Much like Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story, Game Dev Tycoon is a title that lets you play as a video game developer. You will decide what games to make, aim for good reviews and high sales figures, hire and train staff, and generally try to become a successful developer. Initially it is easy to pass off Game Dev Tycoon as a mere clone of a great game (it is made by a different developer after all), but if you put some time into it you will realise that this is a more in-depth – but equally enjoyable – take on the same concept. In many ways Game Dev Tycoon is the Civilization of game development games. If you think about it too much (or at all really) you realise that it is an overtly simplified, and not wholly realistic, portrayal of its subject matter. Much like how running a nation isn’t like running a nation in Civ, game development in Tycoon isn’t very like real development. However, much like Civ, there is enough authenticity here for Tycoon to work. It blatantly simplifies the process of game development, but it still has enough to make you feel like a developer. The end result of this is that Tycoon is a lot of fun. It’s simple enough to learn the ins-and-outs of the Game Dev Tycoon School of game design, but there’s enough meat on its bones to keep you hooked for hours on end.
You will spend the majority of your time creating and releasing games, with the end result of making profitable releases in mind. Game creation is simple; you pick a topic, a genre, a platform, give the game a name and then press go. After you press go you can assign certain amounts of time to certain aspects of the game (by way of sliders), and pay money to include researched features that fall under the categories. Different genres require a different build up, and the key to making a successful game is to have a good match between topic, genre and platform and then to assign time to the game as is appropriate. For example, if you are making an RPG you may want to put a lot of time into world design (and put in a lot of extra features like an open world or a day/night cycle), however if you are making a casual game sprawling intricate worlds may not be your top priority. For the most part this makes sense, but it is somewhat restrictive. The game decides what is important to each genre and you are forced to agree, these are normally spot on but it makes for very narrow focused titles. After all, there are action games that focus more on story than on anything else, and that are completely excellent, but in the world of Game Dev Tycoon that approach is a recipe for disaster. This binary state of game design can make things rather repetitive, actual game creation becomes rather formulaic and something you just know how to do in order to maximise success. You know that if it’s an RPG you have to balance it one way and if it’s a strategy game you have to balance it another. This is somewhat of a letdown, but there is enough surrounding this single element to keep you involved. Later developments like picking an audience, making your own engines, training and specialising staff and assigning them to certain elements make this process more enjoyable. The game eventually becomes a game company management sim – rather than a game making sim – your aim being to run successful developer, not to make intricate games; and the gameplay fits this well enough. It is the features that surround basic game design which make Tycoon so compelling. Every element is simplistic, but there is a lot going on, and a lot to think about. The simplicity makes it easy to keep a handle on everything, and the multitude of variables keep you invested. When things like marketing, R&D, managing MMOs, developing your own consoles, making deals with publishers and keeping your workforce effective come into play things get really enjoyable. Knowing how to make successful games is just one part of the puzzle, and filling in the rest is what makes the game work. Another compelling part of the package is how the game fits into gaming history. You play your way through gaming’s past (by way of products with similar name to real products, like a Playsystem and an Mbox) from fake Commodore 64’s all the way to fake PS4s (and beyond). Platforms come in and out of existence at appropriate times, and trends mirror the actual trends of the time. Popularity swings in the way it did, and platforms attract the kind of games they actually attracted. This whole set up is a lot of fun, and rather clever. It’s enjoyable to somebody familiar with the industry, and adds a real sense of role-playing your way through history; and of being part of the games industry as it exists. Things also get interesting when the game goes past our current point, and you start to see the world as the developer imagine it. The story line lasts 35 (in-game) years, and this is a decent amount of time. However it’s not really enough time to see all the game has to offer, and some of the things you might not get to are actually the most enjoyable parts of the game. Luckily you can play on past this point, the only change being no new platforms or story developments. The story developments mean that the game is compelling in spite of its simplicity throughout the 35 year period, after that though the later mechanics are very enjoyable, and are enough to keep you playing. You will want to keep doing well, keep improving your technology and make better games. At this point you will care about your IPs and your company as a whole, and that’s incentive enough to keep going. In my current game I’ve been playing for about (real world) 15 hours, have released several MMOs, had my own conventions, put out two consoles and have been around for almost 100 years… It gets addictive. The game has its detractions though. First of all, it really isn’t a looker. The visuals are quite ugly, and the UI looks like amateur placeholder art that they never got round to replacing. It’s all perfectly usable, but it doesn’t make for a professional feeling product. Also certain parts are too simple, and the game occasionally doesn’t make sense. Games will fail for no apparent reason, and review scores are occasionally bewildering. This would be better (and rather realistic) in a more complex game, but when it’s as simple as make a combination and match the time to your genre, it feels a bit out-of-place when your next RPG gets 5s after the previous got perfect 10s. Sometimes there is an explanation (your technology might be outdated or you may be over saturating the market) but the game isn’t good enough at surfacing this information, and that’s a real problem. In the end Game Dev Tycoon is a fun little game that gives you a huge amount of compelling content for a very low price. It has flaws, and it’s overtly simplistic, but it somehow works. It hits onto a great formula, and is a compelling piece of entertainment that will appeal to anybody with an interest in – or knowledge of – the gaming industry.