Game Dev Story - Fire Employee?

Reflections of a Game Dev Story


Lately, I've been thinking about Game Dev Story — a cute little mobile game on iOS and Android about managing your own fictional game studio/empire. As a developer myself, I was quite interested in how it portrayed the profession.

Here's the thing; I suspect it's more than its saccharine-innocent exterior lets on. Based on my totally qualified scientific sample of two people, I posit that it has a near supernatural quality to reflect the fears and desires of any developer that plays it. Game Dev Story holds up a dark mirror to one's own psyche, ever the watcher but never the judge.

My programmer friend/colleague picked up Game Dev Story, and within hours his company had spiraled into debt and ruin. Too much money was spent on outside contractors when he made his first game, which unfortunately didn't do all that well. Following that, he chased software development contracts outside the games industry for meager and ever-diminishing rewards until he no longer had enough to pay his staff.

Thing is, he's also one of the owners of the small indie company we work at, and these are very real fears that he faces in real life. To keep the company afloat during development, he's had to take software contracts with sometimes flaky individuals for very little gain. Quite a lot of work on our current game was done by contractors because we've had trouble finding people to do the job (for example — our main theme was done by a guy we met on OCRemix).

A cautionary tale, a morality play? Or a stark vision of the end? Game Dev Story remains silent.

Personally, I did pretty well at my own company. I kept making games and chugging along until my studio had become good at it, and I knew it would only get better. I then cast a critical eye at my employees and noticed, from a coldly business point of view, that the early hires were the least skilled among my roster of devs. I could train them if I wanted to, but it would ultimately mean diminishing returns. The purely logical choice was to fire them to make room for the better-skilled.

Except I didn't. I pulled up the stats window and stared at the portly young designer. In him I saw myself — my real, real-life self — and all of my greatest fears manifest.

I am both a game designer and artist. Having suffered from depression for the longest time, I've only seriously started honing my abilities very late in life. I was, and still am, far from the creative gods that grace the front pages of People who could easily replace me at my job. People I could hire in-game with nary a thought.

It was my greatest nightmare, but the tables were turned. I was the Suit, the alpha and the omega. Careers were birthed and destroyed at my whim and fancy.

I didn't fire him, or any of the other early hires. From a purely business perspective, this was crazy. It was the wrong thing to do. I didn't care – I could have made more money, but I made enough. I trained every last one of them to the best of their ability. The Designer in question changed jobs rapidly, from Coder to Sound Tech and eventually landing into a Director position about two years later with stats in the hundreds where he had begun with barely 30 in each.

Around that time, I got a story event pop-up window. These show up time to time with mostly cut and paste events, such as X magazine deciding Y game was game of the year. But this was different. My Director had given an interview to a prestigious game mag. I don't recall the exact words, but he expressed happiness that he was given the chance to grow and thanked the company for supporting him. Back in real life, someone started cutting onions in the room.

Eventually I did hire extremely talented people when the studio expanded (the Hacker class is overpowered), but I made it a point to hire responsibly to fill in necessary roles. The games we made ended up raking in the millions. At the end of my two decade run, I made whatever game I felt like. I put out mainstream hits like Templar's Order 3 and War of Worldscraft which frequently got more than 25 million sales, then I'd make a Romance Shooter just because I could. I'd build a console that ran on potato chips and engrave advertising into the moon, just because.

Game Dev Story exposes our own humanity, laying it bare for us to see. The Faustian bargain rejected, the company's soul intact.

Today in real life, our first game is about to ship, and we have conquered many of our trials. I've fought a terrible battle against my depression and have emerged victorious. My art skills have grown better, I've started valuing my own ability as a designer, and for once the future seems wide open.

I recently tried to boot up the game, but recieved a license error on startup. Brief anger and confusion gave way to dawning revelation. Satisfied, I closed the application. Game Dev Story had done its work, had sensed its counsel is no longer needed. It departed to the beyond, into the electronic sunset and the mists of myth and history, until the days darken and it is needed once more.

Or until I redownload it.


Sounds like a game I'd like to try out. Maybe load it up when I'm away from my computer. It kinda sounds like it has a rollercoaster tycoon vibe to it when you mentioned "X magazine deciding Y game was game of the year" which somehow makes it more appealing.

I'm playing this game and making a point to train my early employees and not fire anyone. No one gets left behind, no one gets forgotten!

Also, the best part is getting to name the ridiculous combinations I come up with.

I'm totally the same - I'm on my third save for GDS, and god, firing people from back in the day when the company was small just feels so wrong. I did do it this time round, though, primarily because I was going for a mechanical winning approach. Didn't mean I didn't felt like a complete son of a mother for doing so, though.

Cool insight, I do want to give this game a try, but I currently don't have a system to play it on.

FinalExcalibur, if it isn't a big secret, who are you in real life and what game are you shipping?

Some of the later Kairosoft games are much more complex, but I keep going back to GDS. I'm a coldhearted bastard, though.

It's a fun game. I should get back to it. Was hooked for a while, but don't think I ever finished my full 20 years.

