Your uncle Irving has died and left you his movie studio! The catch? It's failing terribly. You'll need to use all of your tycoon business skills to bring Tinseltown Studio back to its former glory, or else it's bankruptcy for old uncle Irving's legacy.
As the new head of the studio in this tycoon-style game, you'll be in charge of everything from scripts to sets. You'll start off building cheap, poor buildings full of shoddy workers and then build expansions to improve their quality as the game goes on. The object of the game is to make films by matching actors to scripts and rolling tape in the hopes of striking box office gold. You'll earn more money by matching the right kinds of actors to the right kinds of scripts, which is where the bulk of the gameplay in Hollywood Tycoon truly lies.
Every script and actor has a score in each of four categories; drama, romance, comedy and action. If your script has 4 stars in comedy and romance, but only one in action and two in drama, you'll want to find an actor with strong comedy and romance scores. Stick the right types of actors in the right types of films (ie match categories) and increase the overall quality of the film, raising profits.
There's also a gambling element to Hollywood Tycoon that will help keep you on your toes once you get used to the busy business of film production. Each completed film will provide you with the opportunity to check the reviews it's received. If you choose to do this you'll activate a slot machine mini-game that gives thumbs up and thumbs down. Earn more thumbs up than down and you'll get a bonus. Get more down than up and you'll lose money. It's risky, but the right click can turn a financially terrible production into a veritable gold mine (and vice versa) should lady luck smile on you.
Like a real studio head, you're going to need to decide whether or not to focus on blockbuster productions or smaller indie films. Pour all your money into a pricey script and A-list actors and you might not be able to utilize all of your sets until the film pays off. Put small flicks in each set with low budgets and you might not see much of a return. There's a great deal of financial balancing in the game, and if you have the patience and the eyes of a hawk you can snag the right actors for the roles at some reasonable prices.
The game also features something of a storyline, which you'll unlock as you reach certain career milestones. Usually these are connected to the number of buildings you've constructed or the amount of money you've earned, as well as the number of achievements you've unlocked. Achievements are a fairly straightforward affair, and usually result from selecting the right combination of script and building. Unfortunately not everything in Hollywood Tycoon is so straightforward.
Selecting actors and scripts, which is so central to the overall gameplay, is the one area that really needs to see some improvement. Rather than viewing a list of possible candidates, the available actors and scripts move on an automatic scroll at the top of the screen. You'll only be able to select someone when they're visible on the scroll and you can't see the scoring details for each unless you select them. The intention for this seems to be to force you to choose between patiently waiting for the right people or quickly banging out productions, which we can appreciate, but it just feels less organized than it should.
This is also the only part of the game that seems to have any social elements. Friends will occasionally appear as possible actor choices. Beyond that, there's nothing. No trading of scripts or actors, no scoreboard to compare your accomplishments to your friends – nothing. While the game stands on its own in terms of fun, Facebook seems like an odd place to house it with so few social elements – especially coming from a developer named Social Games Universe. Playing well earns you cash for your character in the developers other game Avastar, but channelling funds from one game to another feels less like a social aspect of the game and more like clever advertising.
The game offers a great deal of content for those who prefer to keep their wallets in their pockets while gaming on Facebook, but there is also a good deal of content in Hollywood Tycoon that requires you to purchase their in-game currency with real world funds. “Star Gold,” as they call it, costs 10 cents apiece and is sold in increments of 50. So you'll spend $5 for 50 Star Gold, $10 for 100 Star Gold and so on. The in-game purchases don't cost too much – new buildings cost 5, new sets cost 10 – but it's the way the content is sold that gets a little aggravating.
We totally understand the need to sell in-game goods, but there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The right way is to sell items that enhance the experience. The wrong way is to items that should already be a part of the game. If you want to purchase the final upgrades for the writers room or the actors trailers, you'll need to use Star Gold. This means you can't access the highest dollar actors or scripts, thereby putting an artificial ceiling on your experience. It's a bit of a letdown, especially when you get a dozen or so “years” into the experience and realize that there's very little room to improve on things from that point forward.
Less than perfect virtual shopping issues aside, Hollywood Tycoon provides a fun, fast-paced tycoon experience for Facebook gamers. We would have liked to have seen more social aspects come into play, but being a solitary experience doesn't necessarily make it a bad one. While the game isn't perfect, there's definitely enough here to make a solid dent in your afternoon. Tycoon fans take notice – Facebook may be the next great platform for this popular genre to conquer.