As probably many others of his kind, an ardent computer gamer dreams of a career in the gaming industry – and attempts to make this dream come true. That player is the player of Software Manager. Confused yet?
You take control of a software company in the year 1993. What immediately strikes the player as strange is that this game simulates the world of developers which had just ceased to exist: Bedroom developers couldn't compete with the corporately produced games anymore, because the games had become too large. Software Manager, however, pretends nothing has happened, it shows the good old days when a really good game could still stay in the charts for several years.
So this is how it works: You hire a developer, grab one of the available game concepts and put him on the job. Programming, graphics, sound – everything coming from the same person. Specialists are not affordable yet. Your first finished game will probably be appropriately mediocre; the internal testers and the gaming press will let you know soon enough. Nevertheless, maybe with enough advertisement, you will still find enough buyers to be profitable – profits you can use for your next production.
At some point, you will be able to finally have more than one person working on the same product, pay these people better and maybe include some nice goodies into the game's box for the customers – a poster or a t-shirt probably. In parallel, you will expand into international markets and so on and so forth. Three other companies try to do the same; the game ends when there is only one company standing.
That describes the complete game in detail already. Gameplay is quite motivating at first and easy enough to grasp. The first few game productions keep the motivation up by including small surprises: For example, you can see your freshly produced games in a funny small animation. The first reviews and sales figures come in. How do your games do compared to the competition?
After some time, this becomes too simple, however: Each game production follows the same exact steps, there is little actual freedom involved in the routine. At some point, all you will have left to do is endless negotiations with developers to lure them to your company. This is done via telephone: You flatter them and offer money until they are willing to leave their current assignment and come work for you. This part of the game, however, is not too much fun.
On the long run, obvious gameplay options are sorely missed. Why can't you turn a successful game into a series? Why can't you actively choose into which countries to expand and at what point in time (you have to wait for this to happen automatically instead)? Why don't you have to take care of bugs, patches and customer support? Re-releases under a budget label are impossible for what reason? The game review magazines could have been the focal point of a lot of interesting features as well: You could have tried to get to their good side in various ways – offering exclusive interviews or other 'incentives'. Instead, there is only exactly one magazine per country and you can only interact in one defined way: send games in for review. Last, but not least, a whole new economic branch could have been covered if there was the option to become a publisher yourself. You can't, though: You always have to go through another company. So you never have to take care of distribution channels and all that. OK, it's good that you don't have to, but why can't you? Or what about the developers? Why is their field of expertise one-dimensional? 'Program', 'graphics', 'music' – that's it. Why no strengths or weaknesses in certain genres, for example? Even the basically good comfort level could have been better: Why is there no sales graph per game over time? This would have made handling of backorders a lot more transparent.
The concept definitely had more potential. The way the game is, however, you finish it once (and this happens more quickly than you might think due to the incompetence of the computer-controlled companies) and then put it away for at least a couple of year. The foundation for a good game is there and it is already entertaining enough – but with a longer development, things could have turned into something so much better. Ironically, though, Kaiko was already in financial trouble itself by that time... and so the game probably had to be pushed out early.