App Review: Game Dev Story

Game Dev Story (GDS) is a management simulator developed by Kairosoft, which aims to give players a taste of what the gaming industry has to offer. Originally released in Japan on PC, it has been ported to the iOS platform in order to give users the chance to run their own gaming company, in the hopes of creating a top-selling video game and rising to the top of the competitive industry that video games have to offer.

This is Kairosoft’s first attempt at breaking into the Apple market, but with so many simulators already established in the App Store, it’s going to be tough for it to stand out from the competitive pack. As a newcomer to the iOS platform, how does it fair against the rest; how does it manage to isolate itself and stand out from the crowd? Let’s find out how Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story concludes, which will be decided on its gameplay and controls, presentation and graphics, audio, replay value, and value for its money.

Gameplay and Controls

I have to admit that during the first few quick sessions I had with this game, I did not find much appeal from it. Puzzled, I sat down and had a really solid test drive, isolated from distractions such as family and friends. This was when I realized how addictive, time-consuming, and immersive it really was. Before I knew it, hours had literally passed by, and my iPod Touch demanded a recharge.

There are two control schemes to choose from, which are touch-based or with a touch pad. GDS does not really have any controls, as per say, a typical game would have. Instead, it provides players with various menus; this game is essentially played by pressing a few buttons. However, this is a simulator and management game, so I expected no less.

You start off as the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of an unknown video game company, with a bank balance of only $500,000. The company is small in stature, only offering up to 4 employees at any one time. This is where you are introduced to your secretary, who provides information about events, helpful hints, and tips.

GDS’s two control methods: touch-based and touch-pad.

The first task the game hands to you is to find and hire some employees. This is done by conducting a specific search – there are different methods, each costing different fees – and then choosing from a list of available candidates. Each employee has a different occupation – writer, sound engineer, hacker, etc – and unique stats. Stats of an employee include Program, Scenario, Graphics, and Sound, and vary depending on level and profession.

After this moment, you are pretty much free to start developing video games to your heart’s content.

Upon the start of development, you are given the choice of what console you develop your game for. At first you are limited to the PC platform only, with the ability to choose the type and genre of game that it will be. These choices are important, as the prospect of a robot educational game, though as awesome as it is, will simply not sell. Certain combinations will increase sales and inevitably profit, while others will just cripple your revenue.

The next stage of development involves, well, developing your game. At this point, the game will ask you to nominate an employee to work on an aspect of the game. The aspects of a game include Scenario, Creativity, Graphics, and Sound. This is where the employee’s individual stats come in to play, as the higher the particular stat, the higher that game’s aspect will be. GDS incorporates a numerical system for each aspect, so the more your employee works, the higher it will increase.

An employee working on an aspect of the game; the higher his/her stats, the higher these numbers will rise.

It is important at this stage to bring up the existence of Research Points (RP). These serve, in a sense, as the currency for the development and progress of the game. These cannot be manually accumulated, but instead, are naturally gained during the development of the game. They are attained by your employees, and are collected in the top left corner of the screen. They are essentially a numerical representation of your employee’s ability to learn.

Once each aspect of the game is finished, the project moves on to the phase of fixing bugs or glitches; the number being represented by the small blotted face in the progress bar. One RP is gained for each bug or glitch which is removed from the game.

Finally, the game is then reviewed by critics, giving it an overall score out of 40. A score over 30 will cement your game into the Hall of Fame, which will enable it to have sequels. Despite failing utterly, I just found myself making a new game and calling it “Previous Game Name” 2. It is then finally ready to be distributed to consumers for sale.

The stats and the reviews of the game will influence and decide the number of units it is able to sell, and ultimately the amount of profit your company will be able to make. Don’t expect a landmark hit on your first attempt, but it makes a good stepping stone for future development and sales.

The reviewing process; this will effect how many units the game actually sells.

GDS aims to spice up the management formula by incorporating some real-life elements into the gameplay. This includes factors such as advertising, media recognition, game conventions and game awards. Though these are designed to increase the sales and reputation of your company, it makes the player take some risks for reward, and strive to create a “gaming masterpiece”.

