Why Game Dev Story is a great game?

image Yesterday around 9 p.m., after a really long day, I got from the app store on my iPad “Game Dev Story”.

I’m no Sims player, actually, not a great computer game player at all, but I found a tweet that made me curious about this game, because it seemed similar to a game I’ve been thinking of for quite a while. Was deeply skeptical of what I was seeing on the first screen, started playing anyway.

After midnight I was still playing – had to make a gigantic psychological effort to stop the game and get to bed – I had just got a larger office for my team… .

Game Dev Story is a game that has been around for quite a while in Japan, and has recently been released for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad (get it here ).
It’s a sims game in a game developers environment.

I’m not a sims player, but I’m a fan of Douglas Coupland’s JPod book . And while playing I was simply in the middle of that story (this has been noted also here). This is what the book is about:

the book explores the strange and unconventional everyday life of the main character, Ethan Jarlewski, and his team of video game programmers whose last names all begin with the letter ‘J’.

And about the same can be said about this game.

This game has several features that make it a good candidate for a failure in the Apple gaming world: we iPad owners are used to slick, beautifully design games, with cool soundtracks and refined user interactions. Game Dev Story fails on all these features. But the ratings and reviews are all positive… how is this possible?

Why it is so addictive?

image First of all this is no Farmville: it is addictive for a set of users that are somehow familiar with the workings of a software house. But is in no small set of humans. And for these users, it is addictive and rewarding entirely because of the storytelling: you are playing the main character and decision maker of a story that keeps rolling effortlessly. The game designers did a great work in making you feel that the story you are living is original, not making it too easy but actually quite easy, and most importantly having ways to make the story proceed on new scenarios without you feeling it artificial. This is the main positive feature, to which they added many nicely detailed developer/designer behavioral models that are fun, for example:

– modeling of developers behavior: burst of productivity, introducing bugs

– informal working environment: no fixed working hours (but not so for the secretary and boss)

– silly manager’s decisions, like “swapping chairs”, feeding developers with stimulants

– evolution of the office space towards luxury

– relationship with the press

– the critical role of reviews

– training of developers

– cultivating fans of your software house

– financially crazy proposals from the developers, that may lead to more bugs in the software

And so on.

image The fact that the graphic design and environment is so poor is not necessarily a problem: that characters are just outlined is actually a strength – it lets users create their own image of the workers. It is something with which anybody with writing experience is familiar.

This game is a perfect example showing game developers and software creators in general the critical role that storytelling can play in the success of a product.

As noted by this reviewer (in very different terms), the creators rely so much  on storytelling that the game suffers from lack of what in game design is called balance (see here for an excellent explanation of balance). Anyway the game is great play for many hours.

Damn it, still six hours to go before home and getting back to “Solaris Software” management in Game Dev Story…


All the references from this post are in this Licorize booklet:

4 Responses to “Why Game Dev Story is a great game?”
  1. Jacob Chapel says:

    I have heard a lot about it, and I would love to play it, but unless it comes to PC or Android I am out of luck. I hope it does, because it sounds great. In fact it is eerily similar to a game I wanted to create (and tried briefly) some time ago. I am glad that a game like this exists and that people enjoy it, shows that unconventional games, however niche can be successful and great games.

  2. Justin says:

    I think the graphics are quite good. Yes they are pixelated but a lot of work has been put into giving the game a retro feel. Kariosoft has created a lot of similar styled games. Personally it resonates with me growing up with 8 and 16-bit games.

    Put i totally agree with you. They have crafted a beautifully addicting game.

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