Have you ever wanted to create your own fortune through software? To build your own company from the ground up and take over silicon valley? Well now you can!, with Startup Company! It’s a business simulator, that lets you fulfil your Zuckerbergian dreams, become a CEO of your own mega software company through employee management and business strategy.
Holding your hand through the opening stages, you rent your first office, hire your first staff, and decide what kind of company you want your empire to be built from. Starting out you’ll be choosing from video sharing sites, streaming, dating, or even a video gaming website (imagine, “wow!”), On my first run I chose a video sharing company ever so hilariously entitled “Boogle”. Immediately the game presents you with a dull wall of text followed by, you guessed it!, yet more walls of text. Whilst this was clearly written, and instructive, the sheer amount is overwhelming, especially when you only just started up. Once you get past this opening hump, the dullness subsides, and the instructions become shorter and more succinct.
It isn’t just the text that can be overwhelming at the outset. Pressing L2 opens up the radial menu, the first of several from which you choose categories such as; employees, store, website, research, and finance. Each of the eleven radial menus opens into its own series of sub menus. You don’t need to use them all early on, but their appearance can be all the more overwhelming. As you progress with the game it introduces you to each of the sections in time, doing a fair job of explaining each section to you, although personally I found the explanations occasionally sub par.
The main objective is to grow your website users, maintain their happiness by improving your website through upgrading existing features and adding new ones. Building and expanding your website requires a team, each team member has their own speciality. The CEO headhunts to find the others, designers, researchers, developers, and lead developers. Researchers gather research points, allowing you to develop and unlock more features or components. Components are used to upgrade the features of your website. This system means that each team member has a role to play and balances the makeup of your workforce to create the optimum workflow. They aren’t just your team however, they are their own individuals, you will need to balance their needs. They can call in sick,often they arrive with desires they want fulfilled to stay happy; a large desk, more plants in the workplace, even more money.
Whilst building your site and teams, you must also balance your finances, as each day ticks over, your expenses like rent and salaries are removed from your bank account, you have to make sure your profits are good enough to maintain or expand your business. On my first attempt at running Boogle, I crashed and burned, unable to make enough money to maintain my business. Some of my biggest frustrations happened at this point in the game. I watched my money tick down day by day as my employees took too long to upgrade the website, or my researchers took too long for me to unlock the necessary components. Rather than feeling rewarded in these early stages, I felt obstructed by the game itself.
Once everything begins to click, however, Startup Company becomes quite rewarding. I found myself looking at the in game numbers, hoping to see the satisfaction tick up as user numbers grew. Reading positive Jeets, the in-game Twitter parody that gives updates on your company, and others, hits the same dopamine triggers as receiving real life positive feedback. The social media could have played itself with a touch more humour, a lot of the posts are fact based, full of stats and numbers. As your company grows, you’ll be able to rent more locations with bigger offices, making bigger teams, eventually you will have to hire managers to make sure your work force is running as it should. Implement HR systems to reward your employees with healthcare and retirement plans.
If that sounds a bit like work to you, unfortunately, on occasion it can feel a little too much like busy work. Worrying about finances, and studying numbers, can bog the game down in a work-like experience. Startup Company lacks the sense of personality found in other titles like Zoo Tycoon, Roller Coaster Tycoon or The Sims. The games assets don’t really stand out with their own identity, often looking a lot like cheap unity stock models. The most obvious example of this is the woman in the bottom left corner of the hud, who, despite being on-screen for large portions of the game, isn’t animated at all, the lighting effect used on her face giving her a very strange appearance. The soundtrack is pleasant enough, it won’t have you humming it for days on end but at no point will it begin to irritate you, perhaps the inoffensive corporate video nature of the score is perfect for this game?
Hovgaard Games are very close to having a very good game here. The opening moment along with the game’s frustrating design choices will likely turn away players early, especially if they aren’t big on reading through long walls of text. Newcomers to the genre will likely be overwhelmed and confused, but existing fans of business management games will find something to enjoy with this game.