Game Dev Story is a simulation game by Kairosoft in which the player manages a game development studio. The graphics are cute, 2D anime-style, and presented in an isometric view. You start off with a couple of employees in your game development studio, and you gradually build capital, take on contracts, and make games in hopes that you’ll create hit games and make your mark in the videogame industry.
This game isn’t meant to be a realistic portrayal of what game development is really like, but it does simplistically illustrate some of the competing demands, trade-offs, and pressures that a game development company may go through. For example, when developing a new title, you have a certain number of resource points to spend on the direction of the game. Will you allocate a lot of points in innovation? If so, this leaves you fewer points to spend on other areas, like polish, accessibility, realism, the game world, and other factors that will differentiate your game from others in the market. Choosing a particular combination of genre and type of game may be innovative, but it’s also risky. You’ll get bonus points towards the game direction if the genres match, such as RPG and Fantasy, so it will take a lot more skill from your team if you want to create a game that has an unusual combination, such as Historical and Shooter. Another aspect of Game Dev Story that helps illustrate the sort of demands that a real game development company goes though is in the staffing department. Any game development company wants to hire the best, most skilled employees, but they cost money, both to hire the best and to train your existing staff. However, unless you have highly skilled employees, you won’t be able to make hit games or fulfill contracts. Different methods of recruitment result in applicant pools that vary in their skill level. Not all employees are equally talented, and at some point their skills will cap out, with some having lower maximum skill scores than others.
The game takes the player through the game development calendar, which has events like its equivalent of E3 and the year-end developer awards. Over the years, new consoles are introduced to the market. To develop games for those consoles, a studio must pay exhorbitant licensing fees. Developing for the PC is much cheaper, and this is the route I usually took. If you develop for a console, you need to keep an eye on its life cycle, because they also get taken off the market. To get your money’s worth from a console licensing fee, you need to make a lot of games for that console, and of course games take time to make. Game Dev Story has no end, though your achievements in the games industry are tracked for only the first 20 years.
Staff members are both men and women, and whilst there seemed to be more men than women in terms of the potential employees you could hire, I felt that the imbalance isn’t anywhere near as pronounced as the real-life videogame industry. I’m glad that the developers chose to include more female characters than occurs in reality, because the last thing I want in my cute, anime-style fantasy game about running my own game development studio is the current, rather depressing, status quo of gender imbalance in the games industry.
Unfortunately, the game is not diverse in other areas with regard to race and gender roles. All of the characters in the game appeared to be of the same race—white. The secretary of the company is a woman. The character that is meant to represent you, as the president of the company, is male, with no choice for the player to choose their avatar’s sex.
I quite enjoyed this game, and it’s really engaging for a time. I couldn’t put the game down in my first play through. The fun factor drops after you’ve experienced 20+ years of the vagarities of the games industry and your company has enough skills and capital that most games you develop are successful. In other words, it becomes less challenging. Having said that, this game occupied my time for almost 30 enjoyable hours, and was well worth the ~$2.50 I spent on the Android Market.
ETA: @dj_kittycat rightfully pointed out my Western-centric perspective regarding the race and ethnicity of the characters in Game Dev Story. In anime, manga, and games created in Japan, unless a character is explicitly depicted as foreign, the assumption by both the creator and the audience is that the character is Japanese. Non-Japanese characters in anime, manga, and games tend to have markers that make them stand out from Japanese characters—exaggerated features, unusual behaviour (to Japanese people), and other ways in which those characters are marked as Other. Thank you, @dj_kittycat, for pointing that out, and for the great article that discusses this issue in the context of maga.