So there I was, developing a new AAA title for my console The Best Games Console Ever, when disaster struck. My console was selling well against the GameStation and my games were critically acclaimed. I was a week away from launching the greatest MMORPG ever created. My profits dropped in the red during the development again--it happened a few years before when I first was developing the console--and this time, the bank said no more. The Best Games Company Ever went bankrupt and another developer bought all of my super popular franchises. Game Dev Tycoon is a super slick game development simulator from first time developers Greenheart Games. The premise is simple. You are an independent game developer starting out a few years before the release of the NES (every company, organization, and game console has an alternate name off by a few letters, I'm using the real names as necessary from here on out). You are randomly assigned game subjects--ninjas, music, evolution, vampires, space, etc.--and can choose one of six game genres to develop for.
When you start, your choice is text-based or simple graphics games and a variety of sliders to allocate your resources. The sliders set how much time is developed. For example, do you spend more time on sound or world design in phase three to release a casual fashion game for the PC market? After the game is released, you receive four reviews that impact your sales and you can generate a report that lets you know the ins and outs of making a law/action game (and if that's even a good combo to release at all).
As the years go on, the amount of consoles available grows and shrinks in accordance with the actual history of gaming. You do start out right after the second huge video game crash, so the audience is actively growing for most of the game. The major players are all there. PC gaming is always around. The Commodore 64 gives way to the rise of Nintendo. Nintendo leads to the Sega consoles. Nintendo announces then drops the deal with Sony to make a new disc-based console, leading to the rise of the Sony Playstation consoles. Microsoft jumps on board with the XBox and the Dreamcast's sales ruin Sega's bid in the console wars. Nintendo slowly shifts to a casual niche market while Microsoft and Sony battle it out for mature audience domination with the PC market.
The whole way through, you have to choose what markets to develop for. You research the best game options through trial and error and build up fans to release better games. You invest thousands, eventually millions, into the newest game engine only to release a flop title because industry trends shift and an action game just won't sell as well as an RPG.
Game Dev Tycoon's greatest strength is the level of control. You cannot control the forces of the market, but you get to strategize on everything else. Do you take up a big time publisher on a licensing deal to get a guaranteed pay day (or penalty) or do you go out on your own and try to win great reviews? Is it worth it to miss the launch window of a console you know from history will be more successful just to research one more amazing piece of tech for your new game engine? Which marketing campaign will actually have an impact on sales big enough to justify spending anywhere from 50K to well over one million dollars? Do you spend more money to find a more qualified group of potential employees or do you cheap out and spend the time to train them at a lower salary rate? And how much can you experiment with innovation when a wrong topic/genre combination can sink your business in a matter of weeks? This is a surprisingly complex game with a very easy to play interface. It's all buttons and sliders. If you want an employee to do something, you click on that employee. If you want the company to do something, you click on the office. As your business grows, you pull the screen left or right to access your research or console development labs. Time stops when you're in a mandatory game development window but continues on when you're checking your alternate activities.
Then there are all the fun little add-ons that can help or hurt your game. If you develop your first Mature game in time, you get an interview with a national magazine that will automatically boost the hype over the game. If you employ multiple female developers, you can become a supporter of a women in games campaign and earn a lot of fans. You get to choose whether or not to shut down fan-made clones of your new hit game or release outdated source code for free, for a fee, or not at all. Want to get in on the convention circuit? Try buying a booth at E3 for anywhere from 80K to millions; ranking in the Top 100 booths increases your sales and can be worth the risk if you have enough fans. How many is that? I don't know.
Game Dev Tycoon is the best kind of simulation game. It's very easy to play but so full of complex content and choices that you want to keep playing to do better than the last time. It's designed for that. On each subsequent playthrough, you can choose to retain all the game combination and development information you've ever discovered so you know from the start what goes into a good adventure game. So far, I've yet to top the performance of The Best Games Company Ever and I'm still going back to figure out where in this ever-branching narrative of entertainment versus business I'm making the wrong choice to zoom into the future of console gaming.
Game Dev Tycoon is currently available on Steam for the discount price of $6.69 through Tuesday, 3 December. It's worth it.