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Tiny Tower. Uninstalled.
by Jennifer Canada on 07/28/13 03:22:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


So after hearing good things about Tiny Tower, for well, years, and now that I have my own iPad, I decided to give it a try on Sunday morning. By yesterday evening, about 35 hrs later, I had 10 floors, 15 residents, and a physical tick that required picking up my iPad and restocking my businesses every 30 minutes...which maybe would have been acceptable if within the game there existed a single shred of fun. But there does not.  No fun.  As a hamster wheel/ pellet dispenser, Tiny Tower is mind-bogglingly effective.  I like to think I’m a hardened gamer, and I have personally deployed the strategies they’re using to build compulsion, and I still could not put it down and leave it down. But, as a game, it’s non-existent.  It is not a game.


Here’s why: games have choices and/or reactionary moments that affect outcomes. Tiny Tower is just a sequence of events that the player experiences faster or slower depending on how much they play or pay. Like its own visual metaphor, it’s just a ladder the player climbs.

And as a further elucidation: here are the moments of fun in the game in descending order, most fun first:

  1. Cashing in a wad of money to buy a new floor.
  2. Seeing what random business will appear after you select the type of business. (Wait 2 hours for construction.)
  3. Enjoying the outfits of the guests who visit your tower. (My best was some sort of Santa Claus King, and these outfits can be admittedly, pretty charming.)
  4. Using a VIP guest to get cash slightly more quickly for 20 seconds or so.
  5. Admiring your tower being tall and tower-y.

So yeah, no fun and no choices.

Ironically, I think Tiny Tower is more a testament to the power of inherent interest in games and the power of a player’s imagination in bringing a digital world to life, rather than its powers of compulsion. And in that dimension, NimbleBit made strong choices. I say this because I could almost pretend I was having fun. It did take me 35 hours to uninstall after all, even realizing after the 4th floor that there was no new gameplay incoming.

(Quick definition: inherent interest refers to our fascination with any topic we, as humans, automatically pay attention to, even if the use of the theme itself is not very good or well-handled.  Inherently interesting themes include such things as dragons, knife fights, puppies, etc.)

With regards to Tiny Tower, the inherent interest is being a mogul and creating a self-contained world and then ordering that world. Not a new theme in gaming, but always an effective one. And as to the power of the player’s imagination: even though the types of businesses had no effect on the (minimal) gameplay, I was way more invested in my game because I had a Mexican restaurant and an arcade, although I could’ve done without the bike shop. And although I think the working residents were almost always at work, knowing that they ‘lived and worked within the tower’ made them feel a little alive to me, all with basically zero AI outlay on the part of NimbleBits.

So, I’m glad I gave Tiny Tower a chance, and it has some valuable lessons for designers of casual games, but it and I are officially through. To its credit, I didn’t need to make microtransactions to keep playing. (Although it would have ‘relieved pain’ if I had paid, I didn’t feel completely hampered without paying.) It’s just tremendously disappointing to see how thin the gameplay is. Btw, I should probably say player actions instead of gameplay, because again, not a game. Habit.

As a designer, I think we often see the mechanics that could have been and here I see a vast possibility-scape, completely unexplored.  I certainly imagined a much deeper game, whenever friends told me how ‘fun’ it is. Yet, if the measure of a casual title is whether it spawns a Zynga clone, then Tiny Tower has succeeded. So, now the search begins to find a Tower game done well.  I think I’ll pass on Dream Heights, though. 

P.S. Have any of you played a well-designed Tower/builder game? Or does Tiny Tower get better after floor 10? Or have you tried other mobile games that felt like climbing a ladder, no choices and no fun?

- Jennifer Canada

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Darren Tomlyn
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Calling every piece of software that isn't productive a 'game' is currently a problem.

There are a few words we can use to describe different and similar things/activities/behaviour:

Game, art, puzzle, competition, work and play/tool and toy.

Unfortunately, because these are not fully recognised for what they are used to represent - especially in relation to each other, (and the rest of the language as a whole) - understanding what they are in 'isolation' and how best to apply them for what they are, is greatly affected. (Confusing different activities/behaviour because of the medium used to enable them (a computer) is simply inconsistent with the rules of (at least the English) language, itself.)

(The most suitable label for Tiny Tower, based upon the OP's description would probably be puzzle:

Puzzle n. Interaction with a creative story being told, through power of choice, discovery or inquiry, (or interaction with a story being told in order to solve a 'difficult problem').

