Publisher: Greenheart Games
Developer: Greenheart Games
I'll say this for the makers of Game Dev Tycoon: they've got chutzpah. Lots and lots of chutzpah. After all, they gained some fame a few months ago when they revealed that their game's anti-piracy measure was…well, piracy. Anyone playing a cracked version of Game Dev Tycoon's would eventually find their in-game game studio hit by pirates, who would illegally download all the studio's releases and eat away at its profits.
The irony of it all — or brazenness, or chutzpah, or whatever you want to call it — is that Game Dev Tycoon is, itself, one giant rip-off of another game. Anyone who's ever played Kairosoft's Game Dev Story on their iOS or Android device (which should be everyone reading this, since that game is awesome) will find that the similarities between the two games are about as extensive as you could possibly imagine. Both are essentially journeys through the history of video games from the perspective of a game developer. In both cases, you start out creating PC games, and over the next few decades you get an opportunity to develop games for very thinly-veiled analogues of every major system since the NES.
There are some minor changes here and there, I guess. In Game Dev Tycoon you're given news from…something, rather than Game Dev Story's ever-present secretary. In Game Dev Story, you annually buy Red Bull to keep your employees fresh and motivated, while in Game Dev Tycoon, it's vacations that keep your employees' spirits up. In Game Dev Story, eventually you reach a point where you can build your own console; in Game Dev Tycoon, the opportunity to build and license your own game engine comes much, much sooner. Game Dev Tycoon has a few more systems available — including not only the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U, but also iDevices, Microsoft Surface and the Ouya — though this is probably because some of them weren't around when Game Dev Story came out a few years ago. Most noticeably, Game Dev Tycoon looks significantly nicer, though this is to be expected when you consider we're talking about a modern-day PC game versus a three-year-old iOS game that itself was a port of a Japanese game from the late '90s.
On the whole, though, the experience is basically identical. Your goal in both games, ultimately, is to find the right combinations of genres on the right systems, and to sell as many copies of your games as possible. Running short on cash? Then, as you did in Game Dev Story, you can take on extra contracts to top-up your bank account. Want to increase your fame? Then buy ads for your games, or make a splash at the annual E3 stand-ins.
Oddly enough, however, Game Dev Tycoon's major flaw isn't at all like that of Game Dev Story. If the latter game has a problem, it's that by the end it's too easy to make a great game — you can intentionally release a flawed, buggy mess on a dead system, and it'll still get near-perfect scores and sell like hotcakes. In Game Dev Tycoon, by contrast, randomness seems to rule everything. You can create a game that has off-the-charts design and tech scores only for it to get savaged by the games media and ignored by consumers, just as poorly-made games can garner great scores and sell in the millions. While this may be true to life to some extent, such complete and utter randomness makes it a lot harder to enjoy the game.
What's more, because there's already a platonic game development sim ideal out there, it's easier to notice when things are missing that should be here. Case in point: Game Dev Tycoon is completely devoid of humor. While Game Dev Story wasn't hilarious by any means, it at least had some humorous aspects, and the absence of any of those here is noticeable.
Now, having said all that: I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with taking ideas from other games. Most great works of art were created by people who took Oscar Wilde's maxim of "Talent borrows; genius steals" to heart. Heck, they don't even have to be great — one of my all-time favourite games was Captain America: Super Soldier, and that was a movie tie-in that basically ripped off everything from the Arkham games except for the Batman logo.
If you're going to steal so heavily from another game, however, you should be at least able to follow the general guideline of "the same, but better". And that's where Game Dev Tycoon ultimately fails. It's basically the same game as Game Dev Story, but it doesn't improve on the formula in any noticeable way. It doesn't bring much to the table apart from being a PC game rather than a mobile game — and even that's not necessarily a point in Tycoon's favour, considering that Game Dev Story's status as a mobile game was a big part of what made it so addictive in the first place. In other words, unless you're really desperate for a game development simulator and you don't have a mobile gaming device, you can definitely pass on Game Dev Tycoon.