Startup Company Console Edition review

This management sim provides all thrills of owning your own internet start-up without the worry of being bought out by a competitor and shuttered in six months, or having an egomaniac take over your business. What are those thrills? Very simple pleasures, as we’re about to discuss.

Assuming the role of a young but not completely inexperienced CEO, this sim sees you choose from several website types (social media, online retailer, streaming service, dating site, and a gaming storefront) to create a start-up, gradually expanding your workforce and online presence as you evolve.

The ultimate goal, other than avoiding becoming the next Google Stadia or GeoCities, is to secure the largest retirement fund possible before reaching the ripe age of 67. One neat touch this that it’s possible to retire at any time, at which point you’ll be presented with a breakdown of your wealth and legacy.

Developers, designers, researchers, and lead developers must be hired – with their pay negotiable – and the office kitted out with desks, sofas, plants, coffee/snack machines, and a whiteboard. Everyone loves a whiteboard, for some reason. Then, as you start to expand after turning a profit – a milestone that can take hours to reach – additional offices, pension plans, and more personnel such as marketers and managers can be introduced. Staff can also receive extra training and be granted bonuses, all in the name of keeping them happy. Failing that, a bright red twisty slide can be added – a fun touch in an otherwise strait-laced experience.

Now here’s the meat of the game. Every employee generates colour-coded resources, producible at will. These are vital for upgrading each ‘feature’ of your site, which starts with just a basic landing page before adding comment sections, sharing functionality, image uploading, profiles, etc – all of which must be researched prior. As your site grows in popularity, these need to be upgraded quickly to prevent capacity from being maxed. Developers and designers create resources the lead developer demands, so you need to make sure there’s a steady supply. If a resource isn’t available, staff won’t be able to fulfill their roles, putting the brakes on expanding and upgrading.

Then comes the ability to host adverts – ergo, turn a profit – which requires a salesperson and timeslots to be implemented. Marketers allow for internet and TV campaigns, while after a few hours of play, it also becomes vital to invest in hosting, purchasing an old building, and filling it with racks full of servers and cooling equipment – which must be “configured” with resources too.

Success isn’t a given – there’s a learning curve to overcome before becoming a global sensation. Our first few start-ups failed miserably. Some pointers would have helped – there’s no indication whatsoever if you’re understaffed or overstaffed, for instance.

All of this, essentially, amounts to a lot of stuff to keep an eye on. Stuff. Things like the number of active users, server capacity, profits and outgoing expenses, staff happiness levels, issues within the resource supply chain, and user satisfaction. There are also charts showing your rank compared to competitors, and a wealth of other stats to optionally check. Jitter, faux social media platform, exists too. You may even go viral – for reasons both good and bad.

If you’re into the sim genre, and especially enjoy experiences where there are dozens of variables to keep an eye on, then this will almost certainly appeal. For those undecided, there are a few things worth mentioning. The tutorial, for starters, is a little tricky to follow – it’s a text-heavy affair that provides a wall of pulsating text and a goal, and nothing more. It’s also quite easy to lose track of the cursor, especially at night when the screen turns darker, which is compounded further by the finicky joypad controls.

The biggest problem though is the lack of character and personality – you are, for the most part, navigating copious amounts of menus while observing a single screen office. Staff do not walk around, a la The Sims, but rather magically appear and vanish from their desks. There are no random, amusing, events. Moreover, you don’t actually get to see an auto-generated mock-up of your website. It merely exists as a list of features. At times I even forgot what kind of website I was investing my time and virtual money into. The differences between owning a dating site and a streaming platform are pretty minor, when in reality, they should both pose their own unique challenges.  

Aside from the temperamental controls, Startup Company Console Edition still manages to achieve its goal of allowing you to establish a company and steer it in the right direction. It’s an experience full of moreish highs and the morale breaking lows. What has happened to the ‘office joker’ though is a mystery. A little bit of silliness would have lightened the tone in something that’s strictly business.

Hovgaard Games’ Start-up Company Console Edition is out Jan 26th on consoles.