Sep 26, 2017 Last Updated 9:15 AM, Sep 26, 2017

Startup Company Early Access Review

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Startup Company starts up, but does it go?

Naturally, I named my brand in Startup Company [1] “OPN.” Within four months, I took over the market with my flagship product, 'Rey Judges' (inspired by this gif featuring OPN's editor-in-chief), the most profitable and widely-used social media platform in the world [2]. It even surpasses Friendbook in “Likes” on Friendbook itself. Take that, Zuckerberg.

This business-simulation sandbox title comes from Hovgaard Games, a “one-man-army” using a variety of programming languages and streaming his effort daily on Twitch [3]. He works on Startup Company when he's not completing contracts for the powers that be. His credentials for developing a tech startup sim are solid enough that his friends joke that he lives the Game Dev Tycoon life. [EN: As a brief aside, I should note that the revival of development simulations can, in recent times, be traced to this gem — a true 10/10]

In the beginning, gameplay revolves around completing contracts. You stay alive and pay the bills, expanding slowly, carrying around interest from your original small loan. You build your company bigger and biglier, taking the bigliest contracts, all in the hope that one day you'll release your own product. Once you build your own revenue source, you'll gain independence — or so you think — and everything will change. [EN: Good one.]

It just ain't so.

Startup Company lacks meaningful rewards for progression, and its mechanics fail to combine into a satisfying endgame. The experience wisely sacrifices breadth but does not achieve depth. Products don't feel like an achievement. They grow too slowly. They aren't shiny or cool. You're left wondering what you were trying to build all this time; is this really all the startup experience offers? Was all the time you spent worth it?

You can't complain that Startup Company is tedious or monotone if the silicon sweatshop it explicitly simulates is, too.

I do approve of some of the business simulation frills this release judges it can do without; you don't have to build bathroom stalls for employees, nor must you satisfy any Sims-inspired array of 'needs.' Only “Mood” matters, and you have limited and boring means with which to manage it. High Mood means faster task completion, while low Mood slows work down and even pushes your employees to call in sick or quit [EN: How like life]. Mood decreases constantly no matter what you do, how many free drinks you hand out, or how great your company benefits package is [EN: Yep]. The only way to restore mood is to send employees on “vacation,” a period during which they won't come in to work, which lasts an apparently arbitrarily chosen three days.

As a result — despite the Steam store page's promise that “great companies are built by great people”— keeping the same employees with you, taking care of them, and rewarding them for their loyalty to the company they helped build is an unprofitable chore. You might as well let them quit without trying to keep them, and instead continuously hire fresh new warm bodies to take their places. Yes, I tried it, and I must say: I felt like an accurately simulated life model decoy of whoever sets some of my friends' working conditions in their entry-level quality assurance jobs. When combined with the contract bidding system in which other computer-controlled companies lowball you and drive the price of skilled tech labor down, you walk away growing ever more certain these frustrating real life parallels were intentional. You can't complain that Startup Company is tedious or monotone if the silicon sweatshop it explicitly simulates is, too.

Employees belong to classes that determine the kind of work they can do. Developers produce raw components out of thin air and elbow grease. You want them working all the time; you can never have enough components, and queuing them for production doesn't cost you anything. As such, it's almost necessary to give them an auto-repeat button, so that they don't sit around idling on company time when they could be repeating the production task you assign them [EN: Capitalist, much?].

Unfortunately, you can't press that important button unless you also employ a type of employee called a Manager, whose sole job is to allow you to tell your other employees to auto-repeat their tasks. I don't care if this is an accurate simulation of real business roles — from a gameplay perspective, Managers don't have to exist if all they do is lock players out of an essential feature. Until you get your whole office on auto-repeat, you must engage in extreme micromanagement and strategic pausing with the same frequency as in a maximum difficulty run of Baldur's Gate.



The Verdict

Without a more dynamic environment to challenge you, gameplay in Startup Company quickly stagnates. Progression fails to deliver rewards at milestones commensurate with the effort required to attain them. The crafting system shows potential, but the contracts and endgame contracts they fuel grant underwhelming interactivity and rewards. While playable, stable, and actively updated, this Early Access release doesn't currently deliver exceptional fun or novelty.

Kelsey Erwin

Kelsey seeks out RPGs with the narrative clout of Greek tragedy and strategy sims more punishing than QWOP. Their favorite part about being a gender neutral PC gamer and reviewer is that it's probably the only thing no one else on the site will put in a biography. Super saiyan special snowflake originality! Kelsey always keeps a pot of hot tea close at hand, and the sign of a truly great game is when it can monopolize Kelsey's attention so completely that the tea grows cold. While a dedicated believer in the PC Master Race, Kelsey also still spends time with their old favorite console, a cinderblock size Playstation 2.

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