Another element is the unending update of consoles, with a new one released every year. This adds a factor of chance into the gameplay and seems to emphasize the risk-for-reward mechanic. This is because not every console released will sell millions, and the life cycle of each console varies quite a lot. A nice touch was the fact that the names and designs of the consoles mirror those of real life, which adds a nice feeling of realism and appeal for the player.

As the company increases in stature, you will soon be given the chance to upgrade to a new studio, which increases the number of employees available for hire. There are only two available upgrades, increasing the employee count by two each time.

There are also obstacles which aim to hinder the development and success of your game. Ranging from blackouts – which reduce the aspects of the game – to a rival company producing a similar game, they appear spontaneously and during the worst of times. Though providing a sense of realism, the random occurrences are poorly implemented for a simulator.

Moments like this will pop up randomly; you just have to deal with it.

However, as in-depth and realistic this game tries to be, it does have its flaws and weaknesses.

One thing I would like to point out is the 20 year limit on the game. Basically, your scores do not get saved after this moment. It even prompts you to start a new game – you do get to keep all the genres and types you’ve unlocked. This seemed like a really abrupt way to end the game’s competitive value; I enjoyed striving to make a game to get a high score. Now all the game records I manage to set are meaningless. It feels like a cop-out really, and a really simple, yet cheap way to extend the game’s play time.

An aspect of GDS that felt a little bit simplified and lacking in refinement was the RPG-like system that it tried to incorporate with the employees. There is not really any natural sense of progression, and the actual difficulty curve doesn’t really increase exponentially like it should. This is because leveling up and training beginner employees is not that influential or major.

This impacts on the latter stages of the game, as a decent game is mandatory for your company’s success. I found myself actually firing my employees, and hiring “new and improved” ones from a search. This lack of growth annoyed me somewhat as it would have been nice to get to the end with my original team; which was non-existent.

This leads on to the fact that by the end-game, the games that you develop will essentially be always popular and successful. The vast quality of the new employees that I hired meant that I could pretty much make any game, whether it was a robot educational game or not, and it would sell by the bucket load. For a simulation and management game, it’s a shame that any strategies or tactics eventually become redundant.

Moments like this are quite common throughout the end-game.

GDS’s core gameplay is brilliant; offering a mix of role-playing and management, which ultimately culminate into a unique yet very addictive experience. While not without its flaws and weaknesses, developing a video game is a very punishing yet rewarding experience for the player. It’s just a small gripe that it has to end so soon.

Gameplay and Controls: ★★★½

Presentation and Graphics

The direction of GDS’s graphics is well-thought and clever; the entire game is modeled in order to provide a simple, yet retro vibe. The graphics of GDS are reminiscent of a 16-bit game; all the character models are represented as 2-dimensional sprites; complete with robot-like animations. The backgrounds of the game are static, but do well to support Kairosoft’s design aesthetic.

The animations of this game are great. Though not the smooth, detailed transitions I come to expect in today’s AAA releases, GDS does enough to provide that bustling, yet hectic feel of a management simulator; after all, developing a multi-million dollar video game should be stressful. Characters will continually move to other desks, interact with others for advice and ideas, glance at others to see what they’re doing, and the up-and-down motion of their hands as they type away on their keyboards is a nice touch.

Though the graphics of GDS are certainly unique and provide a certain retro-like atmosphere, I have to question the purpose or reasoning behind their implementation. Either their paying homage to retro games in general, or are just there as a gimmick; the direction is not clear. However, overlooking this, the design of GDS does a great job in complimenting the gameplay.

GDS’s graphics have a retro vibe, which compliments the gameplay quite nicely.

Moving along from the graphics, GDS’s interface does a great job in keeping with the theme and atmosphere of the game, in the sense that it seems like it was from a game released in the 1990’s. The menus in the game are very basic and somewhat tedious to get through – going through the dreary menus for the 100th time does take their toll. This may have been due to the game being a port from a PC release; the design of the menus does feel like I’m playing a game on my computer.

This builds a bridge to the point that the GUI (Graphical User Interface) – in touch-based – is somewhat wasted, and a missed opportunity to provide some streamlined controls to this iOS game. This is emphasized by the fact that there seems to be a lot of wasted space; there are two empty black bars above and below the screen which are begging to be filled out with buttons or the like. As this is a management game, using these spaces could have improved, if not maximized the fluidity of the game.

