Game Dev Story

I mentioned last week that I’ve been playing an iPhone game called Game Dev Story. It’s a simple game, but it can get very addictive. The premise is basically that you are the head of a new video game studio. You hire people and direct them into making various games, which are then released. You get updates on your fans, you can track your sales, and so on.

The process of game development is rather straightforward. You don’t really direct the actual content of the game, except for certain high level components (i.e. I’m making a Ninja themed Action RPG!) At various times in the development process, you choose one of your employees (or you outsource) to hack one particular aspect of the game, whether that be fun, creativity, graphics, or sound. In a lot of ways, this is a passive process. But the way you watch this stuff is addictive. You typically see your employee sitting at a computer banging away at the keyboard and these little icons pop out and start to accumulate. You can also spend some extra research on other boosts along the same lines. You can feed your employees Red Bull until they fall down and start hallucinating.

There are a number of things I find fascinating about this game:

  • There’s this weirdly twisted version of video game console history. Of course they don’t use real names, but it’s not hard to see that Intendro is supposed to be Nintendo. Furthermore, you see the entire history of video games from the early 80s onward (I just got to the point where the Wii-like “Whoops” has been released). Most of the companies are there: Senga, Sonny, Microx 480, etc… It’s not an exact history, but it’s close enough to be funny and interesting.
  • The neatest thing about the game is how it turns the tables on me, a person who is normally playing games and even occasionally reviewing/criticizing them. This is mostly a big deal at the beginning of the game, when you don’t have much money or resources, etc… For example, you make a game, and one of the first things that happens once you release it is that 4 critics give it a rating on a 10 point scale. Since you don’t have much money or talent at the beginning of the game, they’re typically pretty hard on your games. It’s pretty funny, especially when you get some 6s and 7s, and then some asshole gives you a 2. Fuck that! Later in the game, I have a lot more money and was able to hire better folks, so the critics typically rate my games pretty high. Even then, though, you get the three people who will rate a game a 10, and then the one jerk who rates it an 8 (and to make matters even worse, that guy will say it’s “The best game of the year!” What the hell man? Wouldn’t the best game of the year be at least a 9?)
  • Every once in a while, you’ll get some letters from a fan. I got one once that said something to the effect of “I borrowed Monkey Wars 3 from my friend and I loved it and am going to recommend it to all my friends!” Borrowed? Fuck you buddy! If you liked the game so much, why didn’t you just buy it yourself?! Hmmm! I’m a little surprised that they didn’t take a swipe at the whole “Used Games” market, which is apparently quite the controversial issue with publishers and retailers. Still, it’s funny to be on the other end of the spectrum and it makes me feel a little for those who develop games for a living.
  • There are these game awards every year, and you can win an award for best graphics, best sound, runner up, and best game of the year (also worst game, but I think you’d have to try hard to get that one). I have no idea what it takes to actually win the best game award – I had one game that scored a perfect 40 points from critics, sold a boatload, and it only won the runner up award. Gah!
  • There are some random disasters that can happen. Another developer could put out a similar game, which can decrease sales. You can have a power outage, which decreases the stats of the game you’re working on, sometimes significantly. I got hit by a couple of these things once, and the game I was working on would have done really poorly, so I canceled the project. Obviously this is a bad thing, but then some ungrateful bastard sends me some “fan mail” where he tells me that since I can only release 2 games this year, he’s never going to buy my games again, then my fans drop by 30% (this seemed like a pretty big deal at the time, though who knows, the next game I released sold a ton).

I don’t mean to imply that by playing this game, I know what it’s like to be a developer, but if you’re so inclined, it does provide you with an opportunity to think about video games from a developer’s perspective, and it’s an interesting experience.

Ultimately, it’s a pretty simple game. At this point, I’ve developed 45 or so games, and everything I make now is a smash hit. The one additional wrinkle that I have yet to figure out is that I can apparently develop a console (and then presumably games for the console, etc…) However, I can’t seem to find any “Hardware Engineers”… I assume they’ll become available later or something. It’s a really fun game. I suppose there’s some room for improvement here – it could be a bit deeper and more varied, but it’s still good. I don’t play a lot of iPhone games, but this one makes me think I should try more out.