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Revisiting Game Dev Tycoon

Game Dev Tycoon is a little indie game from a few years ago. You start as a developer working alone in your garage making PC games, and slowly grow a bigger team.

Games are made by choosing a topic and genre combination (so, something like fantasy + RPG or school + simulation or whatever) and adjusting sliders to choose what elements of design you focus on. So, for the first stage of development you get to balance engine, gameplay, and story. For an adventure game, you want to go all in on the story. For a simulation game you want to focus on engine and gameplay. That sort of thing.

Later on you unlock extra employees and try to balance jobs so you don't overwork anyone.

This all works reasonably well, and it's fun juggling topics and genres and trying to come up with good names for your series.

The problems start to come when you get judged for your games. You get 4 review scores for every game, and the success of the game in terms of sales is pretty directly linked to review scores (there are other factors like marketing, but review scores are the big one). Unfortunately the game is really obtuse and partly random in how the scores of your games are actually determined. The reviews don't tell you shit ("I like it 7/10" is not a helpful review), you can do reports but they're only vaguely useful. They'll tell you if your combination of topic/genre was good or bad (which can be unintuitive–thief + strategy is a great combo, but assassin + strategy is terrible? Okay, whatever) and if you chose a good console for your genre, but not much else. Apparently reusing the same topic and genre too quickly can be bad, but there's very little in the game that tells you this.

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I don't mind there being a bit of randomness, it can create fun unexpected scenarios where you spend loads of money on a fancy new engine and spend months on research for a big new project that then fails because the reviews were shit. But since everything is so obtuse and you basically have to look at guides online to work out what the game wants from you, it doesn't really feel fair when you get a 6/10 and abysmal sales.

The game could have helped itself a lot by being more clear about certain things. Like, what the hell kind of game am I actually making if I choose mystery + simulation, and how am I supposed to know what combination is gonna work well for it? And what on earth is the "abstract" topic about? I get not giving me the full answer to why I failed every time, because then you'd just make one bad game and instantly know how to nail that topic/genre combination the next time around, but it could give you a lot more than it actually does.

I think it's fine that some of the choices the devs made aren't super realistic but are based instead on what makes it better for the player. For instane, review scores are based on comparing your game's quality to the quality of your previous games, so the actual number doesn't matter, only whether you're improving. Which is nice because it means you can always make well reviewed games eventually if you keep pushing at it, and it means you're never totally guaranteed to do well.

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The game definitely improved after a few updates, to make certain things more clear and to provide more options, but it could've been better.

The replayability is somewhat ruined by the game's insistence on following actual gaming history. Every console is a thinly disguise clone of a real console, so if you know your gaming history, you know which will do well and which will fail. There's no reason to ever develop for a console that's not going to do well, so there's no reason for them being in the game at all. And if you don't know your gaming history then I don't know how you're supposed to work out which genres and audiences work for which console.

The flaws are a shame because I haven't really found any better games about game development. I've played Game Dev Story, I couldn't really get into it, and I haven't really seen any other real competitors. It'd be nice to see a developer with a bit of a bigger budget tackle the concept and make something with more depth. I'm imagining a game that works for playing either a massive AAA developer or a small indie studio, and a game that lets you actually influence market trends and gaming history instead of merely being a small part of it.

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