Game Dev Tycoon Review (PC)

Racoons with ties?

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Game Dev Tycoon has recently been hitting the headlines due to its interesting anti-piracy measures where people who have pirated the game will lose profits in-game due to piracy to the point where it is impossible to continue, thus hopefully teaching them a lesson. The game itself is a business sim where you work your developing company up from a simple garage-based operation to a multimillion dollar concern pumping out AAA games and trying to keep up with a rapidly changing market. Is it any fun? The fine folks at Greenheart Games sent us a copy so we could find out.

The game appears at face value to be incredibly simple. You pick the type of game you want to make, the genre, the platform and the game engine, and you start making a game. All of that is automated of course, with you just working out which areas to spend the most time on. At this point it all seems very idealistic, especially when you make your first breakthrough game and the money starts rolling in.

Quickly, a number of exciting possibilities are opened up to you. Do you try a broad approach, making lots of different kinds of games to make sure you’re good at everything that comes your way, or do you specialise? Do you fork out for an expensive licence to develop for the latest console? The game is fairly rigidly bound to reality (but avoiding lawsuit-inducing names) so sometimes you know when a console is going to flop, and can use your real-life hindsight to avoid consoles like the Saturn. Making games becomes much more complicated as you need to juggle different engine demands and areas that you could be spending time researching.

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Quicker than you’d think, the game becomes somewhat of a nightmare, it’s around the time publishers get involved and I can’t help but feel this might be intentional on the part of indie startup Green Heart Games. You start making money and move to an office, but to progress you need to start signing deals with publishers. They don’t want you to make the games you want to make, they want you to make what they think will sell. So you start up creating an adventure game because they’re selling well, but the publisher wants it on the Gameboy and you’ve never worked on that before. Coupled with that, the publishers wants it to be aimed at children and you’ve been making mature games. Oh well you sigh, as the prospects of huge profits gleam in your eyes and push you forward. You start developing the game and realise to maximise efficiency you need to hire additional staff. Unfortunately they’re not quite as skilled as you are and if anything whichever area of the game you assign them to ends up worse than if you had just done it yourself. Unfortunately they also need holidays and training the ungrateful swine. So you’re making this game, but with the trackers at the top telling you how good the game will be, you know you’re already doomed to fail. You put all the features you can into the game, with the hope of making it better, but it just dwindles your bank account. Eventually, as you near your last penny, the game is ready to ship and bug-free, so you send it off. The reviews aren’t good, you’re criticised for the design choices that actually belong to the Publisher, the publisher fines you for not getting high enough review scores, the game loses you previous fans and cripples you financially. All you can do to pick up the pieces is accept a publishing deal for a sure fire flop or take on some contract work creating something dull. It’s only a matter of time before you’re pushing games out before they’re ready so you can meet the utility bills for the month and wondering why you got into games development at all.

It can be a brutal look at the industry really, and one that’s surprising in its subtlety. It’s easy to think this is another sim game where all you do is make numbers go up but any gamer who follows the industry will be appalled at the decisions they will make in order to turn a profit. When it’s going well it may get a little too simple but if you pay attention it’s revealing and illuminating without preaching to you, rather than explaining it helps you discover why game developers sometimes make what seem like odd decisions related to features or content.

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I’m sure at some point a walkthrough will appear that show you how to maximise your profit in the game, and will remove all the fun from it entirely. At the moment the enjoyment is in the struggle, the desperate battle to stay in the black while keeping as much of your dignity intact as you can. The game seems to be much more interesting the worse you are doing.

The game is currently cheap as anything at their website and available on PC, Linux and Mac, with optimisations for every platform. We were lucky enough to get sent a copy but it’s easily worth the $7.99 (around £5) you need to pay. They’ve even made it available on the Windows 8 store and it works with touchscreens, going the extra mile.

Greenheart Games have proven that making games is hard, and they’ve done it beautifully.

Verdict 8

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