Game Dev Tycoon is a game about a game developer making games. It’s meta. Like Inception, only with more programming and less slow motion. See, if you’re reading this website, you’re probably a gamer and like most gamers you’ve probably thought about what your games would be like if you had a job in development instead of getting Dorito dust all over your keyboard. Well buy this game and you’ll have a chance to find out. Here’s a hint: You’re probably not very good.
I’ll level with you – I pretty much only bought this game because of the copy protection. If you pirate Game Dev Tycoon, in-game pirates will steal all of your company’s games, leaving you with no money. See? It’s meta. There I go using that word again, but it did make me think that the developers might be up for some knowing satirical jabs of the old elbow when it came to humour. Alas, I was mistaken. While it’s not exactly meant to be a narrative adventure, there’s really very little substance outside of the occasional name recognition of console monikers like the GameLube or something (note: that is not actually one of them). You’ll likely make yourself grin like a narcissistic idiot the first time you develop a kart racer and call it Barry O’Kart, but that quickly wears quite thin if you possess more than two functioning brain cells.
In fact, it’s entirely pointless to name your games, so unless you feel like you’re going to be particularly attached to ‘Game #83’ and wish to remember it, there’s really very little reason to do so. In fact, much the same could be said for other elements of the game too, like changing your character’s appearance or gender. It has zero impact and we’re left feeling like we could have had a more complete package.
Still, what’s present is good, solid, menu-driven fun. You choose a platform on which to develop, pick a genre and gameplay style, then hunker down for some coding. As you go, you’ll want to keep an eye on those research points you’re stockpiling, since they’re incredibly useful for such things as developing mouse/gamepad/joystick/steering wheel compatibility, unlocking new genres as well as the ability to create custom game engines with all sorts of exciting features.
Once you hit a certain unreasonably large cash target, you’ll be able to expand to a real office instead of a garage and a whole world of team-based options open up, mainly centering around assigning different workers to various tasks depending on their skills. There aren’t as many proficiencies as I’d have hoped – you’re limited to programming skill and creative flair – but it still adds some variety and the hiring mechanic whereby you put a certain budget into looking for applicants is interesting in an incurably sad kind of way.
The sticking point is in the presentation. It’s bland. Soul-crushingly so. It’s about as visually interesting as a game where you look down a security camera for hours, which isn’t too far removed from reality when you consider the camera angle the game uses, only without the possibility of seeing a bit of the old ultra-violence being perpetrated by a gang of masked youths in the bottom floor of a multi-storey car park. Sorry, I got distracted.
See? That’s what happens, developers, when you give me nothing visually interesting to work with. There’s zero charm, no memorability, absolutely no reason to think about the thing once you’ve switched it off. Your characters are bland, your desk is bland, the chairs are bland, it’s like a giant bland thing covered in bland sandwich fillings that’s been sponsored by the Royal National Institute for the Bland.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. The copy-protection move was pretty clever, and the core gameplay aspect is pretty fun. What’s more, this is the first game by Greenheart Games and I’d rather play something reliable but unexciting by a new developer than buy Call of Duty Ghosts and add another £45 to Activision’s money waterfall.
If you’re going to buy a game development simulator, I’d give Game Dev Tycoon a cautious recommendation. It’s reasonably inexpensive and fun for a few hours – just have something else on hand to play once you’re done, because that moment will arrive fairly quickly. It’s also worth checking out Game Dev Story for iOS and Android, from which this game took a lot of inspiration. Also, crucially, it has lovely sprite graphics. 6.6/10.