A Fun History Lesson
I don't know why I downloaded Game Dev Tycoon. It was on sale? Maybe. I don't normally play these management simulation games, as I tend to really suck at them, and bankruptcy happens kind of fast. Whether it is Sim City, and losing my city and getting annoyed, or Lemonade Stand and spending too much on sugar, I am used to seeing a game over screen, or getting frustrated and quitting. There are tons of cities I have abandoned, businesses given up, people left leaderless; they’re probably better off. So really, I have no idea what compelled me to grab Game Dev Tycoon. It looked nice from the screenshots, so why not give it a chance?
The game starts out easy enough. You're someone sitting in a garage, and are tasked with designing your first game. From there, the game spirals, as these sorts of games do into a torrent of expanding options and needs. After building a game or two, you get options to take on quick contract work for cash, and you can do things like build your own game engine. All of this is done by using the research you accumulate between making games. You can learn how to make games in new genres, learn how to use better graphics engines, sound options, etc. These help you by allowing you to continuously meet the needs of the changing market. New systems come out, and the market-share of each system fluctuates wildly, and systems eventually go off the market entirely, forcing you to focus elsewhere. On top of that, you need to attend to the marketing needs of your game by opting to use differing types of marketing campaigns, and deciding whether to attend the spoof E3 the game has. All of this adds to a “Hype” meter that appears after getting your name out there as a worthwhile developer.
All of this piles on quickly, and playing your cards right will eventually allow you to leave that garage you’re building games in and move into a proper office. Now with this office, you're expected to hire some developers to help you in your quest to pile on the money. These developers are affected by how much money you can budget for finding new workers, with potential for better workers coming from coughing up more money. They run the gamut from pure tech people, to pure design folks, with some people filling in the between roles, or taking on the more secondary stats, like speed and research. While I hired mostly people who swung in one extreme or the other, depending on my needs, it seems the main character remains pretty rounded out in all the stats, which is not terribly surprising. However, through training and research, you can make anyone better, and many of the people I would hire over time would outshine the main character so drastically, that he was not needed so much on projects anymore. This issue became extremely prevalent after getting the largest office, where I had 6 employees. My avatar was maintaining a consistent rating of around 400 in each skill, but I was hiring people with over 700 in areas, making them the clear choices when something was important to a game.
Perhaps mirroring how the game industry has gotten with sequel churning, and a startling lack of innovation from top distributors, one of the problems with how the game development process works in Game Dev Tycoon is that too often, there are too many clear choices. As you make more games, you are able to compile reports, and find out what matters most to each type of game. While some are easy to figure out, like world-building doesn't matter so much to a Contra-type game, others are far less intuitive. It seems the game has very stark views of what works, and what doesn't, as evidenced by review scores of the games you make, and subsequent sales. Deviating from games history, and trying to make something that hasn't worked in real life seems to doom a project in the game. Throughout my 35 year career in Game Dev Tycoon, my biggest hits were a military action game with online play, a sports game with online play, and a PS1-era RPG. While it made me laugh that my fake game dev career was following the hallowed footsteps of actual game history, it annoyed me that I couldn’t make a rhythm/action game work for critics, despite the fact I was putting the resources where they needed to be. I guess Rez will not exist in my fictional game dev world.
However, past even the simple fun that comes from management sim games, Game Dev Tycoon serves as a great look into the history of a medium that is still very young. Despite all the game systems getting fake names for obvious copyright reasons, this title makes it obvious what you are developing for, and provides great fake snapshots of all the systems to drive it home. The game seems to accurately follow the timelines of the system as well; I was very sad to see the…Dreamvale I think it is called, be pulled off the market so fast. I developed a whole new engine around it, and found one of my bigger titles on that system.
This game is very simple, and I would like to see a lot of the ideas put forth in the title expanded on, maybe in a sequel. A lot of the choices felt very binary as mentioned earlier, and some of the design choices allowed me to be too pragmatic, and did not adequately explain how I could make a Mega Man style game, and then immediately go on to making MLB: The Show. It would be nice to see a version where iteration on the core concepts you develop be more important for subsequent projects. After all, you never become as big as an EA or even Valve. You have few employees, but with the plethora of options you acquire, you wouldn't think that. For 10 dollars however, this game is definitely worth a playthrough, even though you may not touch it after finishing a whole storyline. It only takes a few hours, but those few hours go by fast, and we are given an honestly fun look into our shared game history, and gives us the smallest insight into the stress the people out there making our games are feeling.