The management sim genre is a pretty crowded place and yet, as far as I can tell, Festival Tycoon is the first attempt to mine the fertile ground of music festivals. When you think about it they’re the perfect subject for these types of games with their mix of commercialism and customer need. In most tycoon games the player is building something permanent (or at least long-lasting) like a hospital, theme park, farm or company. The unique selling point of Festival Tycoon is that your event gets thrown up and torn down every year. The success of one year’s festival only lays the groundwork for future success to the extent that it provides a bigger budget. Building a solid core to work with every year extends only as far as the ideas and rules the player develops each time as to what makes a festival successful.
The game’s campaign mode sees the player create a festival management company. Starting with a limited budget, the inaugural festival has to be set up, run and completed successfully. Afterwards the finances and reputation of the player’s management company are updated along with their reputation with the artists that performed. There are also some minor world changes that affect the stats of sponsors and artists. Once all that is complete it’s time to start planning the next festival; how will it improve, how will it be bigger, how will it be more profitable? There is also a sandbox mode for those who just want to play around or test out some ideas without the stress of it affecting the company’s bottom line.
The majority of the gameplay of Festival Tycoon is split into two areas; festival planning and running the festival. The planning phase is a leisurely activity that sees the player pick one of three maps of different sizes and costs. With the location chosen, it’s time to start plotting. Festival Tycoon is still in early access (hence only three maps) but there is still a good amount of choice in the content. A handy tutorial walks the player through the steps of setting up their first festival, although it is worth noting that it is perhaps a little short of advice on what is sensible for a first, small festival. I had to restart the tutorial level three times due to mistakes made, mostly in picking bands for the line-up.
One of the first things to think about in the planning step is sponsorship. When your festival company is more mature it could be possible to host a festival without sponsorship but in the early days the extra cash they provide is vital. Besides, the downsides of having sponsorship in your festival are pretty small (a negative to score, assuming you care about that, and the possibility of having to put up ugly billboards around the place). With cash flow established you can start setting out the festival grounds; marking camping sites, locating stages, putting up gates and fences for crowd control, showers, bars, food, the list goes on. Judging how much support infrastructure (hygiene, security, medical etc.) you need to support the size of your festival is key to planning correctly as it will be too late to do anything about it once it all kicks off. There are also decisions to be made about whether to include VIP accommodation and how many backstage amenities to put in for the bands. Space management and efficiency is huge in Festival Tycoon. How much can you cram into limited space without having everything so crowded and off-putting that visitors have a negative experience?
When it comes to booking bands consideration needs to be paid to the different genres of music. Having a line-up with a mixture of all different types of music might sound fun but to get the best ticket sales it’s important to put complimentary music together. Techno and EDM or Metal and Rock, but definitely not Folk and Hip-Hop. Once you’ve settled on that it’s time to pay the bands. Each has a minimum fee, requirements (which have to be met) and needs (which technically don’t, though your reputation with the band will suffer). Requirements tend to be based on the number of tickets sold, the quality of the festival or the band’s position on the bill. Needs, on the other hand, exclusively refer to backstage amenities. Maybe the band wants a backstage RV, a green room, catering, or make-up. If you cave to every band’s needs then you’ll need a huge backstage area. Thankfully, these needs can be bought off by offering the band more money. Judging who to please with facilities, who to please with cash (and maybe who to just ignore) is the main part of booking bands.
Festival planning is a rewarding and exciting activity; the different gameplay factors pushing and pulling on you make building an efficient and quality festival an interesting puzzle and the game already has easily enough assets and options to keep things interesting for quite a few festivals. There are a couple of aspects of the gameplay that are not quite explained well by the tutorial but when I took to Steam Discussions to ask about them I received a response from the developer extremely quickly, which is always welcome. Considering the development is largely one person, the amount of content in Festival Tycoon already is impressive. The band booking is the one area at the moment that feels a little lacking. There are only six genres of music and not enough bands available to really put on a good-sized festival without burying your festival score due to too many clashing genres. I’m confident this will be worked on in the months before release, however. The other thing that should be mentioned is that Festival Tycoon appears to have been developed very much with modding in mind and there is already a good amount of content on the Steam Workshop for it. For now, it is largely (very welcome) additional maps but I’m sure that the library will grow over time.
Once you’ve got your festival plotted out, bands booked, sponsorship in place and ticket prices set it’s time to move to phase 2 of the game, actually running the festival. Things kick off on arrival day as guests will turn up, pitch tents and enjoy the facilities you’ve provided. After that come the days with the music (one or more depending on how you’ve set up your festival). All of this plays out before your eyes with control of the speed up to the player.
Gameplay-wise, this phase is about micro-management. Your support buildings will spawn workers that you can form up into teams and send to different parts of the festival. Each team will cover and respond to certain events in a marked radius and trying to cover the festival with the right number of resources is the main challenge here. Maybe you send your main two janitorial teams to each of your stages but siphon one-off for the VIP, another for the backstage and a couple for the tents. Is that enough to stop the festival from turning into a garbage dump? Do you have your security teams patrolling correctly to cover the fights that break out? All of these possible events can also be managed by the player personally in some way. For trash, there is a little broom you can use to clear it up and then dump it again somewhere that your janitors will take care of it. For security and medical emergencies, you can grab the appropriate teams and send them specifically to the spot. As long as they arrive in time all will be well.
There are a couple of other micro-management activities to be handled during this phase of play but, in general, this is not where Festival Tycoon shines. It’s fantastic to see your festival play out before your eyes, and that would get a little boring without something for the player to do while it happened but, in general, I found it pretty easy to have my teams cover the ground easily enough which just left me responsible for greeting the bands as they turned up and buying new stock for the drinks stalls. For the moment it does enough to not lose the player’s interest during these sections but it is an area of the game that could use a little more personality and development.
Overall, Festival Tycoon is a solid entry that fills the particular niche in the genre that was empty up to now. It does a fantastic job of presenting all the options and considerations of setting up a festival without getting too bogged down in detail. The art is colourful and charming and the central puzzle of working with the different planning elements is rewarding and interesting. Things take a little dive in excitement when it comes to the live gameplay while the festival is happening but, for an early access game, there is still plenty enough in Festival Tycoon to recommend giving it a go now and plenty of reasons to think that it will be a lovely and deep game when complete.
Festival Tycoon is available now for PC on Steam.