Have you ever dreamed of starting your own tech company? Then the Indonesian game studio Algorocks has just what you’re looking for: Startup Panic! In this charming management simulation, you get to enjoy the thrills and the ups and downs of a company owner’s life — without the pressure of indebting yourself when things go wrong. And things will go wrong, but let’s not panic just yet and jump into the game instead.
Our journey begins after escaping the treadmills of a terrible corporate job. Starting as a one-person studio in our bedroom, it’s our goal to build and expand our tiny business into a flourishing company with dozens of employees. Easier said than done, but fortunately, a familiar face is around to help us, whether we want him to or not.
But there’s no time to wrangle with office supplies. To start our business, we first have to develop features for our website. Beginning with something simple as creating a landing page, we have to work our way up to advanced features like video and streaming services or a shopfront for selling games and DLCs. The skills of our employees decisively influence how well our newly-developed features will be received. Training courses for technology, usability, aesthetics, and marketing ensure our workforce can keep up with the increasing difficulty of their tasks.
But developing and revising features costs a lot of money, and we need even more of it to hire, train and pay new employees. Marketing campaigns targeting key areas across the globe are an additional strain on our finances. And, of course, we can rent bigger office spaces and deck them out in fancy furniture to achieve that true startup feeling. But especially early on, our website doesn’t have enough features or users to be profitable, and more often than not, taking on contract work is necessary to secure additional income. We must carefully manage the time spent on feature development, contracts and employee training to ensure a constant cash stream for our company. But our troubles don’t end here.
The competition always seems to be one step ahead, and just when we secure large chunks of the market share for our company, a new rival CEO steps onto the scene, trying to crush our budding startup under their heel. Other times, hackers target our website, messing with several features at once and ruining months of progress. Pirates may kidnap our precious employees on their vacation, demanding outrageously high ransoms our struggling business might be unable to pay. And as if all of the meddling from outsiders weren’t bad enough, our very own office ghost may haunt our employees, reducing their productivity to zero. No one said anything about supernatural encounters in the CEO handbook!
But unfortunately, there are some unavoidable problems with Startup Panic. One of the more glaring issues is the motivation mechanic. Each employee, and even the CEO, has a motivation bar, which depletes a bit after every completed task. The lower someone’s motivation, the worse their performance in the job, which calls for a few days on vacation to get back on track. It makes sense until you realise you have to send employees on vacation after almost every task they complete, where they’ll get kidnapped by pirates again and again. Not only are the constant vacations more expensive than a real startup could ever afford, but the jokes also become stale with the constant repetition. And once you master the pattern of switching between tasks, training and vacation times, you’ll end up repeating the same steps again and again, which can feel like a frustrating grind rather than challenging. These issues amplify the more employees you have.
This lack of variety and odd balancing shows across many aspects of the game. The random hacker event might occur so frequently early on that it can be hard to feel a sense of progression, as each attack requires revisions for the corrupted features. Other mechanics, like the marketing map, seem to have such minimal effects on your market share and finances that it’s easy to neglect them. And if you want your startup to make a lot of money, letting your employees finish contract jobs can be much more lucrative than implementing new features.
Much of this struggle is what real startups contend with daily. To keep afloat in a cutthroat environment, you need boundless amounts of motivation, and developing your projects rarely pays off as much as contract work does. Technology constantly progresses, making it quite challenging to stay up to date. Algorocks, the studio behind the game, must know this well, as they’ve spent years as a tech startup wrestling with these issues — though hopefully with fewer kidnappings by pirates.
But although the translation of these dynamics into gameplay could use improvement, Startup Panic has a lot of potential. The pixel graphics are charming, the dialogues enjoyable, and the music pleasant (the ghost’s sad violin sounds aside). Many of the mechanics are solid and peppered with humorous remarks anyone who’s ever dabbled in the tech world can surely appreciate. And especially at the beginning, the game is a lot of fun. Seeing your tiny business grow, renting your first office space and hiring and training your first handful of employees — it’s challenging, feels rewarding, and is exactly what players might want from a management game like this. But the repetitive events and predictable grind become more and more apparent the longer you play.
All in all, Startup Panic could become a great casual management game. It already has all the right ingredients and a solid base to build on, and with just a little bit of feature tweaking, better balancing and additional content, it could become an even tastier pie. Yes, if the game can make baking puns, so can I! Genre connoisseurs who don’t mind the grind or who thrive off the misery of vacation-deprived employees might love Startup Panic already.