What’s all the fuss about Game Dev Story?

I was on the train when I broke 10m sales on my latest release Pixel Kart 2, I even let out a little “yes!” under my breath, which caused the lady across from me to give me one of those “just what are you doing?” looks. I wasn’t even bothered, this was a major breakthrough for Past the Pixels INC, we might even be able to move on to a whole new console.

If you haven’t played it already, Game Dev Story is addictive, very addictive. It’s also one of the cutest, rewarding games iOS games I’ve played in the 6 months I’ve had my iPhone. Released in October 2010 the game has built up quite the following. It’s just so difficult to put the game down, and there’s not a tremendous amount of input needed from the player. So what’s the big fuss?

As soon as I started Kairo Soft’s game, I immediately was put in mind of the Theme games, especially Theme Hospital. The whole point of the game is to manage your development studio’s budget, staff and output to produce the most successful game possible, both critically and commercially. The main game takes place over a 20-year period, which flies by,  and players can choose to continue after this time to gain further commercial success, or start a new game to beat their previous high score.

Part of what makes it so hard to put down is that there’s very little down time, as soon as a title is released you’re either working on advertising, leveling up your current staff, or looking to hire some new recruits. And once that’s sorted the profits from your latest release have rolled in and it’s then time to start the development process all over again. So many times have I promised myself “ok once this title is released I’ll save and exit”, and every time I end up breaking that promise. This game has the ability to completely destroy productivity.  It’s all about “game loops” apparently, as Graham McAllister explains in his very good article here.

As Graham states “the end of a level is somewhat blurred”, in fact I’d go so far as to say it’s pretty much impossible to define what makes a level of Game Dev Story. Is it releasing a game? Well not really because post-release is an important aspect to the success of your release. Is it after sales cycle is complete? Again, no, because by this point development of another game/contract is already in place.  These subtle overlaps entice the player to continue onwards. Developers Kairo Soft have crafted a game that is so conducive to making the player want to see what new title they can come up with, and if they can beat that previous record sales number, and if they can finally land that coveted game of the year award at the yearly awards ceremony.

The combination of small goals and the ultimate aim of winning the GOTY trophy is brilliantly executed. In the short term the player is concerned with beating their previous title’s critical acclaim or commercial success, all the while building their budget and staff levels to the point where a serious challenge on the end of year awards can be made.

The different consoles that are released during the two decades of the main game also offer goals, as each console costs a set amount to license a development kit for initially. So the game’s equivalent of the PS3 costs just shy of a million in game dollars. As new consoles are periodically released then a new goal of “I want to develop for that system” is planted into the player’s mind. Game Dev Story’s goals constantly evolve, while the main mechanics of gameplay stay largely unchanged. Whether it’s your first game or your 50th, the process taken to develop the story, graphics and music is the same every time, only the budget and expectations of the player change.

It could be argued that Kairo Soft have taken the social games approach and made it work for core gamers. Just like Farmville, there’s no real end to the game, it just continues on until the player gets bored or starts again. And starting again, players carry over certain stats from their previous game, thus continuing the consistent evolution that is a core theme of this title.

Game Dev Story is a lovely little throwback to the days of some management sim classics from Bullfrog and others. It’s my most played game on my iPhone by some margin, and I’ve only had the game for about a month. At £2.49 it’s reasonably priced, especially as Kairo Soft are pedaling digital crack. Go see what the fuss is about, train journeys won’t be the same again.

And here’s Pixel Turismo, which was my greatest creation until a baseball sim I made for a quick cash-in broke all records for my company. This game can be uncannily realistic at times…

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