As featured in the Economic Times Sunday – 10th Feb 2013.
Complete article appears after the image.
Why Chidambaram should play Angry Birds
I really have some major expectations from P. Chidambaram this budget. My expectations are accentuated given that his predecessor –Pranab Mukherjee did nothing during his term as Finance Minister. He did so little, that if Kumbhakarana (the demon who only slept) had to appoint a successor, then Pranab would make an ideal choice.
Now, back to Angry Birds and why Chidambaram should play this game asap (I mean immediately after reading this article).
1. Nani, Munna & Bahu can all play
The greatness about Angry Birds is that anyone and everyone can play it. My 85 year old Nani plays it and even enjoys it over ‘Noughts and Crosses’. Why so? Because Angry Birds is as simple as switching on the TV. Or to put it in the Indian context, it’s as simple as honking the car horn.
What Chidambaram will realise in the first 40 seconds of game play is the elegance of simplicity. And that is how his 2013 budget should be. Simple, elegant, easy to understand and comprehensible to all.
All the past budgets (his included), have sounded like monotonous mantras pundits recite during weddings and housewarmings. Everyone just wants the chanting to end so that they can run away (or attack the food).
Only someone of Chidambaram’s stature can make complexity simple, so that India and its citizens understand the gravity, heft and the importance of the most important document of the Government of India.
Only when people understand things can they appreciate them.
2. One rule for all players
In Angry Birds, you fling birds into pigs to destroy them. That’s it! I just described the core game mechanic of the world’s most popular game in a single sentence! Now, can Chidambaram take inspiration from the same and also make his budget single pointed and easy to ‘play along with’?
For instance, take two examples that Chidambaram could consider. As a mobile games entrepreneur funded by international venture capital, I struggle to make a dent in the global market. While I keep myself awake at night figuring out games, the last thing to contribute to my insomnia should be Indian tax and accounting rules.
But trust me, the rules, regulations, do’s and more importantly ‘don’t do’s’ are so frightening, that I have to keep working with my CFO and an army of consultants to keep out of harm’s way. Just to remit salary to my international employees requires me to sign at 17 places each month!
Also consider the long-drawn Vodafone tax case. Neither the government, nor the tax department nor Vodafone really seem to be clear about the rules and regulations that apply to this case. When I read “The government is open to a settlement”, I read between the lines like “We changed the rules and you got trapped, so let us help you out a bit.”
Chidambaram, please make the finance rules of our country so, so simple that Amitabh Bachchan can ask a few questions on them in the next round of KBC, with simple multiple answers. That should be your real test.
3. Killing many pigs with one bird
In Angry Birds, you can score the maximum points if you destroy all the enemy pigs with one bird! It’s funny how killing many birds with one stone has been turned around.
I think, what Chidambaram has to grapple with, is a triple challenge:
i) Making people pay taxes, not avoid them.
ii) Making people pay honest taxes.
iii) Making more people pay honest taxes.
I believe that if he thinks through this carefully, there is a ‘gamification’ (jargon that describes implementing game theory to any situation) that can be applied to budgets and to the collection of the tax codes.
For instance, why not have a ‘points’ system (like credit cards) for the tax we pay? The ‘points’ can then be used for special tax breaks or first-come-first-serve schemes? I am sure if Chidambaram convenes with the top 10 game-makers of the world, some great ideas will emerge!
4. The Devil is in the Level
Angry Bird’s genius is not in the graphics or the story of birds and pigs. It’s actually in the slow, almost invisible level design that makes the game as easy and as difficult to play as you like! Very quickly, everyone finds their own ‘comfort zone’ while playing Angry Birds and then progresses at their own pace.
What Chidambaram needs to do is create the same ‘comfort zone’ for the average Indian citizen and suck them gradually into the deeper tax game. To explain, I think that the real test of the first time tax payer is that she should be able to pay her taxes, herself, online or otherwise, just by spending a few minutes on a form. It should be nothing other than a few clicks and some “yeses” and “no’s”. Just like the immigration form we fill in when we land in India.
Once you get every citizen into the ‘tax graph’ (a pun on the word social graph that describes how people climb ranks on Facebook), then they can and will play deeper levels of the tax game and enrich the government. Once addicted, they will play and pay.
Chidambaram loves to quote the poet Thiruvalluvar in his speeches. Well, here is a quote for him to consider:
பீலிபெய் சாகாடும் அச்சிறும் அப்பண்டஞ்
சால மிகுத்துப் பெயின்
“The axle of a cart loaded only with light peacock feathers can also break, if it is greatly overloaded.”
Sounds like a great game idea actually!! Angry Peacocks, Chidambaram?!