The game’s menus; they are very outdated and clunky to use.

Though certainly not abysmal by any standard, much more work could have been done in terms of GDS’s GUI. The tedious and drab menus, coupled with the fact that there is a lot of wasted space that could have been used, break the feeling of the natural fluidity and flow of this game. Though the graphics are nice and add a great retro flavor, the gimmick may wear off after a few playthroughs; it will soon become repetitive and somewhat predictable to watch.

Presentation and Graphics: ★★★½


Continuing the trend, GDS’s audio brings about the atmosphere and vibe of a retro game. You won’t find any emotional, heart-pounding, orchestral score here. The game’s entire soundtrack and sound effects are composed like a typical 8-bit game; you won’t necessarily be able to hum it to your friends, but it is memorable and hard to forget when heard.

As mentioned, the soundtrack of GDS is very reminiscent of an old 8-bit game. While being uplifting and catchy at the same time, there are only 4 themes in the game; one being played for each of the 3 available studio upgrades, and a dedicated one for the gaming convention event. This means that during each stage of the game, depending on which studio you are developing in, you will always be hearing the same BGM (Background Music) on a continuous and monotonous loop. Like hearing a song for the umpteenth time, it will slowly become a chore to listen to. There is an option to play your own music during the game, but involves opening GDS with the music playing beforehand.

Sound effects in GDS are simple, but are very effective in terms of highlighting the game’s many scenarios and events. These effects include horns triumphantly sounding when; quite often; a good thing occurs, and an ever-increasing tune that plays as an aspect’s stats increase. Again, continuing with the retro theme, Kairosoft have done a great job with the sound effects.

GDS’s audio is somewhat of a mixed bag as, while being awfully catchy and easy-on-the-ears at first, it soon transitions to an aural experience which is tedious and just grating on the ears. The existence of only 3 studios, where gameplay occurs for almost 100% of the time, plays a vital role in the audio aspect of this game; as the limitations and drawbacks from doing so are revealed.

Audio: ★★★½

Replay Value

GDS’s replay value is an area which seems to be non-existent in the game, and is an area which lets it down the most.

The 20 year restriction that the game implements – which, by the way, stops the tracking of any high score – strongly impacts on the game’s longevity and play time, as it basically makes any action or achievement after that redundant. This leads on to the fact that there is no social interaction or leaderboards integrated into the game. It would be nice to see some unbelievable records, but I guess this can be justified with the unnatural balance that GDS has at the end-game.

Instead, the game imposes the idea that a new game should be started once this limit is reached – it also tells you to keep playing on as well. Why should users have to make their own fun? It is up to Kairosoft, the developer, to do this. Simply telling someone to start again to increase the replay value seems to me as a cop-out and a very simple and cheap way to extend game time. Why should I be told to start a new game, after all the hard work I spent getting there in the first place? Would you climb a mountain again if it was the only thing left to do? No.

Replay Value: ★½

Value for Money

GDS is currently retailing at a price of $3.99, which in my opinion, is too steep a price for a game that offers only so much. What you will get is a unique take on an already developed and successful formula; the likes of which has never been actually seen or tried before. However, the lack, or even absence, of any sort of replay value will make this game inevitably settle on your iPod as a metaphorical dust collector. While I sound a bit harsh, the limited content that the game provides is clearly not worth the current asking price of $3.99.

Value for Money: ★★½

Final Thoughts

Game Dev Story bursts into the App Store as a breath of fresh air for the management simulator formula, hoping to lead the pack as an innovative and memorable classic. While it does manage to achieve this somewhat, it is sadly let down by poor balance, an outdated GUI, and most importantly, a lack of content for the consumer. While it will certainly grab the attention and time of the player, gripping and obsessing them with its unique mechanics and themes, it falls short of the mark; unfortunately becoming a repetitive and redundant game in the process.

Final Scores:

  • Gameplay and Controls: ★★★½
  • Presentation and Graphics: ★★★½
  • Audio: ★★★½
  • Replay Value: ★½
  • Value for Money: ★★½

Overall Score:

† All prices are in US currency unless stated otherwise.
This review was written by the Review Team. Overall scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
All applications and accessories were purchased at their respective prices unless stated otherwise.

Post a response / What do you think?