Review: Tech Corp
Review copy provided by developer
Listen, I understand the whole Early Access concept. Game developers can put incomplete games up for sale, targeted at folks who believe in the vision behind them and who want to contribute to seeing that vision completed. But I can’t review visions, I can only review the game in front of me, and I have to say that Tech Corp isn’t where it needs to be yet. Even for Early Access, this one is missing polish and feedback essential in the management sim genre to lend players confidence to the arc of development. Honestly I have no doubt that this one is going to shape up well during its EA stint (it already has, to some degree), but that just means you should wait until it does.
Tech Corp puts you in the Bluetooth-enabled shoes of an aspiring Silicon Valley gajillionaire, starting out with an empty office and an embarrassment of capital you probably got from your parents. From this humble beginning you must work your way up the ladder of contract jobs and outsourcing, providing code and hardware solutions for faceless clients until your own R&D and manufacturing starts cranking out cutting-edge goods. You can focus on any aspect of the tech industry, from headphones and MP3 players to desktops and tablets to game development and server management. You’ll get to design your own products from the prototyping desk to the packaging at the plant, run marketing campaigns for them, and build your brand into the money-printing machine every appmaker dreams of.
Your time in Tech Corp will be split between your office and (later) your factory, conducting menial tasks until you hire the managers to delegate those tasks to. Starting out you’ll run a code farm, with programmers producing modules like UI and Optimization for external contracts. Your employees all have stats to track, and must be assigned to a desk, told when to take breaks, and told specifically what module to work on when. A manager can take over the tasks of breaks and individual assignments, but will have everyone under them working on the same modules. That means if you get a contract for four different modules, you have to stop your manager every time you produce enough of one and tell them to start on the next. On the bright side, you won’t have to tell them when to take their own breaks.
Once you get past contract coding, you can start researching and prototyping components. Both of these are just progress bars to watch as you unlock new CPUs and batteries and Bluetooth dongles. With enough parts you can produce products like headphones and tablets, which require manufacturing parts, coding firmware, and running marketing campaigns. These in-depth screens give you loads of options that shift different bars like User Experience and Reliability and Hype, and will surely take several passes to fully understand. It’s not that the information given is unclear, it’s that it’s unclear what factors in this particular simulation lead to success. I’ve launched two products so far, for reference. The first I had no idea what I was doing, completely botched the marketing campaign, and made a hundred grand off of. The second I designed much more carefully, nailed every step of the marketing campaign, and did not sell a single unit for reasons completely unknown to me.
Simulations require that the player understand the rules of the simulation, and this is increasingly important as the simulation grows more complex. Tech Corp abstracts the entire tech industry into simple, seemingly clear windows and sliders and notifications but never really explains how you tweak those to succeed. It’s a clean interface for flailing around and failing, and not really understanding why you failed. The feedback just isn’t here, and the finance window is a perfect example of this. Obviously a work in progress, this window only shows you your gross income over the last month or the last year. It doesn’t chart expenses, revenue sources, or provide any other timeframes than that, rendering it entirely useless in a game about building a profitable company.
I won’t deny that watching numbers go up and contracts go out completed is fun. I’ve enjoyed my time with Tech Corp, and it does a fine job of teaching you how to play and leading you through complicated systems without overwhelming you. But it does a poor job of teaching you how to succeed, and in its current state I can’t even tell if my failures are my fault or unaddressed bugs. The developers are hard at work on this, already revising the clunky marketing system and currently working on my complaint about having to micro-manage managers. I get that this is Early Access, I really do, but this is still a retail game and I have to judge what it is now, not what it might or even probably will be. I’m going to stick with Tech Corp and watch it develop, and maybe even play some more while I wait, but unless you want to help this one evolve I’d suggest waiting from a distance.