Festival Tycoon Preview – Tricky festivals with tricky customers

Posted on October 11, 2021

Festival Tycoon is a tycoon game developed by Dreihaus Studio and published by Future Friends Games. As the title suggests, Festival Tycoon sees you setting up and managing all aspects of a music festival. You’ll do everything from setting up portaloos, tents, and stages, to making deals with sponsors, and more. Playing as the festival manager, you’ll have to book bands and fulfill their unique whims and wishes, keep sponsors happy, and make sure your festivalgoers are entertained at all times. The game comes with a career mode and a sandbox mode.

Visually, I loved the colourful environment in Festival Tycoon. The game’s graphics are presented in a cute low-poly voxel style, and its bright colours made me want to dive straight in. Everything from the stages to the food and drink stalls are rendered in great detail and add to the immersion when you see your festival come to life. The festival grounds vary in size from playthrough to playthrough. In career mode, there are easy, medium, and advanced scenarios, allowing players to either familiarise themselves with the game at a gentle pace or jump straight in the deep end. I opted to start with a smaller festival taking place on a patch of land in Wales. Once I started the game, I was prompted by several tutorial tool tips to build all the essentials in order to expand my festival.

Organisationally speaking, I was surprised by the level of complexity that Festival Tycoon hides beneath the surface. At first glance, the game presents a sleek and digestible interface. The game comes with a build mode and a live mode. In build mode, you’ll be able to place buildings, book bands, and strike deals with sponsors. Sponsors will be one of the first things you’ll need to book as this will top up your budget. The number of sponsors you can unlock will depend on your rating. This rating is a number cobbled together from several stats including your music rating, the number of tickets sold, and more. While you start the game with only two sponsor slots, you’ll be able to unlock more sponsor slots by increasing your overall rating.

Sponsors have a set number of ‘sponsor points’ you’ll have to fulfill, and, at times, sponsors have specific requests as well. While sponsor points can be fulfilled by placing branded items on your festival site like billboards, signs, and ATMs, the requests can be trickier. Sometimes, certain sponsors will want you to book specific bands — no matter whether they’re incredibly popular or absolute garbage — while others will ask you for a certain number or tickets or not to partner with rival bands.

Bands come with certain requests as well. To book bands, Festival Tycoon lets you use a band browser with bands sorted by genre, popularity rating, stage size, and more. Each band comes with two requests, which can include things like having a certain overall festival rating or popularity rate, excluding bands of a certain genre, and having certain facilities like a greenroom, a backstage RV, or a make-up trailer. Booking bands without fulfilling both requests can get you in trouble when your festival starts; bands might complain, come onstage late, or not play at all.

“…a bit of a mixed experience, but a promising one nonetheless.”

Once you’ve booked enough bands and fulfilled all their requests, you’ll have to assign them to a stage. Some bands might not want to play before a particular hour, while others might not be popular enough to play at the most popular times, so you’ll have to do a bit of Tetris-ing to get everything right. If you program too many bands of different genres, for example, your music rating will drop, which, in turn, will affect your festival rating. If you book too many bands with a low popularity rating, your festivalgoers might get bored and leave. But if you want to book legendary bands, you’ll have to have to cash and the appropriately sized stage for them to play on.

While a lot of aspects of the game’s UI look smooth, there are a few bumps beneath the surface that make the gameplay experience a tad cumbersome. When scheduling bands, for example, you browse through bands in one window and schedule bands in another. Considering that some bands and sponsors come with specific requirements about timeslots or genres, there’s no clear and easy way to compare band and sponsor demands in a dedicated menu. I often found myself booking more bands than I needed or booking bands that then clashed with others that I had booked an hour earlier and had completely forgotten about. Added to this, you can’t cancel band bookings once you’ve paid their fee. This was particularly frustrating when I was completing the game’s tutorial and I got to a specific ‘schedule all bands’ prompt. Even though I’d scheduled bands in all available slots on my stage, the tutorial prompt wouldn’t complete as long as I still had booked bands that weren’t assigned to a stage. Since I wasn’t able to cancel them, I had to complete the tutorial in another game to fulfill the particular prompt.

In addition to this, you’ll only be able to kick off your festival once you exit build mode, and, once you’ve started your festival, you won’t be able to return to build mode at all. This turned out to be frustrating, especially since I found that festivalgoers entered the grounds from random corners on the map that weren’t marked in build mode. As a result, my festivalgoers would often enter the festival behind the stage, only to walk around the entrance and re-enter the festival grounds again. After tons of careful planning, this was incredibly frustrating and made my festivalgoers grumpy too, so I ended up just switching to sandbox mode as a result.

This is a shame because once your festival starts, things get much more interesting. You’ll have to hire staff to keep things clean, have security to make sure everyone is safe, and have food and drink stalls manned by workers. If you don’t have enough staff on, you might not be able to welcome bands properly, sell food and drink, or fix clogged toilets and broken facilities. The gameplay during this part can be stressful, but it’s also fun to watch your attendees line up in front of the stage and rock out to the bands you’ve booked. The fact that band names are often ridiculous — since they’re randomly generated — only adds to the fun. I had bands with names like The Money Scheduling and The Pure Cyclists, to name a couple.

All in all, I found the current version of Festival Tycoon a bit of a mixed experience, but a promising one nonetheless. There are a lot of bugs and messy gameplay menus that could use some extra attention, but if these get addressed in the Early Access version, Festival Tycoon could be a fun game that’s equally as hectic as it is engrossing. I’m curious to see how the game will change in the coming months and will be following its development closely.

Festival Tycoon is available in Early Access on Steam now.