TV Manager 2
Niels Bauer is probably best known for his free-form space trading game series; “Smugglers”. I remember reviewing Smugglers 4 a couple of years ago and thinking that the interface was too menu-driven and business like for a space trading/combat simulation. TV Manager 2 is exactly what that same user interface is well adapted to. In my opinion it is a superior game to Smugglers 4 for that reason.
TV Manager 2 (TVM2) puts the player in the shoes of an executive producer of a fledgling TV station. Over a specified period of time the player must amass cash reserves through the sale of advertising space in the station. Using that cash they can buy rights to new broadcast areas, buy back initially issued bonds, buy stakes in competitors networks and most importantly, pay for licences to air movies, series, and live event broadcasts. Income is primarily gained through selling advertising rights during scheduled breaks in normal programming. If the player finds themselves in a short term cash flow situation, then additional bonds can be issued to raise capital as well. Keeping track of the finances - “The Big Picture” - is how the game is won. The premium edition of TVM2 which was reviewed contains a myriad of scenarios covering the USA, a few European countries, as well as one that features the entire EU. The length of the game can be fully customised as well, providing for games that can be played over an hour or so up to games that may take days of continuous play to resolve.
The overarching meta-achievement of guiding the station to success is rewarding enough, but the real joy of TVM2 comes from designing the day to day on-air schedule of the station. The game tracks various sub-groups of audience in each area of each large game map. Different programmes will generally appeal to different audience groups. Kids, teens, men, women, and seniors groups all have preferences for different types of shows. The more that you show programmes that one group enjoy, the higher your popularity will become, and the more loyal and forgiving the audience sub-group will be. Popularity can be lost as well as gained though, so the juggling act of cost to revenue in the programming, as well as trying to strike up a balance between satisfying the different audience groups is very engaging. It's not only the quality of programmes that are taken into account to determine audience numbers. Putting a lower quality show on directly after showing a blockbuster movie can often inflate ratings significantly past what would normally be expected, and entice viewer groups not normally attracted to that style of show. Chaining films of similar genre is a good tactic, but runs the risk of alienating some viewer groups. News programmes are free of royalties and can be shown at no cost to the network. This can provide some really good advertising potential when used in an appropriate timeslot, but the content does depend on what news is available on the day. There's a lot of strategy to be had, and lots of fun discovering what works, and what doesn't.
Some programmes can satisfy more than one viewer group. 5 star productions generally tend to keep everyone happy, increase ratings, popularity and loyalty, but cost an absolute fortune. All of the licensed programming material available in-game are hand crafted shows based on real world movies and TV shows. The names have been fudged for legal reasons, but it's not too hard to work out what, for example, the animated 10-part series 4 of “North Park”, featuring crude humour and satirical content, might be based on. The archive contains over 300 programmes, but only a few are available each day. If something good comes up the player can buy and stockpile the rights to it even if the schedule for that day is full. There are so many options available to customise your network by using combinations of different programming during the various timeslots in the day. Grooming the audience, seeing them grow over time and being able to anticipate how many of what type of viewers will be watching at any particular timeslot is paramount to the success of your advertisement campaign. And for a TV station mogul – ads equal money!
Advertisers specify how much exposure they want over a set amount of days. This is in terms of both minimum numbers of audience, and also how many slots they require. For example, an company producing sports gear might want 16 million viewers exposed to the ad over 24 times in 3 days. An ad contract for hair products might specify a certain number of female viewers, or an ad for toys might need to be targeted at kids. Do you design your TV station's programmes around your advertising requirements or do you try to find ad contracts that fit in with your typical audiences viewing patterns? Both are equally interesting strategies and are even interchangeable as the player sees fit. If a good advertising contract comes up but you already have your hands full, do you take it and try to squeeze things in? If the advertisers requirements are not met to 100% satisfaction then there is absolutely no payment at all. Wasting days on ads and then falling short by just 1 or 2 slots is heartbreaking.
Opposition comes in the form of AI. There can be up to 3 AI networks vying for ratings with you on each map. Initially though, all players start out in different areas of the map. As funds increase, expansion into other territories is inevitable and soon two or more networks will be competing for the attention of viewers in areas all over the map. There is only one difficulty level of the AI which I find to give a reasonably good challenge, though it doesn't seem to play the mid-game as well as a human player might (in terms of which areas to expand into). For those finding the AI too difficult, a mini-expansion pack is available that allows various bonus attributes to the player to make the game easier (this is included as standard in the premium edition of TVM2).
The interface is almost entirely mouse driven and consists of lots of click and dragging selections from one area of the screen to another. This action is slightly repetitive, but really necessary given the complexity of the running of the network. At the end of the planning stage, the player just sits back and watches a simple representative display of the days programming and audience numbers and reactions in real time. The graphics are simple and colourful, but there are no animations at all – not that cutting-edge graphics are really going to add much to a strategy title like this. Sounds and music do their job well. The background noise of the office is nicely immersive, and different genre of shows have accompanying ditties and tunes that just add a nice touch to an already good game. The premium edition also contains editors that are quite simple to use. The player can import their own ideas for advertisements and shows into the game. Simply by copying an existing ad or show, editing the details and then rewriting to the database in a different slot, user-created content is a snap to make, even for those with no programming knowledge at all.
TVM2 would nearly have been worthy of a Gold Star but, sadly, the game comes with a lot of bugs - too many to mention here in a review and most of which really should have been sorted out before release. The most annoying include live events that will not play in the specified time slot after I've just spent 150 million dollars on the licence to broadcast it. TV series that show the incorrect number of episodes, series that disappear after just one showing even though more were included in the licence, budget numbers pertaining to the player's station displaying incorrectly (though this seems to be a display bug only), advertisement contracts being cancelled before the stipulated number of days have elapsed, movies that don't disappear from my library after I have showed them, and more typographical and grammatical errors than you could shake a stick at. I understand that Niels' native language is German, and I could overlook a few errors in the English here and there, but the extent to which typos and/or localisation issues occur in TVM2 impacts on the overall polish of the product.
I'm not going to dwell on the bugs. TVM2 is a playable, enjoyable and addictive simulation. The range of strategy available and the extent to which you can customise your game is especially interesting to me. It has some fairly good replay value thanks to the wide range of maps and scenarios as well as the trend for two games not to pan out in the exact same way, although personal trends seem to permeate through to all my networks over time even if I make a concious decision to try something new. That in itself was an interesting discovery for me as well. The expansion pack, which adds the new programme material and new maps, is worth the extra $10, and if you buy the premium edition, the booster cards are thrown in as well for no extra charge.
PLEASE NOTE Although it is Bytten's policy to only review full and final versions, the developer provided us with a beta version of the game. The full game was subsequently released which includes program changes which may or many not have affected the review score.
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