I do remember the same dilemma: keep the original hires or replace them? I think I did end up cutting the very first programmer, whose stats were so low that I didn't think training would help. But I also got an expanded office around that time so it made it easier to keep everyone else and try training.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

FinalExcalibur, if it isn't a big secret, who are you in real life and what game are you shipping?

This too. Not so much your identity, this is the internet after all. But there's a new game coming out, tell us what it is! We like games around here.... well, all of us except Clocky.

I've been playing through this for the last week and am starting on my second save. Definitely loving it a lot. Great write-up!

Stele wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

FinalExcalibur, if it isn't a big secret, who are you in real life and what game are you shipping?

This too. Not so much your identity, this is the internet after all. But there's a new game coming out, tell us what it is! We like games around here.... well, all of us except Clocky. ;)

What are you dense? He's goddamn Batman!

My real name is Chris Nonis. I'm one of the devs for Autumn Dynasty - It's an RTS for the ipad, built specifically from the ground up for touch devices. So far the critical reception has been awesome. Nothing can buy the feeling a good review gives you after 3 years of work.

Actually, the whole thing took more than 3 years. The programmer friend/colleague in the article goes by the name of Travis Ho, and he's wanted to make an RTS for about a decade with numerous false starts. Autumn Dynasty was it, make or break, period. The ride was chaotic, at times very bleak, but with an incredible payoff.

Overall Autumn Dynasty's development was interesting, in the Chinese sense of the word. That's another article though =]

App store thing and trailer, for shameless plugging:

Plus I want to give a shoutout to the gamespot guys for doing a quick look of our game. They were interested in us and supported us from the start waaaaaaaaay back when we were just a student project.

Looks nice on that gamespot video. Android version on the horizon?

Welcome to the Front Page, Chris!

We've got our monkeys working on getting you name to accompany your handle in the OP.

Glad to be here =)

Stele wrote:

Looks nice on that gamespot video. Android version on the horizon?

We definitely want to, but lots of things are on the cards and we're only a 4ish person team at the moment. My already exhausted programmer friends are busy both quashing bugs and working on finishing a bunch of content we had semi-completed before release. We can't in good faith promise anything.

No doubt it's easier to target a couple of iDevices for compatibility, performance, and bugs than it is to hit dozens of different Android ones, especially for a small team. Just saying it looks cool and we want it too.

Or maybe a Steam release. Mouse-pointing is kind of like touching.

Chris, game looks awesome. I may need to pick it up for my fiance's iPad

Stele wrote:

Or maybe a Steam release. Mouse-pointing is kind of like touching. :D

but that would be better.

Good luck with the launch, and I for one would love to hear about the 'interesting' development.

Thanks for writing this, Chris!

Knowing what I know about game development (which isn't much, but still), I've always been a little terrified of Game Dev Story. It's like if someone made the sausage factory all cute and 8-bit-- slaughtered pixelated pigs I guess--and i just want to enjoy my brat, ya know?

But here it is again, taunting me to try it out. Getting your perspective as someone who plays this game for real makes me interested all over again.

Love GDS, though I've been intimidated away from it for months now. I'm successful, but the more successful I get the more stressed I get.

No diagnoses necessary.

Yay double-post.

Being a game developer, this game hits a lot of cues spot on. It does channel something of what it means to be a developer. Sometimes it makes me think "yeah, it's not harder than that". Other times it makes me understand people above me making decisions somewhat better. Plus it's a pretty cool game in its own right.

I ironically just returned to GDS last week. It has this awesome pacing and feedback loop that, in my opinion is similar to Diablo...I develop software for companies and sometimes wish I took up OpenGL and directx instead of ASP.NET and SQL server. This game is like a guilty pleasure.

Sometimes you gotta make that ninja action game to fund that wrestling FPS you always wanted.

I was a significantly colder bastard. I fired everyone who didn't make the cut.

The sad thing is that every now and then I'd come across the guy I fired on the unemployment rounds looking for work. I generally snubbed them deliberately.

And now my sulfur bath is ready. Have a good one, folks!

Fired it up tonight, cranked out my first two PC titles, got the 2nd with a nice match of game/theme and sold 100k copies on it. Significantly better than my old game.

I realized after re-downloading it earlier that I never copied the save game files from my old phone. Not sure that would work anyway. But I also apparently don't have a microSD reader or anything to grab the files with. Oh well. I started fresh and it's still fun.

I did fire the basic starting coder guy after the 2nd game. I needed a sound person to stop contracting things out, and his skills were just so low... Sorry bro. I'll see if I can be loyal from now on.

FWIW, Autumn Dynasty rocks.

GDS was game crack for me, for quite awhile. I always made the cold hard fact of firing people and getting someone better, except for my first programmer. For some odd reason I would never get rid of him.

I cannot win GotY. Had one game rated 39/40, and that didn't get it. Around year 11 I got on 3 games per year cycle after I released my own console. Every year from 11 to 14 I won best design, best sound, and runner up game. I thought if I released a 4th game I might get it, so I tried that in year 15, but no dice. Just a few years left now. Any ideas?

Well, now you've done it GWJ, I teared up.

I retain the right to remind the writers and readers to not get too full of themselves because it was a guest article however.