Review: Game Dev Tycoon

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Date: Friday, May 31st, 2013, 07:14
Category: Review, Software, Software

By Mr. S

Tycoon… What is a Tycoon? Websters defines a Tycoon as “A top leader (as in politics) or a businessman of exceptional wealth and power”. So basically a capitalist that can make something out of nothing. A leader of men and a maker of things.

At some point we have all said to ourselves “I would do a much better job if I was in charge, gob smack it!” and that’s the basis of attraction for “Tycoon” games. They put you in charge and say “Here ya go, sonny! Make it happen or lose it all! It’s up to you!”. This is where Game Dev Tycoon falters big time and it’s heartbreaking considering the amount of love that went into its creation.

But more on why I don’t like it later. Lets talk about the things it does right.

Starting off in the garage of your mystery house you start the journey of a fledgling game designer from the golden era of video games, the 70’s. Like the legendary game designers from that period, you start on your Commodore 64 or PC, pumping out games for a few thousand enthusiasts. The first hour of gameplay in Game Dev Tycoon genuinely captures the magic of those times. When men wore pleats, and code was assembly. In those days, a man could spend a couple grand and start cranking out software to a very earnest and attentive audience.


Because every game studio needs a Delorean in the garage...

Because every game studio needs a Delorean in the garage…


The art direction, while simplistic, has a wonderful charm and watching your company grow from backwoods garage operation to full-on ten person studio is very rewarding at first, but that’s exactly when things start to fall apart.

The game turns into a choir of frustrating guesswork that inevitably leads to total studio failure unless you’re good friends with the app’s “save” and “load” buttons or a Web-based wiki to help guide you.

Instead of giving you a well-presented and balanced system, you’re presented with a single mystery path that forces you to try randomly at success. The game never gives you specific details as to why one of your games failed or succeeded, thereby making a core element of the experience feel hollow and luck-based. Why does having the ability to have steering wheel functionality make my football game engine better? Found a great combo? Don’t use that one again or your game will get panned into oblivion even if the game’s setting is completely different and the last game you put out with that combo was ten years ago.


The critics will love you or hate you...

The critics will love you or hate you, but good luck getting details as to why.


You’re given little room for failure, because every game has to be somewhat of a success to pay a staff necessary to sustain the studio. It feels Sisyphean when your workers have to take a week off every four weeks just to keep them happy, and then you have to waste precious time training these layabouts too. You simply fail or succeed with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Try to experiment and your studio goes bankrupt.


Expand staff where you can and you might just crank out a hit.

Expand staff where you can, and hopefully you’re lucky enough to pay them.


Proper feedback and getting just enough understanding of what’s going on under the hood is imperative to a good tycoon experience, and it’s this essential feedback that is totally missing from Game Dev Tycoon. Sure, you get the reviews from the press, but “meh” or “feels derivative” does not tell you why your Zombie Dinosaur Football Racer tanked. You know when you make a good combo, but you can’t use it again without getting horrible reviews for copying something you already did. It’s why you see little pop-up emoticons in “Roller Coaster Tycoon”: instant feedback. You know the people are digging your new toilet because they go in looking miserable and come out looking great. Vis a vie toilets are good whereas a “meh” reaction tells me next to nothing.

Game Dev Tycoon puts a blindfold on your head and chides you for not knowing the way.
It has all the elements of a great tycoon game, but ultimately fails in providing a rewarding tycoon experience. Its scope needs to be widened with a much larger emphasis on player feedback and much better info on what a certain element will add or subtract from the product you’re making in the game. Greenheart Games is an independent company with a clear love of the craft of game making and is probably painfully aware of its shortcomings. As an early supporter of the game, I hope to see it grow from this interesting idea to a more compelling experience with time, but as it stands right now it’s just not fun being a Game Dev Tycoon. :(

Game Dev Tycoon retails for US$7.99 and requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.6 or later to install and run.

A full demo is available here for your consideration.

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