Posted: April 30, 2014
Game development is where art and technology run headlong into one another; an arena where money, geekery, hubris and passion collide compressing under extreme heat to form gaming's diamonds, or going awry leaving behind Superman 64 style turds... While many gamers think they understand the tremendous amounts of skill, passion and balance required to make a great game, one trip to a message board usually exposes how little some of them understand about the process and challenges of game development. Greenheart Games has delivered a simulation that illustrates just how many compromises are made in the developmental process by emphasizing the budgets and time constraints that most titles are developed under and just how disastrous it can be to misappropriate time to features that are not central to the type of game that is being developed. Game Dev Tycoon comes together to form an accessible but insightful view of game development.
Like any entrepreneurial endeavor, it all starts with giving your budding studio a name before setting up shop in your garage and plugging away at your keyboard. Aside from providing a facsimile of running a studio, Game Dev Tycoon is also a bit of a history lesson with the in game timeline chronicling the release of fictitious consoles that are based on the real life machines that many of us gamers grew up on. The demographics an traits of these platforms is represented as accurately as possible, meaning that a family friendly casual game might be best suited for a mobile platform while an intricate simulation will probably have the most success on the PC. Likewise, pairing an appropriate theme to your game's genre will yield the best sales and reviews. Developing a medically themed action game is a great way to go belly up. In this way, Game Dev Tycoon isn't interested in giving players the freedom to create eccentric titles that carve out their own niches, so developing your own Katamari Damacy or Mr. Mosquito is not a dream that this game is meant to help players fulfill. It's about business—moderating costs and selling as many copies as humanly possible. To do so, you can hire and fire staff, develop your own digital distribution platform, choose appropriate marketing campaigns and research new features and technologies that will earn new fans.
Developing a game in Game Dev Tycoon is somewhat reminiscent of playing Civilization, each member of your team has a Design rating and a technology rating. Each area of game development falls into these categories. Programming AI is all about technical experience while graphics are about design. As your game goes through each stage of development, your team will generate tech and design points and how many they generate depends on their rating in each category. The higher their rating, the faster they will produce these points. Balancing your point output to meet the needs of your game is imperative and team members can be trained to bolster their tech or design rating. The more experience a team member has the higher their level will be which also means that they earn a larger paycheck. Having six level ten developers working for you may sound like a recipe for success until your operating costs dig deeply into your profits. Fortunately you can hire and fire employees at any time. To manage costs.
Costs also mount when researching and developing new technology. Technologies can then be implemented into your studio's in house game engines. Keeping up with the tech curve and developing proprietary game engines keeps your studio on the cutting edge and can help generate sales. Bear in mind that the costs of new tech are not limited to implementing them into a game engine—each title you develop utilizing special technology costs extra so spending the money to integrate surround sound into your latest text based adventure is ill advised.
Rounding out the fantasy of running your own development studio are PR and marketing opportunities. As your studio grows, the press will want to know about your latest products and your answers to their questions can earn additional fans and sales. Exercising unrestrained bravado and overhyping your games can earn your studio a Peter Molyneux sized ♥♥♥♥♥ slap, loosing fans and hampering your sales. Having a rabid fan base ensures a certain degree of success since loyal fans will line up to buy your newest project—even if it's titled Grass Growing Simulator or Guitar Hero: Nickleback. Also integral to the PR song and dance is having your own booth at industry trade shows. Having a booth requires a chunk of cash but with enough exposure, your studio can earn additional fans and prestige making it worth investing in. Investing in a marketing campaign will also boost sales potential but timing is key if you want to get the most out of your marketing dollar.
While Game Dev Tycoon integrates almost every major element involved in bringing a game to market it does have a few faults. The largest of which is the lack of randomization. The proceedings are rather predictable, so don't expect any calamities to come along and shake things up. Your staff is always compliment and unlike real life they don't seem interested in seeking newer more lucrative opportunities, you never run into major development snags or delays that would force your studio to cancel a title. Combine this with the fact that running out of money simply means having to take a loan out from the bank and you have a sim experience that is far more forgiving than most. The genre and theme combinations never change nor do the demographics for genres and platforms so once you have discovered a few successful formulas in one playthrough, they will certainly work in an additional playthrough. All this comes together to make Game Dev Tycoon far less repayable than other titles in the genre.
Game Dev Tycoon is an enjoyable game that offers a bit of insight to the process of creating games and it even gives younger players a bit of history about gaming. It's clean and colorful visuals keep the mood light and it's mechanics make it far more accessible than other simulations games. The downside is it's predictability and lack of variation make it difficult to come back to after a dozen or two hours have gone into it. While it's price is set appropriately, fans of other simulators may be left wanting.