Game Dev Tycoon: Retread, Rip-Off or Rebirth?

A new game studio makes a game about running a new game studio based on an idea they copied, but played a clever trick on piracy networks who copied their game. It's so meta I've got a nosebleed.

Title: Game Dev Tycoon
Publisher: Greenheart Games
Platform: Windows & Mac
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $7.99 (Windows Store), $9.99 (Steam)

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High Points:
  • Well-scaled gameplay complexity
  • Builds well on a good idea
  • No microtransactions or premium DLC of any kind
Low Points:
  • Bland presentation
  • Poor use of screen real estate
  • Squanders opportunities for tension

The Tycoon’s Story

My review of Game Dev Story for iOS/Android led to a number of enquiries regarding how it compared to the more recently released PC title, Game Dev Tycoon, by Greenheart Games.

A quick visit to the official Game Dev Tycoon website enlightened me to the poetic parallel that, like a trope from the game itself, Greenheart Games are a small startup development studio, run by two Australian brothers–Patrick and Daniel Klug–who are themselves taking their first steps into the world of game development.

As a game reviewer I need to be objective, but I don’t mind admitting that I really warmed to the development philosophy and ethics espoused by the Klug brothers.

Anyone who has read my previous rants about game-throttling microtransactions will know that claiming their mission is “to develop games that are fun to play instead of mind numbing money grabbers” is immediately going to endear Greenheart Games to me. And that’s before I read about them trolling the pirating community by releasing a custom version to bitTorrent which sees the player’s game development enterprise unavoidably torn down by piracy.

Concerns about Greenheart Games “ripping off” Game Dev Tycoon were also addressed. The developers are open about their affection for Game Dev Story:

“Game Dev Tycoon was inspired by Game Dev Story (by Kairosoft), which was the first ‘tycoon’ game we enjoyed playing on the iPhone; however, from the start, we wished the game would work and look differently. We wanted a game development simulation which would be less random, more about your choices and a little more realistic.”

I was intrigued and so I downloaded the demo from Steam for £6.99 (US$9.99)

Evolution of Ideas

The similarities to Game Dev Story were apparent, but there were key differences, both visually and in design.

Both games enable the player to take charge of a fledgling game design business and nurture it to the heady heights of sales dominating success or drive it to bankruptcy.

Where they differ is, rather than hitting the ground running with an operational, if modest, studio as you do in Game Dev Story, Game Dev Tycoon takes the player back to the dawn of the PC video game industry as a single, poor coder working from his garage (the covered DeLorean is a lovely touch).

Greenheart’s game has only two defining statistics (Design and Technology) compared to the original’s four (Fun, Creativity, Graphics and Sound). Instead, Game Dev Tycoon affords the player a greater degree of control over specific game elements via a researchable tech tree allowing the development of proprietary game engines. It’s a clever, if more involved twist on the original template.

Strange Choices

The demo irritated me early on with its refusal to let me silence the incessant background elevator music soundtrack. Thankfully this, along with many other minor quirks, was rectified in the full game. However, the use of screen real estate remains inexplicably poor, with small windows requiring scrollbars and swathes of unused space filled with static art.

The visuals and the interface are slick but strangely bland, with very little life or animation. There is a gentle, satisfying quality to the pops and whizzes of the development process, but the level of frantic excitement that should be incited by an approaching deadline or a character’s enthusiastic input is never adequately conveyed on screen.

It all feels oddly detached and dreamlike even though there is a well-balanced system at work to create a sense of pressure at key moments. I can’t help feeling some opportunity for dramatisation has been missed.

I was on the cusp of writing Game Dev Tycoon off as an uninspired rehash, but my third play-through of the demo delivered just enough variety to make me want to find out how the experience develops beyond the first 5 years. A quick bit of research showed that the developers had responded to early feedback and rectified some shortcomings, so I took a chance and purchased the full game.

I have to say, I have since become hooked.

A More Measured Experience

One of the main disappointments of the original Game Dev Story was how easy it became – after a certain point, the player could just belt-feed out any old rubbish with unassailable success. This concern has certainly been addressed in Game Dev Tycoon as I found myself sailing close to the financial wind on a number of occasions, going into the red and being bailed out by the bank. Even after a number of successful titles, taking too many risks soon found me heading for the iceberg of bankruptcy again.

There is a lot to like in Game Dev Tycoon and it certainly delivers the greater realism and control that Greenheart Games were aiming for. It captures some of that “just one more go” quality and adds a degree of difficulty and depth absent in its predecessor. It is a competent update of a great game concept, bringing the trials and tribulations of a struggling game development studio to the modern desktop platform.

Most encouragingly, the many ideas that this iteration fomented from the playerbase which couldn’t be implemented in some post release fixes have been filed for use in a sequel some time in the future.

Score-wise, I’m torn. I gave Game Dev Story a 7/10 and on the whole Game Dev Tycoon has more depth for which it deserves a higher score, yet lacks originality and verve. I think it edges an 8 just for the lack of dirty microtransactions.

[For a second opinion, check out MyNameIsProjekt‘s Game Dev Tycoon: Steam Release Day Review.]

8
Game Dev Tycoon: Retread, Rip-Off or Rebirth?
A new game studio makes a game about running a new game studio based on an idea they copied, but played a clever trick on piracy networks who copied their game. It's so meta I've got a nosebleed.

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Author
Mat Westhorpe
Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.