for such a service.
He also noted that the game will do away with the mandatory haircut at the beginning. As for the game’s overall focus on appearance, Serhant said that’s a quality of any role-playing app or video game.
Still, showing up to a listing looking like a slob probably won’t earn you any points with a prospective client.