Luck of the Game Dev (Tycoon)

Hey, do you want to know what my most played game on Steam is?

Well, it’s not a favorite game, I can tell you that much. In fact, I wish I never bought it. BUT HERE I AM, OVER 100 HOURS LATER

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Game Dev Tycoon is going to be a game I play until the end of time, I’m sure. I just keep replaying it over and over, and if I don’t write about it again, I can’t justify this ridiculous attachment to it. So, today’s piece is going to be about how Game Dev Tycoon uses the most simple mechanics imaginable to take your free time behind the shed and put it out of its misery.

Game Dev Tycoon cast you as a start-up game designer who makes games in the early 80s, then can eventually become head of a major company that can create their own hardware. You pick a company name, your name, a few game details like length, and get started making games. While making games, you can decide what fields development will focus on, then release it and get scores based on how well the final product came out, affecting sales. You also have to research new topics and new technology to build into your own engines, marketing, target audiences, casual games, larger sized projects, and so on and so forth. Once you make your first move, you can also hire other employees to help improve projects and fill out staff heads for medium, large and AAA sized titles. Can’t forget studying released games either!

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Mechanics and presentation are dirt simple. Click menu options, adjust sliders, have your staff rest every once in awhile to maintain productivity. The numbers game isn’t even that difficult once you start researching your releases. The only real variables are scores and unexpected output from staff during development that may skew the desired ratio. It’s a game based more around luck than planning or skill. Which is kind of key to why it works.

The problem with well balanced games is that they can get old if there’s no multiplayer options. The excitement of the game wears out once you’ve learned the limitations of the system and take advantage of it. Not every action game can be as rich and rewarding as Devil May Cry 3 or Bayonetta, and tycoon games hit an even worse wall because they’re based around replay and repetitive menu navigation. So, Game Dev Tycoon takes a simple set of mechanics, shines them up, and then adds a randomization element here and there to make sure perfect runs aren’t really a thing.

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There are three random elements at play that tip the scales in any direction at any time. Scores are first, and are even presented as such by coming out via dice sound effects and constantly changing numbers that eventually settle to a single score. Second is staff output. You can affect how much your team puts in technology and design wise via sliders during production, but sometimes luck will change the balance so it’s impossible to make a string of perfect games, even when you know the proper ratios to lead to the best possible outcome. Lastly, your staff members also occasionally play an animation where they stretch a bit, which stops their productivity for a few seconds and can have unexpected impact on a project.

These three little elements are the key to the game’s addictive nature, helped by the hint system. As you play the game, you can research old releases for information on proper development and target demographics and genres, and that information can carry over into new games. This means you can replay with carried over notes to give you an advantage in play, giving a sense of advancement. However, you can’t have a perfect run easily, especially if you play a long game via modding. Because of those three random elements, making perfect games requires luck, and even making a perfect title in the moment doesn’t lead to perfect scores because the reviewers and audience will lose interest if you don’t improve regularly.

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The games manages a great balance between all these elements to make it as addictive as possible, especially by taking notes and major success stories and incorporating it into in-game design philosophy and target audience. If you know a thing or two about gaming history, you already have some advantage. Player control and knowledge are very important to getting anywhere, but rigging the game a little gives the game staying power. While this would be self-sabotage in fighting or action game philosophy, for a tycoon game, it adds to the theme. Not everything goes right in business, so a real mark of skill is making the best of a bad situation, hanging in, and make failure a success. You roll with the punches, and do a little better every time.

Now please take this thing away from me the modding community has ruined me.

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