‘Game Dev Tycoon’ might make you want to make something

(Greenheart Games)

A Confession

I don’t get The Sims. The game is wildly popular, with countless spin-offs and expansions, and has grossed a fortune. Will Wright is the genius he is said to be, and deserves all of the accolades he gets. The game is a source of happiness and amusement for legions. That’s wonderful. But I don’t get it.

There’s a good reason for that, too. I’ve only played the game for about ten minutes, which hardly qualifies me to have an opinion on it. Back when The Sims was still just The Sims, I created an avatar, bought him an easel, and made him make a painting (a Mondrian copy, as it happened). I made him make another (more Mondrian). Then another. Then I thought about the actual easel and paints I had in the in the corner of my actual room. I turned off the game, and painted (not Mondrian). I never felt the need to turn it on again.

Is This the Real Life?

Computer games are simulations, reality and unreality alike represented in digital form. Simulations suffice when an activity is too dangerous, too expensive, too complicated, or too nonexistent to actually do. What about activities which are none of those things, which are merely hard? Is there a time when sufficing for a simulation is a cop-out?

One game that stands out in this respect is Game Dev Tycoon, a game development simulation game from indie developer Greenheart Games. Released in 2012, it may not have registered on your radar, but is worth going back and taking a look at it.

In the game, you to go from a company of one, grinding out games on a computer in your garage, to manager of a fully staffed game design firm. It involves managing budgets, matching up themes with genres, developing technology, cultivating a fan base, training staff, and many other game related executive actions and decisions. Fans of this sort of thing will doubtless recognize many similarities between this game and Kairosoft’s mobile based Game Dev Story. Without getting too deep into it, Greenheart took a core concept and ran with it, creating not an imitation, but rather a spiritual successor. Game Dev Tycoon has legitimate reason to exist, and one would be justified in owning it along with Game Dev Story.

(Greenheart Games

Let’s Get Meta

A game about making games is meta already. Greenheart gained some publicity by releasing a pirated version of the game in which your game company is doomed to eventual failure due to… wait for it… piracy. For me, though, the most important meta moment of the game is there right from the start of the game. After naming their company, players find themselves looking at a person sitting at a computer, making a game. People, sitting at computers, are watching people sit at computers.

I don’t mean to knock the game, it’s a great experience and a perfectly entertaining use of one’s time, but I have to wonder: Does it occur to people playing this game that they could be that person, sitting at a computer, making a game rather than just playing one?

It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as you might think. With all of the game creation programs available (RPG Maker and The Games Factory 2, to name a few), it’s really never been easier. Even if you want to do it the hard way, coding from scratch, sites like Code Academy can get you started. All you need is patience, time, and tenacity.

How could you do it alone? Aren’t games made by huge teams with a wide variety of experts? To put things in perspective, Papers, Please, the game which topped a number of “Best of 2013” lists (like this one and this one), was largely created by one man, Lucas Pope. In contrast, Saint’s Row IV, which appeared lower down on a lot of the same lists, had a production team of well over 200 people. One person (admittedly, a seasoned game industry veteran) had an idea, made a game, and made a mark on the world. A big one.

On one level, making games on your computer is nothing like making games in Game Dev Tycoon. The former entails creativity, a massive investment of time, frustration, and the real possibility of failure. The latter entails making decisions and clicking through menus. The former can be quite hard work, the latter is play.

And yet, doesn’t it make you wonder? Sitting there at your computer, watching your avatar sitting at a computer, doesn’t it make you wonder if you could really do it? Doesn’t it make you wonder if it would be worth it? Doesn’t it make you want to try?

And so, on that one level, the one that bears little relation to reality, Game Dev Tycoon succeeds well enough. As a management simulation, it delivers a satisfying play experience. I would like to hope, though, that some people weren’t satisfied with simulation. I would like to hope that some people decided that they, too, could bring a little more pixilated art into the world.

About Brandon Sherman

Brandon Sherman
Brandon Sherman lives in South Korea, splitting his time between teaching, writing, performing feats of strength and fortitude, and pondering concepts so profound that the world, frankly, isn't ready for them yet. Armed with an MA in philosophy and an intrepid spirit, Brandon swims the shared currents of pop culture looking for pearls of significance and interesting wrecks.

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