Though a competition might also be suitable?:

Competition n. 3. An activity in which people compete to be told a story (of whether they've won or lost).

Jennifer Canada
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Great point! It seems like as an industry, we're very limited on our jargon to refer to things that are 'almost' games. I hate to go to the catch-all of 'interactive experience' because it's so broad that it says nothing. 'Puzzle', 'toy', or maybe 'theme park' is a possibility here?

Dan Johnson
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I'd say "toy" is the perfect description. No actual purpose, but fun and engaging.

But you grow out of toys after a while. My Tiny Tower experience was a lot like yours, Jennifer, except you got out sooner. x-: I found the next tier of player actions: min-maxing your little people to get all high-scoring tenants working their ideal jobs. Residential floors are "full" at 4 tenants (because you always want a place to put the new worker), and if someone comes along who's better at a job than a current tenant/employee, HIT THE ROAD, KID!

John Hesch
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I'm not sure if there's a digital equivalent for this, but I tend to think of these sorts of "games" as a digital fish tank.

You can choose the color of the pebbles; choose whether the tank has a treasure chest, sunken ship, or fake plant; choose the type of fish. Every day, you spend a bit of time feeding the fish. Every week, you clean the tank. As long as you keep doing these things, the fish keep swimming around and you can watch them.


Jennifer Canada
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That's an excellent analogy! I'm going to start using that!

Gary LaRochelle
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I've always thought of these games (Farmville, Tiny Tower etc.) more like "Dollhouses".
No game play (no consequences), just show.

With a fish tank your fish can die and then your interaction is basically over with. With Dollhouse "games" it's just show and wait to buy the next tea set. If you ignore your Dollhouse, it will still be there months later just as you left it.

Jennifer Canada
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Another great term! And I definitely feel that 'dollhouses' can be plenty engaging, but it's misleading to promote them as 'games'. Even before I start picking something I'm playing apart to critique it and figure out what they're doing, when it's not a 'game' proper I almost instantly start craving increased interactivity and choices. Ironically, that craving, for a time at least, makes it more likely that I'll come back and play again, because I'm trying to scratch that itch.

Harold Li
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I'm assuming you have recently downloaded it? (I think it was only within the last few versions were you able to selectively choose the floor you build) Because as someone who's had the game sitting on my device in it's early days, I've always wondered whether this new feature reduces the "surprise of discovery" of what the next new floor was.

When Tiny Tower first came out, I had the same feeling you stumbled upon: there wasn't really any "game", as my choices were really "choose to upgrade floor type", "choose to move and place people", and "stock". But I couldn't stop checking my phone every so often, because it was a slow treadmill that eventually promised "something new", and this trick always works, because behind every "new" unlock, lies another OCD thing that I must own.

It really isn't a game, but I think that was the "game"'s strength: simple input control, low requirements of player decision, high level of player feedback (continuous barrage of coin sounds, using notifications to remind player of game). Once a "user" buys into these feedback, it's becomes a habit that is hard to shake off. By extension (and in contrast), NimbleBit's two more recent games, Pocket Planes and NimbleQuest, hasn't made much of an impact despite offering "more game". It's kind of weird to see how that regression happened.

As an aside, if you're looking for an actual meaty "Tower", look for YootTower on the iPad, which is essentially SimTower's sequel.

Jennifer Canada
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Btw, checked out your podcast, very cool!

Harold Li
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Jennifer Canada
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Hi Harold,

Yes, it was recent. About a month ago now, I think. You're absolutely right! Tiny Tower is completely wrapped up in the meta-language of a 'game'. And those parts are done well! I would desperately love to see what NimbleBit could do if they focused on 'game' first and all the wrapping second. I will say that, when I look around, this seems to often be an issue that rears its head in studios that start with a artist, a programmer, and no designer. Not to say a generic designer always avoids problems or bad design, but they tend not to 'forget' to add gameplay.

And thank you for the YootTower recommendation. I will absolutely try that out!

Harold Li
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Sometimes it's hard for small teams to make sure all the checkboxes are filled in, and it's hard to say whether having more "game" in Tiny Towers helps or hurts it. But I think Tiny Tower is a great testimate to the powers of positive player feedback, and how that can make something that isn't much of a game into something that feels "gamey" for people to be hooked on.

Eric Pobirs
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It sounds very similar to my experience with EA's 'The Simpsons: Tapped Out.' It's essentially a Simpsons themed SimCity, where you have to recreate Springfield from scratch after Homer accidentally wipes it out.

