Challenges when Developing a Tycoon Game

Throughout your life, chances are big that at some point you have played a tycoon or management type game. There have been many famous titles in the past such as Transport Tycoon that defined the genre and inspired an entire new generation of game developers to expand on them. Maybe you too have been thinking about developing a tycoon game yourself, taking inspiration from such famous titles or simply creating a new spin on them. Still, creating such types of games can be challenging, whether you are an absolute beginner or you are already an experienced developer. In this article we will look at some of the challenges involved when developing a tycoon game.

1. Difficulty for your Audience

As you start developing your game, you’re going to have to make design choices. Many of these choices will affect the difficulty of your game. Yet, what is difficulty exactly? For some people, difficulty in a tycoon game can be expressed as the amount of depth, or simply put, the amount of mechanics interacting with each other. Yet, for other people, difficulty come from the challenges given to players in finding an optimal strategy in a tycoon game.

Clearly, you need to understand what your audience is asking for and make choices based on that. In addition, there is also a possibility that you try to combine the best of both worlds. Sometimes tycoon games will include a challenge mode (e.g. Planet Coaster) with a difficulty setting where the simulation still has the same depth, yet the player is forced to find more optimal strategies.

2. Balancing a Tycoon Game

As with most types of games, a large majority of time in the development process will be spent on balancing and tweaking values. Using these values, new strategies can emerge for players to engage with your simulation. It is up to the developers to identify these strategies and consider them game breaking or not. Again, you have to keep your audience in mind when balancing values and how they affect the perceived difficulty.

When broken down, there are usually 5 types of different values that impact your game. It is important to balance these against each other to make it possible for new strategies to emerge.

  • Resources The element that is actually produced (which has value)
  • Producers The rate at which resources are produced
  • Consumers The rate at which resources are consumed
  • Ratios Relationships between values, such as the ratio between producers and consumers
  • Logistics The rate at which resources can be brought together for producers and consumers

3. Keeping the Player Busy

Another important element to balancing is making sure that the player is always busy. Often, as challenges in a tycoon game get harder, it will feel as if it is becoming increasingly demanding. This is either because the player is forced to make more choices in less and less time or because the choices have a bigger, lasting impact than they did before.

During the entire development lifetime of your management game, it makes sense to keep track of the player’s short term, near term and long term goals. Introducing such goals will make sure that the player will always have something to work towards and is occupied in achieving them. This also creates new opportunities for strategies as a long term goal could be directly connected to a short term goal.

Another thing that is equally important to the player is that they feel they have control over what to be occupied with. A player needs to feel a certain sense of agency, a chance to determine their own fate so to speak. While faced with difficulty or choices, players must always be able to control the outcome somehow. This is often the criticism behind random events inside a game which basically are beyond a player’s control. If such an event has a negative consequence it will feel as something that is unfair.

4. Simulation Depth and Consequences

Often in tycoon or management type games, the player will assume the role of an entity overseeing many of the activities that would normally be given to several individuals. Again, this comes down to the depth of your simulation and what mechanics you introduce to it. Usually, the more roles you can ascribe to the player, the deeper the simulation could be considered to appear.

In addition, the deeper a simulation is, the more responsibility will usually fall onto the player. In practice, this is a good thing as it will feel empowering to the player. Yet, with great responsibility also comes… grave consequences. It is vital to make sure that the player is informed about the consequences that could happen. Otherwise the player could consider it unfair and will actually form a negative opinion about a game. Generally, the more complex a simulation is, the more you will have to inform players about the potential consequences of their actions.

5. Creativity vs Scenario

While there are tycoon or management games that focus heavily on creating challenges for players, there are also games that aim to focus more on the creative side of things. Sometimes, it can happen that the customizability of your game can actually be more important than how well it plays. Often, the challenges when developing a tycoon game boil down to weighing creativity vs challenge.

Again, giving the player enough creativity comes back down to knowing your audience and being able to give the player a sense of agency. When building a tycoon game, it is import to weigh how much creativity matters for your audience and how it is reflected in the game.

Consider a game like Planet Coaster where placing down scenery is actually an important part of the core mechanics. In this game, a higher scenery rating in your theme park will have a positive boost to the attractiveness of your park and create an influx of new guests. While creativity is important, players will quickly figure out that certain scenery items add more to the scenery rating than others.

6. Adding Opponents though AI

Of course, there are simulation or management games that offer a great single player experience. Yet, nothing really creates a sense of competition compared to a computer opponent or AI. Now, it is important to stress that making an AI by itself can be challenging enough.

When adding a new mechanic to the game, it will often require extra work for the AI so that it can actually use these new mechanics in its strategy planning. Moreover, we often like to create a range of difficulty settings for our AI in order to offer more challenges to the player. Usually, the preferred way of doing this is by making the AI cheat through giving the AI special bonuses or having it ignore certain penalties. Again, this adds another layer of complexity when it comes to balancing.

7. Multiplayer

Now, you might think that adding multiplayer to a tycoon game could potentially be easier than it is to implementing an opponent using AI. However, implementing multiplayer functionality is something that has to be done at a fundamental level of the game. A multiplayer system is not something that can easily be added later because it mixes in with a lot of different systems.

To be clear, if you plan on adding multiplayer functionality, then this is something that has to be built into your game architecture from day 1. Also, in addition to spending precious time on developing the multiplayer code, you will also be spending countless hours on fixing synchronization and/or determinism issues. Since there are many challenges alone in adding multiplayer functionality to a tycoon game, we really would like to urge you to research multiplayer thoroughly before continuing.

8. Modding Support

Finally, you might want to consider adding support for fans to create mods. While at first it might sound scary to have strangers poking around in your game, it might actually give longevity to your game. There are many examples of games which still enjoy popularity because of its active modding community.

However, the problem is that in order to build a sustainable ecosystem for mods, you will need to spend considerable time preparing the game for this. In order to facilitate mods, you need to assess what modding options you are willing to make available to your game. Are you simply allowing users to load in models or are you allowing them to fully add custom logic and behaviour to your game? The easier you make this for modders, the more healthy and popular the modding ecosystem will be.