Developer Andreas Heydeck has taken on the daunting task of simulating, in a fun way, one of the most mundane businesses thinkable–a calling center–and that’s exactly what he did. Smooth Operators combines the tower-building of SimTower with the classic lemonade stand formula, resulting in a surprisingly deep sim, albeit with some frustrations.
The game starts you off with just a reception area and a single client. You can expand your building either vertically or sideways in rectangular blocks, which are designated for operations, service, or office staff. There are also buildings for food, recreation, and sanitation, all of which are needed to keep your agents happy. As this is a calling center, your first priority is hiring people to make and receive calls, but soon, you’ll need to start hiring janitors and IT staff to keep your business functioning, and office staff to unlock upgrades or gain new clients.
These clients are the driving force in Smooth Operators. Every day you are offered a number of inbound calls, outbound calls, and back office items, each worth a variable amount of money. If you meet a certain quota, you get a bonus; if not, you lose money. You can view a real-time report at any moment that shows your current progress for the day, including all income and expenses, and the end of the day report factors in the quota bonuses and transportation costs. Each client’s report can also be viewed individually, which is useful for determining which areas need a boost in workforce.
There are also detailed statistics on your employees. A list of every currently employed worker can be pulled up that shows their name, job, mood, and revenue, and viewing an individual worker shows even more detail. Everything is simulated and logged, including their length of employment, shift and lunch time, and salary. There is even a Roller Coaster Tycoon-style thoughts list for each employee detailing their contentment and woes.
“The coffee tastes like crap.”
Unfortunately, employees in Smooth Operators are not always an easy bunch to please. They cite reasons for quitting outside of your control and are often angered by problems that you can’t yet solve. At times, the game feels more like a harder version of The Sims than a call center simulation. The problem is that employees moods drop too easily and are too costly to fix. You can pull up a list of each worker’s thoughts, but their complaints can’t always be solved. The elevator is too slow, but you can’t do anything about that until you hire Project Managers and wait several days for them to unlock the first upgrade–if you can afford it. Features like coaches and decorations supposedly work towards improving morale, but when you have dozens of employees to keep track of, it’s nearly impossible to know how much they are actually helping.
There are some quick fixes to mood, but they come at a cost. A vacation will give a worker three days leave and return him in a perfect mood, but three days can be a long time in Smooth Operators when you are trying to stay in the black and have ten workers on the brink of retirement. A decent raise will improve an employee’s mood drastically the next day, but eventually, the costs add up. After one play session in which I managed to stabilize my workforce, handing out raises liberally and replacing the few that quit, I realized that I had worked through seven days and made no progress. I hadn’t purchased any buildings, increased my revenue stream, or gained any new clients. I spent the entire time trying to keep my dudes from quitting. I hope conditions in real-life call centers aren’t this bad.
One thing worth mentioning is the option to use cheat codes that can be found on Heydeck Games‘ website. They provide you with money, upgrades, and the ability to reset moods, among other things. I briefly tried the million-dollar cheat code, and it was pretty fun to blow through the money. I could actually focus on gaining new clients and building a massive tower rather than spending all my money trying to keep my agents happy. Of course, this takes all of the economic challenges out of the game, but if you’re the type of player who cheated in The Sims just to build houses and perfect your Sim, this might be the most fun way to play.
Smooth Operators was previously released for Xbox 360 and PC, and it makes a fine transition to iOS with the help of publisher BulkyPix. It is perfectly suited to playing on the go, as you can quickly load up a calling center, speed through a day or two, and save at any time. It’s also engaging enough to get into for longer periods; getting absorbed in the game for an hour or two is just as likely as playing in five minute spurts. The port is not without its issues; I played on an iPhone 4S, and even with small-for-a-man hands, found some of the sliders and menu options impossibly small to grab. More than once I tapped the wrong button, and due to a glitch, ended up paying for the wrong building type at a time when I could only afford the one.
These issues are small in the grand scheme of things, though. After getting a feel for the mechanics and getting your center stabilized, managing employees does become easier, and you can focus on the positive aspects of the game, and those are many if you have a thing for micromanagement. Smooth Operators is pure addiction. For a mobile game, there is incredible depth to the simulation. Everything can be upgraded, from the buildings to transportation, and your center can be built to a staggering 40 stories. Employees can even be educated to operate more efficiently. Managing everything from clients, office layout, revenue streams, and employee ratios is a blast, and makes for a game that is hard to put down.
For $2.99 and with no in-app purchases to set you back, Smooth Operators is well worth your money. Despite its small frustrations, it is a deep, addictive sim that makes telemarketing almost seem desirable.
This review is based on a retail copy of the iOS version of Smooth Operators: Call Center Chaos developed by Andreas Heydeck
- Deep, Engaging Gameplay
- No In-App Purchases
- Tedious Mood Management