There is a lot of amusing animation and sounds, like Homer complaining about having to put in a shift at work about the nuclear power plant has be built or wishing this was a shooter game when given an assignment. There is fun, I suppose, for the creative sorts with the layout choices and decorative items that can be applied but I fear I lack much ability in that area. A civil engineer would despair at the Springfield I've made so far.

But I keep doing it. So far, I haven't succumbed to the option of spending real money to buy donuts in the game that let you acquire special items that increase payouts or accelerate an event like building construction. They apparently expect some people to really fall in deep on this one. At the upper limit, you can spend $99.99 for 'A Boatload of 2400 Donuts.' This works out to less than half the price per donuts than the smallest quantity (60 at $4.99) but I hope that this indulgence isn't being taken up by someone who can ill afford it.

There isn't any game here, really. Just a Simpsons simulation toy. But it is addictive and I bet they're selling some donuts here and there.

Eric Pobirs
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Now that I think about it, a good portion of that Simpsons game could easily be adapted as a prostitution simulator, with the player as pimp! Much of the game revolves around making sure you collect earning as quickly at they come in (if you go nine hours without checking in and a building produces money and XP every three hours, you've lost two cycles of earnings from that building) and making sure every character is constantly executing some task. If a task takes four hours and you don't check in for eight, the character is idle for four hours.

So I'm not happy if my characters aren't always earning. And realized that this sounds an awful lot like some pimp character in a movie or TV show. Great. I'm a pimp to little yellow pixel people.

Jennifer Canada
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Maria Jayne
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Fun is subjective, that very fact is what makes game development so haphazard at times. You can't design fun, you can only create opportunities where the player might have it. While I agree such a passive game has all the appeal to me of "Cow Clicker" I still see it as a way of having fun.

If you think about the subset of an audience that doesn't have time to play games, simply isn't very good at them or doesn't want to spend time to learn how to play them, something simple, with minimal interaction which can still provide distraction on the bus ride to work, train journey home or 15min break time, is attractive.

You have an audience that wants to do something which they feel they are responsible for growing and maintaining, with the minimum of interaction. They want to be part of the "gaming crowd" but on their terms. A game which mostly automates itself and occasionally asks for your input can be a momentary distraction but give you satisfaction at its progress.

Think of a pot plant, you water it, you might even get some lovely flowers on it, but really it does nothing. It just sits there. Growing slowly and providing minimum interaction, people still like to have pot plants.

The desire to nurture and grow something which takes a while unyet could not survive without your care, is much like the once massive fad of Tamogochi electronic pets, when I was younger. I remember stories of kids begging their parents to remember to feed them while they were away or they might die.

I can't really argue it's a game, but it is fun for somebody, just not in the way you might perceive fun. Another analogy are pets, are you a cat or a dog person? People who like dogs have to devote a significant amount of time to them. People who like cats generally just let them wander about on their own and occasionally feed them. They are both pets but what fun or enjoyment you get out of them is very dependent on what you want from them.

Jennifer Canada
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Hi Maria,

Thanks for your thoughts. Your post made me realize I did a poor job of clarifying that I do think non-games can be 'fun'. And I think all your points are correct. (Although I would personally be pretty sad to have my 'game' compared to a potted plant!) =P

Are you familiar with Nicole Lazzaro's 4 types of fun? (here: Most mobile games fall in the 'people' fun and 'easy' fun categories. Angry Birds is definitely easy fun, with a hint of 'hard' fun, i.e. challenge.

For something like TT, I feel like it's probably extra easy 'easy' fun. What do you think?

Maria Jayne
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Hi Jennifer,

I think based on my limited knowledge of this game I would agree, it serves more as "easy fun" and curiosity. Like having an ant farm I suppose. Thanks for the link, I hadn't read it before.

As for the pot plant...I promise I was thinking of only the prettiest of potted plants! ;)

I was considering ways you could increase the complexity of TT, I wonder though, the methods you could use to increase that complexity and perhaps engage the player more, would that have a positive or negative effect on the current audience? Would be an interesting experiment!

Rich Woods
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My thoughts are that what you are seeing very explicitly in Tiny Tower are the same dynamics that exist in the majority of modern computer games. First person shooters follow a linear story with very little real choice, just dopamine releasing "powerup" moments to keep the player hooked. The same is true of most adventure games, sports games, casual games and even good old fashioned platformers.

The only thing that makes those games "more of a game" then a game such as Tiny Tower is the addition of the extra component of needing the player to complete tasks which require some skill. Even then the skill requirement is usually somewhat illusory with games designed so that 90% of players can complete them.

