The Corporate Machine is a business management game developed by Stardock and expands on the developer's earlier game Entrepreneur. The player plays the head of a company in one of the available markets - computers, cars, aircraft or soft drinks. Starting from one office and a small garage for manufacturing, the aim of the game is to rise to a worldwide monopoly by gaining the majority of the market. The game takes a light-hearted approach to the business world, with humorous action cards and company names such as Mitrosoft and MacDonalds.
The gameplay is in many ways similar to turn-based conquest games like Civilization; new offices are built instead of cities, sales executives and marketing campaigns replace military units, and researching new technologies is an important part of the game. The Corporate Machine plays in a pseudo-realtime fashion. One turn consists of a week in game time and takes from a few seconds to about half a minute depending on the speed setting. The game can also be paused at any time in single player mode and orders can be issued during pause. Multiplayer games can have up to eight players.
The game comes with six maps, including an Earth map. User-created maps are also supported and new markets or technologies can be made using XML files. The four included markets offer different challenges. Fighters are expensive to manufacture and their sales numbers are low, while soft drinks stress the customer experience and have little to do with technological advancement.
The first order of business is to expand. New regions can be researched, which takes some money and 3-10 weeks depending on the distance to the nearest office. Researching gives a lot of data on the regional economy, what aspects of the product the customers value most - performance, ease of use and so on - and other useful information. Offices and sales executives increase sales in the researched regions around them; executives can be moved at any time, and new executives are gained at the end of each year if the company meets the sales target.
Office sites can be expanded with new or bigger buildings. Factories, research labs, marketing and sales offices make up the basic necessities. Other available facilities include morale-boosting recreation sites, training centers, intelligence offices and company stores. Labor costs, general cost of living and other variables in the region affect the site profitability. In addition to offices, the company can build distribution centers and economic centers. A distribution center acts somewhat like a sales executive and gives a proximity bonus for the market leader in that region. An economic center can be used to convert a poor region into a rich business area, leading to a huge sales boost.
At the center of the gameplay is the continuous act of maximizing profits by balancing employee and manufacturing costs against product sales. The price of the product can be changed at any time, and price drops generally help sales a lot if the company can meet the demand. Regions dominated by another company must be conquered by aggressive marketing campaigns, which can either hammer in the positive aspects of the product or spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about the opponent.
Direct Action Cards spice up the business. The cards offer all sorts of bonuses ranging from government grants to illegal child labor (which can be countered by an opponent with an investigation card). Some regions offer different types of resources - labor, marketing, intelligence, government and underworld - to the market leader in that region. Most of the cards require a certain number of these resources before they can be used. Each company has two cards at the start of the game, and a new card is received each year.
The game ends when a company gains a global marketshare of 55%-65%, depending on the year and the number of opponents.