Ever heard of the phrase “time equals money”? Ever played a game that felt exactly like that? If you are one of the few that holds an iOS device, most likely you have downloaded a freebie game that barely passes as a tycoon business/Farmville clone/city management simulation game. These games, normally when done correctly, have a strategic element that doesn’t ruin the flow of the game. In most iOS games, however, “fun” isn’t the word to describe such games for the device; if anything “tedious” fit more appropriately and that isn’t a very popular word among games.
But what is it about these games that make them “tedious”? A few factors contribute to this boring mood, but the biggest deal breaker is the games abuse of time. Most iOS management simulations use the double currency mechanic that gamers hate with a passion. One is the normal in-game currency gained by doing normal activities. The other is the premium currency rarely gained in the game, but mostly easily bought with real money (known as the pay-wall). Nothing wrong with having two currencies save for the fact that almost all tycoon games put too many advantages on the premium currency. The premium can speed up building time in an instant, quicken activities to completion now, and buy exclusive items with better stats than any other item in the store. Don’t want to buy the premium currency? That’s cool too, but expect your gameplay to last a few more weeks. A pretty shady deal, but one that always works all the time.
Recently I’ve been playing The Simpson’s Tapped Out on the iPad. Unlike the first release, which included the ability to never save progress and randomly crash, the most recent update works more smoothly. However, it sustains a lot of the same characteristics as other tycoon games built for the iOS: it lacks character (another factor). “But wait,” you might say, “It’s the Simpsons.” Yes, it is. Yet the only real distinction between Tapped Out and any other iOS management simulation are the assets. The art, the voice overs, and the humor are all the Simpsons. The game, on the other hand, is like any other iOS Farmville freebie. I have to wait hours for the construction to finish, then assign jobs for the citizens until they decide the town needs to be bigger, then build another structure after the first one finishes, then collect money from the finished jobs and homes I just built, then assign more jobs, then plant stuff, then wait hours for the buildings to finish, then build another place, then wait, then… THAT’S NOT FUN!
Waiting is one of, if not THE, worst gameplay mechanic incorporated in any game. I want to play the game NOW, not wait five hours later for something to finish up then repeat the last action. That’s not a game. That’s called feeding the dog. Nothing says lazy game developer like the words “pay-wall” and “waiting” for a game. But that is becoming a very unfortunate trend nowadays.
Tapped Out isn’t the first iOS game to use an existing franchise as a selling point. Smurf’s Village and Snoopy’s Street Fair all use assets unique to the Smurf and Charlie Brown universe respectively and built a “basic” tycoon game around it. Because of the branding power, these games tend to be very popular among all management type games. Sadly, all three of them play too similar to each other and taint the overall gameplay with a pay-wall. Nothing is really unique between the three games when the core aspects of the games are examined. They’re all the same.
Not every iOS tycoon game abuses time like the formers. Tiny Tower, and to some extent Pocket Planes, somehow found a way to hold the gamers’ attention without sacrificing time or real money… at least in the beginning. Tiny Tower holds two currencies, but the premium currency is easily obtainable in game. A small change that makes the game slightly more enjoyable. But soon everything quickly escalates as progress is made. Construction for stores and apartments soon take much longer to build. Too long. The in-game currency accumulates, but it’s not enough to quicken the time gap. Everything from collecting rent to restocking stores becomes dull, uninteresting, and not at all what it was when you first played the game. It’s now a chore. Even having said that, the time factor wasn’t entirely NimbleBit’s fault and Tiny Tower at least tried something slightly different. Bonus points to NimbleBit for that.
If time equals money, then these game developers need to figure out how to earn my time with good gameplay. I like management games, but not when it disguises itself as a vending machine. A very lazy vending machine that gives me a half-assed product.