Retro Review: Can you become an industry mogul in Start-Up?

Editor’s Note: As a new feature for GiN, we will occasionally be taking a look back at games from simpler times that were published many years ago and reviewed by Ryan Allen. This week we spotlight Start-up, a game about building a business empire during the roaring 2000s.

I’ve played a lot of Business Simulations on console and PC, and Start-Up is a fun game. However, due to its incredibly realistic interpretations of real-life economics and enterprise-sized companies, it is not for the squeamish at heart, nor the economically challenged.

The overall presentation of the game is the first thing I noticed. The graphics are bright and cheerful and the navigation remains intuitive. Once the main layout is understood, the game is quite straightforward to play. However, this is where the thin black line runs red and shows how brutal Start-Up can be. Specific characteristics that are common in most business simulations surface here. For example, going out on a hiring spree, while your bleeding cash reserves will almost certainly kill your company, or adjusting your product pricing and advertising budget to maximize your return at the neglect of employee bonuses can lead to staffing headaches. There’s a lot of intelligence in this game.

It’s Your Business, Run It How You Want

Start-Up lets you assume the role of a manager or lets you create a start-up company. Until you play Start-Up for a while, a lot of it is trial-and-error. With Start-Up, you have a choice between two industries: the ever-popular video game console market and the booming mobile phone industry. Each presents its own sets of challenges. For example, when you select the video game market, early on, you realize that to survive, you will need to build and market your product. But more important than this, the key to the video game industry is recognition.

The more game developers identify with your console, the more they will want to develop and sell games on your system. You received nice royalties on the sales of these game titles. However, the downside is, it takes a while to reach this point. By then, you could either be in deep debt or remain financially burned. Each industry takes careful planning and strategy. I haven’t developed a profitable business yet, but I am working on it. If you by some fluke finish in the top three of either the video game console or mobile phone markets, you unlock a new market, the emerging Internet TV market. [Ryan’s Note: Bear in mind this review is from February 2000.]

Start-Up uncannily uses parallel real-world companies and emerging industry trends in its core gameplay economics. With-in the first five minutes of play, you get inundated with many news, headlines, emails from production, and more. Monte Cristo does a great job at masking the global companies whom you deal with in this game world. Yet they set them up, so you immediately know what company is who. For example, they use Bomburg in place of Bloomberg for financial information and Computer Active for computer-related news. Further companies as Koname (e.g., Konami) and 3DxTreme (e.g., 3Dfx) add to the realism.

As mentioned briefly before, navigation is relatively simple to understand. Learning the ins and outs of the game took less than fifteen to twenty minutes to get familiar with the controls. So here’s a quick rundown of what each area of the navigation is.

Your Office

This is where you control nearly all aspects of your company. In your office you have:

  • Chart – Product pricing and advertising budgeting in the different world market regions.
  • Financial Data – Watching your monthly turnovers, net earnings, cash assets, the stock index, and how many units you sold. You can also obtain loans, liquidate assets, and enter the stock market with an IPO if your company is stable and growth is constant.
  • World Map – How much product you have on store shelves and what interests consumers.
  • Product Design – Make modifications to your product and research new components.
  • News Center – Read the latest news headlines, emails, memos, faxes, and prospective investments. Here is your company’s life-blood as you present yourself and your products to the world.

Outside of your office, you have, if you play on normal product mode, access to four divisions of your company. These “divisions” divide up into four floors. On the first floor, you’ll find Production and Inventory. The second-floor houses Research, Development, and Testing. The third floor is Marketing, PR, Sales, and Helpdesk. The final level is Human Resources, Accounting, and Finance.

The key to Start-Up is to strike a balance between staff, product sales, and the profitability of your company. Easier said than done. Because Start-Ups uses a very realistic economics engine expect to go bankrupt in your first twenty or so times of play!

Disappointments

That leads me to my big disappointments with the game. There’s a setting to allow the player to control the game’s difficulty. However, the difficulty setting doesn’t appear to have a noticeable difference. Given more control over the particular aspect of the game utilizing a slider could let the player tell the game how much micromanaging they want to handle. As it stands, you have no choice in the matter, and are forced to micromanage everything. You can hire staff, but sad to say they operate as predetermined robots. The engine allows for them to grow and learn, but by the time this happens your company is financially ruined.

Another item that would have the game more enjoyable would be the ability to hire advisors. I don’t know of any company that has only one man running the show. Even Microsoft’s Bill Gates has aids. It takes many people, pooling their talents together to make a company healthy and prosperous. In addition to company presidents, you have Corporate Executive Officers (CEO), Corporate Financial Officers (CFO), Members of the Board, Chair members, and more.

Here’s another complaint I have. When I started, I tried the tutorial mode to get a good grasp of the menu and general gameplay. Thank god the menu system is relatively simple to understand. The Tutorial is a lazy bum. He tells you a few items of interest and says he’ll return in 30 minutes. By then, you’re likely in financial trouble, or you have no idea how to turn your company financially around. At least the advisor in Theme Park was brilliant and walked you through it all. He got you on the road to “financial freedom” (in the virtual sense). Lastly, the unique economics engine and its realistic ties to the industry you select for gameplay, I have to give this a thumb up and down. Granted, I appreciate the incredibly practical economics. However, it is stretching things a bit when it takes nearly twenty-five games just to get to a point where you’re not going bankrupt in six (game time) months of play.

Final word

If you’re a business buff and have said, on many occasions, “I can run this company better than you can” (under your breath) to your boss… then this is the game for you. It’s intuitive, realistic, today, and it’s fun! But most importantly, it will tell you if you have what it takes to run a Start-Up business.

PROs

  • Beautifully simplified business simulation graphics.
  • Parallels today’s technologies and trends with spoofed (but recognizable) companies.
  • Navigation is intuitive.

CONs

  • Micromanagement with no option to set the difficulty.
  • No available advisor.
  • The Tutorial tends to disappear for 30 minutes at a time.
  • There’s a steep learning curve for those not familiar with big business and economics, which flies in the face of a game called Start-Up.

This game review was initially published in 2000 and has been donated to GameIndustry.com by Ryan Allen.

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