The movies, the theatre, the cinema. There are a lot of different names for the place where we go to make films, and that’s because of how far-reaching the movie movement was — through class, race and generations. Moviehouse – The Film Studio Tycoon puts you in charge of a nascent studio, about to set out on its first moviemaking effort.
Before I start, I want to point out that Moviehouse is incredibly hard to write about. At the time of writing it has a Mixed review score on Steam, and that’s not because it’s filled with polarising difficulty or content, it’s because it’s a bit of a middling experience. There’s a lot of amazing stuff going on there, but it feels like it’s actually three different games, carved up and glued together in an odd mishmash, and that’s why issues with UI, bugs and confusing messaging persist through what is otherwise — and maybe not intentionally — an interesting Tycoon/Passive hybrid.
The other reason that it’s scoring middlingly is that it’s quite buggy. Over the years I’ve met a lot of games reviewers, and a lot of us have this weird ability to break games. With Moviehouse though, the customer review section is full of complaints about bugs, missions not completing and progression gates not lifting. I had a similar experience over my two runs, but… I still enjoyed playing. My first run was very much like a run through barbed wire, I quickly overspent (there are no warnings that you’ll be put into debt) which resulted in a permanent ‘Repay Bank Loan’ prompt despite the fact I’d been fully bought out, and then exited from said production company. That notification was joined in its permanence by a prompt telling me to create films from a popular genre, while on the other side of the screen, I had an Industry Awards event appear every year that was unclickable.
These problems are for the most part just due to the fact that the game doesn’t check for progress with its variables, and will probably be patched sooner or later — similarly, the bug that killed my entire save, where I had brought a bunch of D-star actors into high production films and then tried to rapidly rank them up due to the fame they’d gained. That one killed my save and made everything unclickable.
But, I still enjoyed it. I liked the time-passing, almost idle genre-style repetition of picking script parts, and then making other decisions as the script goes through production. It feels like a lot of thought has gone into the start, scope and end of the journey, but not to the middle. In fact, it makes it feel as though Moviehouse should — rather than being fully released — be thriving in Steam Early Access, and plodding along gradually to a fantastic v1.0 release.
There’s a ton of depth here; variables for lead characters and villains, options to train up your staff, a festival system and even (super idle-genre) the chance to buy shares in your competition to create a passive income that far exceeds any costs you’d ever accrue. That and a pretty decent tech tree that crosses the ages, and the hint of a true-to-life timeline, makes this feel like it could easily have been a Game Dev Story equivalent for film. There’s a pretty sturdy, logical progression and expansion system that’s tied to in-game milestones. This gates your income for the most part (aside from investment) which keeps it all quite interesting and, well, there’s a great number of solid foundation stones here… it’s just what’s built on them at the moment that’s the problem.
Actors and staff exist in a pool with a set amount of talent, and once you sign an actor they don’t need to be scouted anymore (meaning you only need to send out a wide casting net and budget if you want to bring in new blood, and even then, you can hire the best in the game by doing this once). For the staff, who suffer from the same issue, you get the chance to bring in new staff as you expand your studio, however, they’re all as rubbish as when you hire your first, this means that if you want them to create competitive films you have to just simply feed them through more and more training, or have them churn out junk until they are up to speed. There is no ‘pilfering talent’ from other studios, which is a massive shame because you will start to recognise studio names and take mental notes of their names and movies over time.
There’s a Location, Props and Set system in the game, where you can hire crews to create props, assemble or upgrade sets and scout out locations. These are all useful things for your movies, however, they don’t receive the same level of feedback as the plot points you pick when creating a script, and they don’t get updated to indicate how effective they are with certain genres which is a missed opportunity. It’s also this section that crashed me straight through to the final debt level, taking me through two overdrafts/loans and into a full-buyout… this made me a bit trepidatious about exploring it until later on.
The thing is, I still really enjoyed playing it, watching the minutes and hours burn away. I’d put it on fast-forward and just click back to it between writing and editing articles. It was easy playing and I liked how there were lots of visible variables that played into it. It looks good too, even if the UI is cluttered and filled with (in my case) traps that won’t clear away. The tutorial onboarding is a bit odd too, and while characters can be levelled up, I had quickly maxed out all of my writers’ and directors’ abilities, which is why (I’m assuming) they had squares near their names with numbers in. I’m unsure though, because that was passed over by the explanations.
If you’re one of those people who gets more than a little frustrated by a game when it doesn’t do what you think it should, then you need to wait for Moviehouse. It’s not for you yet. Similarly, if you’re looking for a replacement The Movies then you shouldn’t look here, it’s much more hands of. But, for people who enjoyed stuff like Game Dev Story, and have experiences with betas and Early Access games, then you are probably more than safe to dive into Moviehouse as it stands.
Moviehouse is available now for Windows and Mac via Steam.