If you’re like me, you probably play quite a lot of games and, at one time or another, have probably considered a life of developing your own games. Not all of us possess the skills to develop our own games (nor the contacts and finance to get someone else to on our behalf) so our ideas remain mere concepts… until now.
Game Dev Tycoon is an indie business simulator that centres on the life of a game development studio, starting out at the birth of the industry as a garage programmer and eventually evolving into an AAA-creating development powerhouse. You may have already heard of it, though, after it garnered many headlines for an innovative stance on piracy. Let’s take a look at while you’ll be investing hours on end into setting the scene for your own Call of Duty knockoff.
From TES to mBox 360
Game Dev Tycoon is largely open-ended, allowing you to choose what games you make, what consoles you develop for and how you otherwise invest your money. However, there’s a continuing storyline working its way through in the background that follows the development of the industry. When you start out as a single developer in your garage, you’ll be living in the mid-80s where the PC and G64 — the latter a reference to the Commodore 64 — are the only platforms available to develop for. However, over the course of your first thirty in-game years of play, new platforms will be released, all resembling real-life consoles.
Along the way, you’ll meet consoles like the TES, Playsystem and mBox that are released and discontinued as you play. After year 30, the releases will end but you’ll be satisfied with the equivalent of the iPhone/iPad, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 that are left over. The inclusion of references to the real life industry (you’ll also find publishers and rival developers like “Ubersoft”, an in-game parody of Ubisoft, mentioned) adds a nice dynamic to the game that can make it a little easier to come up with ideas.
As you make your way through the initial thirty-year span, opportunities will present themselves to advance. You’ll be able to move into new offices, open hardware and R&D labs, hire and train staff and more. Dave Johnson of Departure Science might even pop up to offer you a cash injection in return for some product placement, a charming reference to the late CEO in Portal 2.
“Game Design For Pirates”
Developing games is a fairly simple process. After initially selecting key characteristics such a name, platform and genre, you’ll be guided through three development stages where sliders determine how you spend your time on core aspects of the game. Eventually, you’ll be able to research the ability to select a target audience and create a custom engine built to your own specification of features. The share of time and the inclusion of features from your engine are instrumental to how successful your game is, with certain focuses being better suited to certain genres. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of what works and what doesn’t which limits replayability a little when you’re able to produce perfect games time-after-time, although a few outside factors judging success also keeps things somewhat fresh.
After you’ve made your first few games, research opportunities become very important to your success. By working on games, creating engines or contract work (small, non-gaming tasks that your characters perform in return for cash), you’ll earn Research Points which can be spent, in conjunction with cash, to gain access to things you can build into your engine, unlock the ability to set things like target audience and launch marketing campaigns and train yourself and your staff (which, in turn, can increase attributes that affect efficiency and allow staff to specialise in specific areas). The points system encourages you to make choices, and therefore build engines specific to the genres and type of game you want to develop in a clean, well-balanced fashion.
You’ll also unlock different types of games, such as sequels, expansion packs and MMOs. These have different features; for example, MMOs will sell indefinitely but will encounter rising maintenance costs that you’ll need to keep an eye on, choosing to take the game off the market and cease new sales, or inject some popularity with a marketing campaign or expansion pack. It seems like these types of games only become available fairly long into the game and not all players will appreciate not being able to concentrate on one or two particular franchises from the start, instead having to create fake sequels or establish tens of unrelated games before the ability to build on the success of one becomes available.
Naturally, unlocking the ability to make an MMO might take longer to represent the real technological development involved, but it seems fitting that the option to develop a sequel should be immediately available and that expansion packs shouldn’t need to be limited to just MMOs — I want to parody The Sims!
Once you’ve moved into an appropriately-featured office, adding a hardware lab will eventually allow you to produce your own console and sell units alongside your own games which is a big achievement in itself, as the process can be extremely costly.
“Game Dev and Simulation is a Great Combination”
Once you’ve finished developing a game, fixed all the bugs and ran an appropriately-sized marketing effort, your game is pushed out onto the market, kicking off with a round of reviews. Reviews are based on a number of factors, including the quality of your game, and return a numerical score which can help deem how successful your game is.
Produce a high-quality game for a popular platform and a well-suited target audience and it’s not uncommon to be looking at millions in profit. Try the opposite and you’ll encounter limited success and even the loss of fans, which can endanger your future publishing efforts. As mentioned previously, extensive play can reveal exactly how to execute a successful game which does limit replayability, although even the most calculated endeavours can still have a turn for the worst in the hands of the press. And, if you didn’t pay for your own copy of Game Dev Tycoon, you’ll find your sales eaten up by virtual pirates, in the most perfect version of poetic justice ever show in an app.
The indie nature of the game’s own development definitely shows. Sound is limited to very little more than the looping background track you’ll eventually get bored by, but the graphics are strong enough to still have a charming, immersive experience. The in-game parodies of real consoles and the posters of popular video games are a really nice addition that don’t resemble the drab, generic setting the game could’ve had.
For what can be expected of an indie game of this price, Game Dev Tycoon ties together fun, immersive gameplay into a package that might not win any accolades of its own for visual or audio innovation, but is strong enough to not limit the entertaining qualities of the game.
Game Dev Tycoon is a really fun game that will have you engrossed in hours and hours of gameplay as you attempt to simulate your own version of the gaming industry. Recreating your favourite franchises is something you’ll get around to and it’s entertaining seeing how your own parodies are received by the virtual critics of Game Dev Tycoon.
The game is most certainly not without its floors. There are clear improvements that could be made with some gameplay choices — such as the aforementioned waiting time until you can develop a sequel — being highly questionable, plus a lot of room to expand the game even further, but its difficult to complain when the price more than pays for an adequate amount of immersive, addicting gameplay.
We’d highly recommend picking up Game Dev Tycoon. The game has been greenlit by Steam and will be making its way onto the platform in the coming months, but it’s available to play right now for $7.99 (and you’ll even be given a Steam key when the game does get around to launching on the service).