We made a video game to show the highs and lows of the startup experience

3 min readMay 9, 2022

By the Engine Advocacy & Foundation team

The startup ecosystem is incredibly broad and diverse, with startup founders launching small businesses with different business models, in different industries, and in cities and towns across the country. But one thing that startup founders from across the spectrum share the knowledge of how difficult it is to run a startup. Founders are often faced with hard choices about how to invest their already limited time and resources against a policy backdrop — which impacts business decisions, investment opportunities, compliance requirements, and more — that can change on a dime and is often written without startups in mind.

People — especially policymakers — should understand what it takes to run a startup, and most importantly, how policy has a direct effect on the decisions and tradeoffs that founders face. To help put policymakers, their staff, and others in the shoes of startup founders, we launched Startup Trail, a startup simulation video game, developed with Copia Gaming and Leveraged Play.

An homage to everyone’s favorite pioneer-centric educational video game, Startup Trail presents players with a slew of challenging choices to make while balancing the financial health of the company, user growth, tech and talent capacity, and time and focus. Instead of dysentery and broken wagon axles, you have to deal with patent trolls and privacy laws. For more on how the game came to be, check out Techdirt’s podcast on the game featuring Engine Executive Director Kate Tummarello and Engine’s Intellectual Property Counsel Abby Rives.

Since its launch, the game has been played by startup founders, tech company workers, reporters, policymakers, and individuals just dipping their toes into the tech startup ecosystem. Here’s some of what they had to say:

  • Co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, found playing the Startup Trail “a big too autobiographical for comfort.”
  • Longtime tech startup entrepreneur, and current California Department of Tech Chief Technology Innovation Officer Rick Klau stated the game “does a great job highlighting policy choices/tradeoffs throughout a startup’s journey.”
  • Tech lawyer Cathy Gellis, tweeted that she “kept nearly running out of money” but cited that should she keep things running well enough, “it should have a path to come back.”
  • @Gumbercules lamented on Twitter how it took “three tries” to play the game and how they “fought the law and the law won” in the end.

We created the Startup Trail to let users experience a microcosm of what startup founders have to go through. Play the game here — and be sure to let us know what you end up learning, and how you do, by sharing your results using the “Share” button in the game and the #StartupTrail hashtag.

Engine is a non-profit technology policy, research, and advocacy organization that bridges the gap between policymakers and startups. Engine works with government and a community of thousands of high-technology, growth-oriented startups across the nation to support the development of technology entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy on local and national issues.




Engine is the voice of startups in government. We are a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy.