Core Game Mechanics of Startup Freak


The core mechanics for Startup Freak have come together quite rapidly. That’s not to say they will actually be fun to play, and hence won’t change, but here is the starting point:

Product Backlog and Sprints

I realize that by definition a game like this is going to be quite UI heavy. In order to make that a little less boring my goal to embed as much of that interface as I can into real life constructs. The core game mechanic is completing tasks in “Sprints”, a term coined in Scrum methodology which refers to a finite chunk of time (usually one or two weeks) with clear deliverable. Scrum and Agile are concepts that are widely adopted by many startups so I think it fits really well in the game.

Then essentially the core mechanic is that: we have a turn based game. At the start of each turn (sprint) the player selects a number of tasks they want to complete in that sprint, and then runs the sprint. The amount of work that can be completed will depend on some measure of capacity of the team / staff.



It made sense to me to break the tasks down to some high level areas, and here is what I have come up with:

  • Development: This is the obvious one. It’s about adding features to the product you are building, but also potentially research and internal facing technology that unlocks other tasks.
  • Design: Tasks related to creating great experiences for users
  • Sales and Marketing: Tasks related to reaching out to the market. There will be a range, from social, to content, to networking, to one-on-one, and so on…
  • Admin: This one is not quite clear in mind yet, but I realize there are certain tasks that don’t quite fit in the above. These are things like looking for candidates, purchasing, etc.

It has become more clear that I will need some sort of a task tree (or tech tree) to determine which tasks can performed at a given time, and what affect they have on the game.

Another concept that I will be experimenting with is how the user will balance the various areas, and how the emphasis would vary for different product types and markets. E.g. a consumer facing product may need more emphasis on design, than an enterprise facing one where the number of features may be more important.

Game End Condition

Some potential conditions that would end the game:

  • You run out of cash and have to close down
  • You exit, i.e. you sell the startup
  • You go public, i.e. reach IPO


Some initial thoughts about how employees will work:

  • When a job opening is advertised, a number of candidates are randomly generated. The quality of the candidates will depend on some measure of your startup reputation.
  • Each employee will have a measure of capacity in each of the 4 disciplines (having multi-disciplinary staff will be especially important early on).
  • I want to play with the idea of being able to hire more junior level employees at a lower salary level vs fewer, more experienced staff that cost more. Balancing that would be interesting.
  • Employees will have some measure of happiness which can be influenced by player actions. Happiness will affect productivity / capacity of the employee. Unhappy employees can quit on you more easily.
  • I’m also toying with the idea of an automatic leveling system, where doing a certain type of task over time increases your productivity in it. Not sure if that will be meaningful as I don’t plan to let the user assign tasks directly to employees.
  • It would be interesting to see there is room for a “redundancy” mini-game, where you have to have a conversation with the employee and they would try to convince you not to let them go. I’m wondering if there is room here for making some moral choices.



One central element will be an Email / Inbox UI which the player would attend to at the end of each sprint. Most management games needs some in-game events and I thought it would be kind of cool showing those as emails in your inbox. This also gives me room for adding some humor, because an email, besides conveying some information, can show personality as it’s (usually) written by a human being. Here are some examples of emails you could receive:

  • News related to the industry you work in
  • You have candidates scheduled to be interviewed
  • You have investors looking to invest in your startup
  • Company X is suing you
  • Random emails from family or friends (chance for humor)
  • Junk mail (chance for humor)


While I want the game balanced such that you can bootstrap a company (it would be a lot more difficult), a mini-game around finding investors would be fun. Loosely, here are the elements of that game:

  • You are presented with a 3 or 4 investors
  • Each will have a profile with some indirect information about their affinity (e.g. one cares more about your sales numbers, and the other about your design).
  • You build a “pitch deck” based on your audience.
  • Once presented, the investors will either forgo investment or give you an offer.
  • You will then have a chance to negotiate the offer. There is however the risk that negotiating too low will cause the investor to leave.

How much of an influence the investors will have on the course of the game itself is something I’ll be thinking about. There is a lot that can be done around this and it’s just a matter of whether I have the time and bandwidth to implement them.

Legal Action

This is an area worth exploring as it does affect some startups. You may get legal action filed against you and you’ll have the choice of settling it, or taking it to court. Again how in-depth this part of the game goes depends on time and whether it’s actually fun to play and fits in with the overall theme.

Office Upgrades

There will be a notion of moving into new offices, and also buying things to deck it out (furniture, game consoles, drinks fridge, better computers, etc). I definitely don’t want this to be a construction game where you design your own office and essentially edit the map (as seen in games like Software Inc. and Prison Architect) as I think that takes away from the core of this game. Rather there will be a number of fixed shaped offices with predetermined employee capacity which you rent.


Final Thoughts

I do wonder, at a glance, whether there are enough things to do here. i.e. would it get boring and repetitive? I think there is enough interaction between the various system to allow for a good amount of variety, but the only way I can really find out is to build a rough prototype and play it.

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