Jetpack Joyride ruined free casual games for me. Beautiful, fun, free-to-play and totally addictive. I can’t begin to count the number of hours lost to that little diversion. But I can count the number of dollars: zero.
Fair trade, right? I spent nothing and received lots of entertainment. Yet it didn’t feel that way. I felt like I had wasted my time and had nothing to show for it. Well, maybe a golden jetpack or whatever, but nothing I could point to and count as progress. In SimCity you build a city. In games like Halo or Mario you’ve progressed in locations and difficulty. The bottom line is that something’s different about your game near the beginning compared to the end.
In games like Jetpack Joyride there’s nothing different except what items you’ve bought from the store. You’re always the same guy running through randomized levels starting in a research facility. While each level isn’t exactly the same they feel similar after a while. You don’t even get the satisfication of grinding different levels in games like Death Rally. In obstacle placement, background, and powerup variety the game offers tons of diversity, but it felt hollow.
That’s what has kept me from gems like Tiny Tower. But after the media blitz I decided to give Tiny Death Star a try. The tone of the game is wonderful, self-aware and irreverent. You play as Darth Vader (I suppose), funding the construction of the Death Star by adding levels of shopping, retail stores, and karaoke bars. Oh, and some evil Empire stuff below the surface if you’ve got the time. The monetization strategy is sound and unobtrusive, and unlike Jetpack Joyride, you’ll have something to show for it when you’re finished. The residents of Alderaan will have nothing to show.
Something else struck me as I manually took every character to their desired floor: these games are about making people happy. Give your residents their dream job. Dress them up in cute costumes. Do the Emperor’s bidding. Seeing the gaping goldfish mouths of your giddy residents creates real joy.
Much better than the thousands of jetpack researchers I machine gunned to death.