I don't think it's really fair to question if Tiny Towers deserves the title of "game". Gaming is now such a broad church that it is just as varied as film, music or literature in terms of the productions that can be classified as a game.

Jennifer Canada
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This point, I'm going to have to disagree with.

Regardless of whether an FPS has constrained story choices, the gameplay choices make it very solidly a game, i.e. where to aim, when to fire, which gun to use; which target to attack first; whether to buy or search for or horde ammo; whether to take cover or stealth around or run in guns blazing, which abilities to upgrade, etc. And the same defense can be extended to all the other genres you mention (with the exception of casual, which is too broad to accept gameplay generalizations.)

And if we're comparing TT against 'modern computer games' of the type you highlight, we're then stacking up constrained story choices against no story at all. So TT does still come in light. But to be fair, story doesn't enter into an examination of whether an experience is a game or not, unless maybe we're discussing text adventures.

I will admit that it always drives me a bit crazy when someone claims a 'question isn't fair'. To be a game designer or a game developer of any type, our job necessitates a willingness to study, challenge, and occasionally dismantle the underlying assumptions of our medium. And that can only happen when we decide that asking every question about games is fair.

Bryce Maryott
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There are a series of these on the iPad and on Facebook. On Facebook it's the Farmville family/style of things. In the Apple app store there are a series of "Tiny [whatever]" where it's not a GAME or a SIMULATION, it's basically a more involved Tamagotchi.

It's not that they aren't entertainment, it's that they're not GAMES.

Jennifer Canada
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Absolutely! And like all forms of entertainment, it's a question of pleasing your audience. And a lot of people spend time and money on Tiny Tower, so they've got an audience.

I think the reason TT is notable to me, and why I did find it disappointing, is that I love, love, love simulation games, and based on theming this is exactly the type of experience that I usually fall hard for. But with Tiny Tower, there's just not enough for me to do to keep me coming back! So, clearly, I'm not the audience. For a game designer, TT feels like it is shouting at me about missed opportunities. But, from a business-side perspective, it's a slam dunk, because addictive playing means more money.

A big question is, would more gameplay and choice make TT more addictive or less... I hope more (of course!), but adding choice also can get in the way of an addictive loop... If I had a spare year and a half to devote to another thesis, I would love to really dig into that question.

Rick Kolesar
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It is a modern day ant farm; not really a toy but enjoyable/relaxing to watch (for some).

Robert Marney
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I finished Tiny Tower (no more floors to construct, all citizens in their dream job at 100% effectiveness) and yeah, it's more of a dollhouse or a toy box than a traditional game. The game gets significantly better as it goes along, because you can upgrade your businesses to ask for your help less frequently, to the point where I was at maximum production speed while "playing" once or twice per day. It's the initial slog that really turns people off.

Jennifer Canada
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That's impressive! How long did that take you? And how many floors did you have? It's always interesting to get a sense of the full life cycle of this type of experience.

Dan Jones
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Just because you're out of new floors to construct doesn't necessarily mean you're out. ;)

At the time I stopped playing, I'd run out of new businesses and residences to construct at 177, but that didn't stop me from continuing to "play" until I had 220 floors total. I'm pretty sure I managed to quit before getting my last few dream-jobbers in, but I'd say probably around 95% are in their dream jobs. I'm also sitting on around 26 million coins and more than 800 bux, or whatever they're called. I, uh, may have had a problem. But I've been Tiny Tower Sober for at least six months!

Anyway, I just launched the app to verify those numbers, and now I must resist the urge to continue where I left off. Thanks a lot, Jennifer Canada! Look what you've done!

Jennifer Canada
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Hahahaha, oh no Dan! The first sign of healing is acknowledgement! =P But, wow! That is truly an amazing amount of dedication! And I know about game addictions! For me the two games that I keep getting drawn back into are any iteration of Zoo Tycoon and a wonderful city builder from back in 2002 called Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom.

Robert Green
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Tiny Tower, and its ilk, make a lot more sense in the context of being a hobby rather than a game. To the mass-market of iphone/ipad owning people who're not traditionally gamers, not only is challenge unnecessary, it may not even be preferable.
Obviously, if you're used to thinking about and designing games primarily in terms of the game mechanics that the player must learn and master to progress, this requires quite a change of mindset. I wrote more about it recently here:

Jennifer Canada
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Hi Robert,

Thanks so much for pointing me to your post. That was an excellent read. (And I scoped out the great one from Daniel Cook that you recommended.) And it did give me an additional lens to view TT through. Considering it from the point of view of creating a hobby TT is very well-designed. And I hope I adequately conveyed in my post areas in TT that I felt were cleverly done. I would say that, in my opinion, TT is still not within the category of 'game' design, but NB is certainly taking a tricky problem and trying to solve it in creative ways. And in terms of addictiveness, clearly succeeding.

