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What Developers Need to Know about Making a Management/Simulator

by Chris McAulay on 02/12/19 12:51:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

In a way most games are managements games, as you are almost always managing something. In classic Mario games, you are managing your run speed against how fast you can react to new things coming on the screen. In action-RPGs like Diablo, you manage your character’s stats and gear (min/maxing) against the scaling of mobs and your desire to clear content as quickly as possible, More obviously, in strategy games such as Starcraft, you are managing the tug of war between growing your economy and army in a bid to outwit and outmaneuver your opponent. 

However, when we talk about management games we are specifically talking about games where management aspects are not only the focus of the game, but are the reason for the player to play the game. Games where you are brutalized for not coming up with a coherent plan for whatever resources you are managing, and choosing not to learn the game mechanics, will almost always result in losing the level. Classic examples of management games are Caesar, Roller Coaster Tycoon and the Dungeon Keeper series. Some recent examples include Factorio, RimWorld, and They Are Billions.


How would you start making a management game?

Management games require copious amounts of planning and precision due to how intricately the systems must be woven together in order for the game to flow properly. Any hitch or bug in the flow of resources will cause any dependent system to be substantially affected, similar to a 10 car pile up on the freeway. When starting to plan a management game it would be good to list the systems and their dependencies, and then view them in reverse order from most complex to least complex. Doing so will make sure you know what is needed at the less complex levels before planning each prior level.
 

Why does this help?

Let’s look at a generic 4 tiered system (this is pretty complicated, but nowhere near as much as Factorio gets). You start from the most simple tier and say, “I think producing 40 t1 items per time is enough.” Then a t2 costs 3 t1 items to produce. Now we are down to 13.34 items per time (already you can see the numbers are not lining up). Now at t3 you decide you need 2 t2 item to make a t3 item, we now have 6.67 items at t3. Following the same process, a t4 item requires 3 t3 items to make, and we now only have 2.2 items per time unit being created. 

Let’s look at another example based on my upcoming game Guilds of Delenar. In this game, your primary resources are your heroes, gear, gold, and fame. The lesser “resources” are upgrades, happiness, health, exp, and quests. Looking at the gearing system only achieved by questing, each quest requires a party of 1-5 heroes which each have 9 gear slots. This means  you have a max of 45 gear slots to fill in order to regear all characters in the party. Knowing that, you then can approach the question of how fast you gain loot based on how many quests (amount of time) you need to do. For instance if a quest can only produce 1 piece of gear then it would require a minimum of 45 quests to regear your group. If said quest could produce 3 pieces of gear then it only requires a minimum of 15 quests to regear your character. If you then know that the average play time to complete a quest is 3 minutes the 1 piece example takes 135 minutes to complete, whereas the 3 items per quest example requires 45 minutes to complete. This then gives you the information you need in order to tweak the system until you can reach your desired progression and pacing.

Rather, if you took your most dependent system like your population, and then worked out each underlying system after deciding what your goals for you population system are, you would know exactly how much of the previously mentioned tier items you need in order to satisfy all the systems. From there you can choose where to create difficulty/friction rather than it creeping in due to a poor planning process not accounting for issues in advance.

Let’s look at another example based on my upcoming game Guilds of Delenar. In this game, your primary resources are your heroes, gear, gold, and fame. The lesser “resources” are upgrades, happiness, health, exp, and quests. Looking at the gearing system only achieved by questing, each quest requires a party of 1-5 heroes which each have 9 gear slots. This means  you have a max of 45 gear slots to fill in order to regear all characters in the party. Knowing that, you then can approach the question of how fast you gain loot based on how many quests (amount of time) you need to do. For instance if a quest can only produce 1 piece of gear then it would require a minimum of 45 quests to regear your group. If said quest could produce 3 pieces of gear then it only requires a minimum of 15 quests to regear your character. If you then know that the average play time to complete a quest is 3 minutes the 1 piece example takes 135 minutes to complete, whereas the 3 items per quest example requires 45 minutes to complete. This then gives you the information you need in order to tweak the system until you can reach your desired progression and pacing.
 

Ok so I have my game planned out so flow nicely what now?

Now you add some friction/challenge into the game where you think it will add value. This is the place where you should be able to add something unique. I have never played a game that was both perfectly smooth and also amazing. So finding places where the user must overcome something in order to succeed is a good thing, and this is where a good game becomes a great game. This friction should never be a result of poor design, which is simply holding the player back due to a repetitive task or some mindless bottleneck. It should be something that is based on game mechanics, strategy, puzzle solving, or skill. In a management game, I’d recommend focusing on strategy and game mechanics.

Ex 1) A modern example in a management game would be in They Are Billions where you’re constantly growing your city and to grow the footprint of your colony which puts you in direct conflict with ~10k zombies. Without that friction the game would be much less interesting, if you want to see this in practice, play the game at its easiest level, and then try it on its harder levels. On the easy levels it is a decent game, but on the harder levels it becomes great due to the constant struggle which always pushes you to re-evaluate your strategy at every turn.
 

Anything else?

Make sure to stay flexible! No matter how well you plan out your management game, it will never be perfect. Be willing to scrap a system that is too complex or add one that you didn’t anticipate needing. Make sure you listen to your community and be willing to bend your game mechanics to the feedback that you are given. Lastly, management games need testing. LOTS of testing! Round up a core testing group and make sure you start the process early so that your project is still flexible and agile while that feedback is coming in. The last thing you want is 20 complex and heavily dependent systems, and then need to remove one due to it not playing as well as you thought it would.

To the devs out there that are making management games, keep at it! Despite the recent resurgence of the genre I don’t think we have even come close to achieving the potential that it has to offer. To the players and fans of the genre, be open-minded, supportive and helpful! These games are incredibly complex and your kind word and helpful criticism goes a long way to helping a dev push their game forward. Crushing their souls with anger and hatred may cause us to give up and cost the world some really good games. So if you want to see the genre grow and achieve even greater things we need you guys to help us on our way. I hope to see you guys around in the various management game forums out there!


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