I’ve always wanted to be a game developer. Ever since I was sitting around in my Mario PJ pants as a small child (well, I still wear Mario PJ pants) watching my older brothers play the NES, I knew that games were going to be a huge part of my life forever. I never really pursued the development side of the game industry too much outside of mere dabbling here and there, but writing is something that’s always stuck. As a result, I’ve retreated to that corner of the industry where people like me play games and then tell you, the consumer, about them. Things become a bit more difficult when you throw games like Game Dev Tycoon into the equation – for both good and bad reasons.
Everything in this game is incredible for a gamer like me. If you’ve grown up surrounded by games and gaming culture, followed the industry and read up on the events before or during your era as a gamer, then this game can only be described as nothing more than a nostalgia overload. From the obvious parodies of popular gaming consoles like the Ninvento (Nintendo, obviously) all the way to the developer’s hilarious real-world handling of piracy – Game Dev Tycoon serves as effective and entertaining fan-service to the entire industry as a whole.
You begin in your garage running a solo independent development studio operation. The game begins with your choice of a name for your company, a name for your character and choices from a variety of clothing and hair skins for your avatar. Unfortunately, the customization really stops there and this is a constant theme throughout the game. Outside of meaningless names for projects, you never really have any control over anything at all. I understand that this is just a basic tycoon game, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like something as simple as a custom poster for my game on the wall or at least a logo next to the title would really take it to a whole other level.
Just like most tycoon games, things start out incredibly basic and slowly ramp up from there. At first, you’ll be developing for the PC and Commodore 64 with very few options (it is the late 80s, after all). Each game is created the exact same way – choose a name, choose a topic/subject (think SciFi, Cities, Fantasy, etc), choose a genre, platform and engine once you have the option. From there, development progresses over the course of three phases, each of which contain three development sliders with things like graphics, sounds, dialogue, level design and the like.
By choosing which facets are important to focus on for the particular topic/genre combination determines your points, review scores, success, revenue and everything else – it all comes down to the numbers. The game does a great job of simplifying this complicated process down to a few sliders and switches, but loses part of what makes the game industry so wonderful in the process – creativity and originality. Sure, if I exploit the system correctly, I could make a 9.75 average review score game that’s a Cyberpunk RPG titled “Butt Sniffers Deluxe” and rake in the millions. However, I could also miscalculate and land a bit off the mark, earning an average score of about 7 and not really know what went wrong.
Granted, review scores are unpredictable in real life as well and I’m sure many developers have Metacritic scores far lower than what they expected, but at least reviews in real life actually, you know, review your game. In Game Dev Tycoon, you’ll be lucky to get more than a single word out of a publication. Things like “Beautiful.”, “It’s okay.” or “I’ve played better.” are the norm and it never really explains what areas could be improved. Conducting research reports on the end product can help shed some light on what may have gone wrong, but even then it’s too vague to really be helpful.
Once you get passed the garage phase and open up your own studio, things really start to get more intense. Hiring more employees, juggling several differen projects, training, cotnract jobs, industry events, publishing and so much more await you at the later stages and the game does a great job of slowly introducing new concepts with robust and detailed tutorials. I never really felt overwhelemed, but if I tanked (which I did several times) it was often all my own fault.
Game Dev Tycoon isn’t one of the best tycoon games ever made and it’s far from an accurate representation of the trials and tribulations involved in game development, but it’s a fun, entertaining and novel approach to an industry overrun with initiatives to be taken “seriously”. While playing Game Dev Tycoon, I got to sit back, watch my little sim employees turn the gears of my operation and rake in the dough. It lacks much of the depth you might hope for, but for the cheap price tag and independent developers themselves, it’s an impressive first attempt in the industry.
Over 800 words later, I feel like a fool. If I were a reviewer in the Game Dev Tycoon world, I’d only have to say: “Good game. Would recommend!”
This review is based on a digitally downloaded PC Steam copy of the game provided by Greenheart Games.