So in classic startup style, I’m pivoting the direction of the Startup Freak. As I talked about in my previous post it was abundantly clear to me that the core game play as it stood was dull and not even really a game. Here is where my thinking led me this past week:
Presentation and “Juiciness”
There is a lot to be said about how the presentation of something, regardless of the content, can make it feel good. One of the things I added was temporal speed up when you run a sprint in the game. Immediately this feels a lot better, gives you a sense of feedback, and it’s just fun seeing your employees run around at light speed and clouds whizzing past. I know once I incorporate real art and UI and add little touches like the above, the game is going to feel a lot better.
This, however, does NOT address the elephant in room: the core game loop is lacking.
When I wrote games in my teenage years (more like tech demos), I remember how every time I ran into a big hurdle during development, I would just abandon ship and start from scratch. Years of development has taught me the discipline of digging deeper, trying to understand the core problem, and salvaging what I have so far without doing massive rewrites. This is what I have tried to do here.
I had previously added a concept of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). When you start the game, you get a checklist of tasks you need to “Level up” in order to reach an MVP and launch. I decided to extend this idea: i.e. at any given point you have a milestone you are working towards. A milestone has checkpoint items like “Reach Level 10 Mobile or General Features” and “Acquire 10,000 users”. Additionally I wanted to make it so that you can only get one round of investment during each milestone (corresponding to Series A, B, and C funding which you hear about in the startup world).
This actually works OK. It provides a more medium-term goal and a sense of direction. I may still include this system in the game, but it’s still not enough. The core game loop, i.e, the second-to-second and minute-to-minute game play just isn’t fun. Picking from a limited set of tasks, and then pressing play to see them level up just isn’t fun. Did I mention it’s just not fun?
It occurred to me that the core issue I’m battling here is that I can’t get specific. If you make a game about running a lemonade business, or a game development studio, or an airport, you can get very specific about what the player can produce, the types of hardware and software they can use, how they operate, etc, etc. A “software startup” on the other hand, is very broad. The types of products and services you offer, your business model, what infrastructure you have, what platforms you target, and so on, are just too broad. Trying to get very specific with these things means that you either need a massive team to create massive amounts of content and systems, or do a poor job and offer a few cliche options.
I think both with the Product Backlog concept in Startup Freak, and the Market Radar I was attempting to create abstract representation of concepts that exist in the startup world. I’m thinking I need to fully embrace this and push further.
I have come up with somewhat novel / unique way of representing the player’s product/service in an abstract way. I’m still fleshing out the idea but I really think it’s going to be the missing piece of the puzzle: the core game loop where you build out your product which feeds back into the larger goal: hitting milestones and getting more users. If nothing else, it will be very unique and sets itself apart from any tycoon game I have seen before.
If this works out, I will likely strip away some of the other systems at least in their current incarnation, including the leveling backlog items, and the market radar.
I’ll describe it later once I have more to show, but one clue: think Tetris.
Anyway this turned out to be a wall of text. But it’s good to verbalize these thoughts!