Ever wanted to develop your own videogame? Those who have probably set out to work on coding their own magnum opus, but there is a greater proportion who just want to see how it all works. Game Dev Tycoon is hardly a new idea, as Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story did it a while ago on mobiles, but it is also a two-man indie game being sold for a budget price on PC. Greenheart Games might be a start-up making their first game, but does it have enough depth to be a true simulation of the industry close to our hearts?
The premise is simple. You start out as a lone developer with two platforms to choose from, with the task being to develop games to make money. As you develop games, you can research new topics and components for brand new custom engines which you can use to develop new games. As you become more successful, you’ll be able to hire a small development team to take on bigger projects, while providing some form of training. The object is to make as much money in a predetermined timeframe, keeping your team from becoming bankrupt, and innovate the videogame industry. Even after the time is up, you’re free to keep developing your company to become a big player in the industry, culminating into the research and development of your own console or MMORPG. The latter half of the game seems like an afterthought however as while the MMORPG mechanics seem sound, developing a new console provides little beyond profit and coming up with your own “Steam” service does absolutely nothing.
Sounds like every game fan’s dream doesn’t it? Well there is a lot to balance to get it right. Each time you develop a game, you need to balance various categories such as gameplay, graphics, world design, and AI. As you develop bigger games, you will need to manage your staff to develop sections of the game. One big thing that Game Dev Tycoon gets right is the theme. By emulating the evolution of the gaming industry, from the days of the Commodore 64 to the upcoming next generation of machines, the clever parody names are easily identifiable to their real-world counterparts. Liberties were of course taken with the list of systems that come and go, with the incremental upgrades to the Gameboy not even being featured, but they do replicate the trends of the past quite nicely. Where it comes unstuck is that you can’t design games for consoles to be released as launch titles, instead having to opt to begin development once it has launched. This is an issue for two reasons. First, you can’t take a gamble on a new console before it comes in, and secondly you can’t pre-purchase the licence to develop for it, making this part of the simulation feel weak.
But there is a rather big problem with Game Dev Tycoon. In a game where its real life counterpart is reliant on critical and consumer feedback, this element is either under-utilised or non-existent. When you release a game you’ve developed, your work is judged by four rather vague critics that aren’t exactly giving yours truly a run for my money. They provide scores, along with one lined feedback that actually means nothing most of the time. These reviews rarely give any insight to anything you’ve done wrong, besides game combinations/where the game design sliders are in development. The result is that a lot of the time the games you design feel like an educated gamble.
Scores also tend to reflect how much your game sells most of the time, with fans being generated from really good games and lost for poor ones. Fan factor is vitally important in terms of sales for future games, especially when you have the ability to market your upcoming title to generate hype, or attend the G3 expo to show off your new games in a booth. However this is a missed opportunity to provide tools to assist with game creation before it has begun. Where is the ability to discuss with fans to see what they’d like to see? What about mock reviews for a concept? In business, there is usually a need to pre-plan before going ahead with development. None of this is here, which makes development difficult.
The lack of proper feedback does nothing to teach you about the game. If we were to use the game’s own mechanics to describe what we’re dealing with, the dialogue category slider is way down. It is also a little unclear however how each of the developers’ stats affects the development of that section of the game. While you have a large range of topics to research, you don’t have a large range of genres, as the only addition to the main list is “casual”. Combining genres later on by researching hybrids makes up for it a little, but it does still feel like a limited list. The game offsets this by having a selection of genres that combine well with certain subjects, such as a Racing Simulation title being a great combination, but these still feel limited in scope.
Events will tell you about current trends, offers from companies, and also decisions you need to make about things such as fan-games and piracy claims, which do provide a good amount of commentary about the real life issues game developers go through. You can even take on contract work and publishing deals to gain extra research points, cash, and in the case of publishing deals – fans. Once you reach the plateau though, there isn’t a lot you can do besides research and develop a brand new console, as the game stops adding new events/consoles after the time limit has been reached. Understandably, the design of the game is minimalistic in the presentation, but it is odd that other features that could propel it to astronomical proportions feel undercooked.
For a two-man project, Game Dev Tycoon shows potential for a minimal financial commitment. Capturing the spirit of the console cycles is a neat touch, perhaps inspiring one to come up with pun-names of various key franchises for the consoles in question. Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of vision which badly affects its ability to be a believable simulation of developing games. Having little to work with in terms of genres is one thing, but not being able to obtain any feedback from your creations beyond one line per review that is meaningless to begin with makes the game ask a lot out of you. The idea was promising and some of the execution is fairly good, but unfortunately Game Dev Tycoon is disappointing…