When you first start Game Dev Tycoon, eager to create masterpieces of software design that blow anything in the actual real world out of the water, you’ll rapidly realise that there’s a big problem ticking away under the surface of the game’s mechanics. That problem is quite simply this; it’s impossible to actually truly gauge whether your decisions are leading towards any sort of positive outcome. Any addition of an untested design element in the creation of each of your games immediately throws everything into obscurity… There’s nothing discernible shown to you from one attempt to the next that lets you know if you are making the right decision in any regard – which, considering information is key to success, is pretty rubbish.
I suppose that’s how it works to an extent in the real world, but of course, that doesn’t really make it into a good mechanic to use here. It IS possible to learn what works and what doesn’t after the fact, but this feels a little pointless and hollow when you’ll potentially be haemorrhaging money by the time you learn your mistake. It’s also annoying when you take the time to read more on how the game works, and learn that there actually is a bunch of complicated and clever algorithms working away under the surface to determine your level of success. It’d be fun if these were presented to you, for you to then try and pick apart and make work to your advantage, but they’re all hidden away never to be seen.
In a sense, this makes everything feel too simple for its own good. A situation rapidly occurs where there’s nothing in the game with any real depth for you to sink your teeth into; Even when you hit the endgame and start bigger projects such as developing your own consoles and research, I found the strategy for this doesn’t really evolve beyond ‘pump money into it’. In fact, that’s an approach that pretty much works across the board – last game didn’t make massive profits? Pump cash into a killer title next time. Need better staff? Pump more cash into your recruitment process and training.
This might all sound overtly cynical, but I don’t really mean it to be that way; in many ways you could see this basic nature as a blessing, rather than a curse. It’s a break away from the endless complexion and confusion that can stem from playing other simulation games – a no frills, easy way to whittle away time. As long as you go into it accepting that, or at least take my approach and enjoy it for what it is, it’s not really an issue – more just something you need to be aware of.
I also haven’t got around to highlighting Game Dev Tycoon’s main strength yet – it’s a master of non-stop, instant gratification. Start development, and bubbles showing your progress fly all over the screen at a relentless rate; all adding to a grand total highlighting your game’s quality that just keeps shooting up and up as you with each new title. Publish your game, and you’re immediately met with review scores, which (with luck) will shower you with praise that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Immediately after THAT, large chunks of cash from sales roll into your account, and by the time that starts to wane you’ve already started the whole cycle again. Nothing takes long to complete in the slightest, and you’re always moving. Think of it as the simulation genre’s version of fast food – you know there’s more complex and fulfilling meals out there, but sometimes you just want an instant hit of pure satisfaction.
The developer’s love for games in general shines through as well. There’s a nice little (and hilariously copyright avoiding) trip through video game history that – while slightly biased towards certain formats at points – will raise a smile, and there’s a number of similarly themed easter eggs to be spotted both around your development office and elsewhere. I also feel the developer’s comments about piracy, and their approach to preventing it (which, hilariously, sees games made in pirated versions being pirated themselves) are worth noting; again showing a fondness for games in general that should be encouraged in a time where a lot of things feel like soulless attempts to suck as much money out of us as possible.
The key thing to remember with Game Dev Tycoon, then, is to know exactly what you’re getting. This isn’t a game of precise micromanagement and intricate challenges, and if you’re looking for that you’ll be best off going elsewhere. This is a piece of well executed and light-hearted fun, and there isn’t anything wrong with that at all.