There is a tycoon styled management game for pretty much everything and as a solo media man, running several websites, YouTube channels and projects, Startup Panic appealed to me. I thought I’d be juggling all kinds of things a startup company would need to succeed on to survive and thrive. Sadly, despite some lovely humour and theming, Startup Panic is much more a tinker round the edges affair.
Really, this game should be called Social Media Platform Panic as your tech company is going to be building one. You will be the boss and you’ll be hiring a few staff to join you after the initial phase of the game. The goal is to beat the competition, make profit and keep some shares in your company long enough to sell them off for a lovely workfree future. Interesting, the option to sell out and leave happens very early in the game and the carrot to leave it all and return to a steady 9-5 pops up often. If only other areas of the game had this kind of insight running throughout.
The majority of your gaming experience will be inside your tech platform skills tree. Here, about 50 social platform traits are banded into groups. Messaging and chat fall under communication, there’s a whole video section for YouTube styled features and a games shop space to become the next Steam. You can mix and match and in the long game, you’ll want to be all things to all people – an Amazon if you want. Each time you want to develop a new feature, you’ll choose it from the next ones available on your tree and hopefully you’ll have enough staff with enough skill to develop it correctly.
Each feature you develop needs tech knowledge, usability and decent aesthetics and you and your staff will have a level skill for each of these (and marketing). Using the feature description you’ll choose your staff to make it and allocate your work across these three principles. A photo feature will need more aesthetics than usability whereas a search engine will be the opposite. Once decided your staff will make the feature and once completed it’ll be scored out of 10. This is dependant on the right work allocation, staff skill level and how motivated (tired) they are. Staff only give their best for the first 20% of their work, afterwards it gets shoddy and anything below 60% – you might as well bin it. You get feedback on whether you allocated the work correctly by paying for a debrief afterwards and you can redesign features to improve them at a reduced cost.
Staffing is the key here. For every one thing they build, they’ll need a holiday and some training to level them up. You’ll buy some office equipment to keep them happy and you’ll dictate their wages too. What this does is slow down your progress as you’ll be investing three times as much money on the developments to get your staff to a competent level to make the feature and keep them happy. If they aren’t happy they will leave – taking all that investment with them. If money is running tight, you can take out quick freelance work to make the books work so you can pay for that training need.
As you expand, your office and staff roster grow and marketing becomes a thing. Seemingly the most developed feature in the game, here you research and unlock territories and then market to certain demographics. As the worlds technology gets better, these market dynamics shift and more become available. You might find better luck marketing to the elderly in magazines than youngsters online in a poor territory but if they then get broadband as standard – you need to change your game. This section is without doubt the most dynamic and interesting in the game but I also found that I could still get by without barely scratching the surface of it.
This is because frankly – features are king in Startup Panic. Everything else is secondary. If you can level up your staff and get each feature to a 9.5 or 10 – you gain a huge market boost and eat into the competition. That then provides money for you to survive and invest in the next feature and so rarely after the first hour will you need freelance work either. It seems as if the game knows this too as your platform will be constantly hacked and taken down. This means going back to the skill tree you’ve spent so much time in and redoing the same features again to bring your stats up. Hackers get tedious quickly and feel like a way to slow you down by burning money and losing you market share whilst the feature is compromised.
Similarly other game features feel like they hem you in for the long haul. Every third holiday someone gets kidnapped for ransom by pirates. I laughed the first time. I rolled my eyes by the sixth in the space of about 40 minutes. All of the office furniture has stats but you can’t really see what they are doing and where. There is no feedback for it – nor for how happy your staff feel. It is just their motivation level which sinks as soon as they work. You can just leave them alone and it’ll slowly climb back up again but it is a poor mans game to do so. Startup Panic puts barriers in your way to stop you taking the long and slow route too. Early on you have to meet deadlines of having features reach a minimum standard or its game over. It fences you in so you have to follow a certain path around the features skill tree. This is made more clear when staff levels and skill levels show that you aren’t really as free to create what you want as the game implies.
What starts out interesting becomes a stat noodle as you nudge and change some percentage stats and idle whilst staff train, go on holiday or work. It feels very hands off and the game gets less convincing as you play further. It also baffles me that you get to having a 65% market share in your industry and suddenly another competitor says ‘I’ll crush you’ and now suddenly you have 3% market share and someone you’ve never met has 80%. I get what they are trying to do (take you from local to global) but on the internet, we’re global to begin with and so it lacks the context to make the story and progression work.
With all that moaning, I did enjoy my time with Startup Panic but got more bored of it the longer I played. Tycoon and management gamers will likely get the most out of it but I just found most of the systems quite shallow and undermined by the dominance of the feature creation. If there was more nuance and better feedback about why you do the things you do, then this would be a better game. At the moment its a fans only recommendation for a light hands off tycoon game.
Starts out strong but Startup Panic becomes shallow and unengaging as the game progresses.
Nice style and humour.
Marketing is really well designed.
The game devolves into feature creation to win everything.
The game rinse and repeats the same few problems that zap you of money and stretches the game out longer than it needs to be.
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