Lately I’ve been wondering what makes a good management game as it’s a genre I love but one in which is incredibly hard to get right. With certain mechanics and gameplay it’s something I can play almost endlessly. The kind where you suddenly find the sun beaming up over the horizon after never having gone to bed the night before. Don badly and it leaves me bored staring absent-mindedly at the screen.
I found myself feeling this when playing through project highrise recently and was trying to figure out why. In terms of features it is probably on par with other management games that are out right now but the systems never created gameplay that was engaging to me. Just a little bland and soulless with gameplay that quickly become rather rote and I think I nailed it down to four factors.
Activity level plays a huge part In how enjoyable management games are to me yet getting the balance right between action and relief is a hard thing. You do want those moments in these games where you get to sit back, relax and watch the systems play out by themselves and in part, this feels rewarding as it means you’ve been able to optimise the systems enough that they are working perfectly. Like creating a pocket watch with various small gears and watching them all spin in time.
With a game needing constant action and maintenance it becomes rather frustrating in a way and I quickly find myself burning out in those instances as you don’t get those moments to relax. The constant clicking style of gameplay is something that belongs more in a mobile game.
But then, with a perfect system running with nothing else affecting it, suddenly means you have kind of beaten the game and this is boring as well. There needs to be a certain amount of maintenance needed – not constant issues but just small or even large events that occur that need your input to change and adapt systems to complete. This is where the older classics like theme hospital did so well – the emergencies that accursed shook up a well performing hospital to require more input, but afterwards systems would run smoothly again. It’s why I think Rimworld did so well too.
The Complexity Crunch
While some seem to relish the deep complexity of the perplexing plethora of numbers that games like Offworld trading Company provide, for me, it creates an experience that feels too unapproachable. The endless amounts of numbers to look over and manage is just something I can’t deal with very well. I just don’t have the Head for constantly monitoring, evaluating and manipulating numbers around.
However there still does need to be a certain amount of mechanical complexity with the systems and how they interact with each other as without that, it quickly becomes experience repetition and memorisation. About fulfilling a basic set of commands and that gets rather boring as well.
So the balance there is having enough complexity within the various systems to be manageable within a moderate amount of action, and also enough that only requires only basic mathematics to work out but enough to keep you analysing and enacting a certain plan as you play.
This is basically a management game’s difficulty and many do have certain functions to make this easier but, when it comes to these games it isn’t necessarily about removing the obvious and hidden complexity regarding numbers and interconnected systems. That just makes it harder to learn such things and get better. It is more about showing those elements but changing the amount of leeway you have between success and failure. How much money is gained from actions, how much is lost. The amount and time needed for expansion and upgrades. It all serves to make that difficult variable without removing the complex mechanics behind them.
And now we get to the part that made me not want to play Project Highrise any longer, and an area I feel like most management games don’t seem to balance very well. Project Highrise was reasonably fun but then, after playing for a little while I felt like I didn’t have anything else to really work for. Mof the new aspects to building my hotel were front-loaded to the beginning part of the experience which makes it initially fun but afterwards the boredom sets in rather quickly.
I had most of the basic sets of buildings I was going to use, access to the various utilities and Special event rooms and from then on it was merely the upgrades styles of previous rooms and well – constantly building more of the same thing. I lost interest at that point as I felt more like I had experienced all of what the game possibly had to give. And that’s the problem I see with most of them in that, everything new is constantly bombarded upon your character from the beginning and into that early gameplay as you build wealth and research new tech, but It’s a burst of novelty can’t last when this is done.
I get why as most games these days try to capture the attention of players in those immediate moments so as to stand out but with this genre in particular it’s more about long form play of watching, waiting, and working towards the next big aspect you get to use. An older title I love, and that I think got this aspect perfect was Constructor. A game about being a sort of Real Estate mogul with constantly building new types of houses and renting them out. The types of buildings you did have constantly grew as the game went on but in a gradual way. I was looking forward to utilising the next building throughout play, and working out how to then use the new aspects, prerequisite mechanics.
There just needs to be a system of gradual growth and not just in one aspect either. A gradual growth with both what you can do, new systems, and new abilities. A gradual growth that is able to change the gameplay with each new addition as this keeps a player’s interest better over the long term.
Lastly there is creativity and I don’t mean this just in the ability to be artistic with the mechanics and tools available, but more in the way of how the player is able to change the experience as they play, and with each new game allows new approaches and playstyles.
I noticed this with my recent Project Highrise play as well but then, with the nature of of the space available for building the HIghrise it just leads to an optimal approach to play rather than a creative one. You just lose too much space when aiming for a creative approach to a point it seems not worth it anymore. I think this is why I lost interest as in the end, I look for a certain personalised approach with these kinds of game.
Now there doesn’t need to be much in terms of Creative tools, just enough that the approach and style of the individual within the game is able to differ from one person, and one game to the next. Enough to build in a different way or place if wanted, changes to the style of building. It’s also nice to have a certain amount of randomisation with the world you are working on. Different terrain aspects to work with as you build as these seem to change the gameplay as well.
It is definitely a tough balance to get right in terms of building an engaging, interesting, and complex management game that doesn’t overwhelm or bore over long play. A balance between the level of activity, the complexity, aspects of progression and the level of creativity allowed. Project Highrise just wasn’t quite there which is why I didn’t feel like going further with it – but there are many that do and they create some amazing experiences that you literally lose hours too.