I am currently working on some casual-leaning prototypes myself and about to go into production on one of them. I'm definitely aiming more 'game' than 'hobby', but I do hope to have a decent player lifetime, so I think I will add the lens of 'hobby' to my design process. Thank you for the great insight!

Joshua Dallman
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You need to incorporate more states of play into your game and stop segmenting what you don't understand as not belonging to your art form. Tiny Tower is a game, it's just one you don't understand.

These are all games:

* Bejewelled (endless mode with no win/loss state):

* Flow ("I think the point is that there is no point" - Player):

* CarnEvil (on-rails arcade shooter, "pay" to progress):

* Little Computer People (person is autonomous):

* The Sandbox (play with physics sand-pixels):

These games all lack significant "choices and/or reactionary moments that affect outcomes" yet that is a very constricted definition of games - one too constricted for this designer. I like to play, so I'm not going to define play so narrowly.

You're also only looking at the inability to affect the final outcome, not the moment to moment outcome. Social and especially mobile are very instant gratification oriented. The longer meta-game arc doesn't always matter as much if the moment-to-moment is fun and continues to build. The elevator timing "mini-game" within Tiny Tower is as much a "game" as the full featured "Doodle Jump" but wrapped within a different meta-game context. Ironically that wrapping is deeper thematically than Doodle Jump, yet if the same mechanic were designed with the shallowness of Doodle Jump (an arcade style game instead of virtual world sim builder) than there would be no question on your part if it was a game, it just wouldn't hold interest for wider critique.

Props to NimbleBit for designing a brilliant game.

Jennifer Canada
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Hi Joshua,

Thanks for reading. I did want to clarify, that with this post I'm tackling the definition of 'game', not 'play'. A person can 'play' with a toy or even a blade of grass, but that doesn't make my yard clippings a game. And I do think it is perfectly fair to call Tiny Tower a 'toy'.

In the post, I was referring to the player's inability to affect even moment-to-moment outcomes in TT. Actually, that is my main complaint. To me, the game was a cycle of click-to-earn money, recycle that money to fund next step on the game's ladder, rinse, repeat. Apologies if that didn't come through. I also disagree that the elevator within TT is a mini-game. You either deliver someone to their floor or you don't do it. (You mention a timing element, but all the guides I've found online say that the 'bux' tipping is random. And my own experience, since I often got tipped a bux even for poorly executed elevator drop-offs.) I feel that as a mechanic, it's like asking someone to stand up, and then when they do it, handing them a dollar and telling them they just played a game. I don’t think it can be compared to Doodle Jump, which is a proper platformer, aka a long string of reactionary moments.

I do agree with you that Bejewelled and Doodle Jump are proper games, applying the metrics I consider defining elements. (I'll pass on the others, since I'm less familiar with those.) But I did want to point out that the addition of the word 'significant' in front of choices, was your addition. I specifically left that word out, because games like Bejewelled do have choice enough to solidly place them as a game. I also specifically left out the word 'final' before outcomes, because I didn't intend it to be part of the definition. I do mean all outcomes, moment-to-moment and/or final.

As designers, it certainly behooves us to understand 'toy' design elements and habit-forming elements, because adding them into games can go along way towards increasing player lifetime. And Tiny Tower does some really clever and successful work on that front. Which that one, at least, I think we agree on! So I'm glad we are able to have a discussion about it. Thanks, Joshua!

Joshua Dallman
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Thanks for the thoughtful reply. To clarify I am defending Tiny Tower defined as a game. I find it insulting as a designer of games like Tiny Tower to be called what I do not game design but toy design. I do not design toys, do not study toy design, have never done so, never will do so, am not part of the toy industry. What I design are games, you can call them potatoes if you want but millions of game players are playing loving and sharing them as games.

This is an awful lot of game strategy for something you are calling a toy:

I submit that a toy cannot have strategy - therefore Tiny Tower, having strategy, is a game and not a toy. If you aren't seeing the game or the strategy, that has more to do with your perspective than what's there.

The elevator mechanic I describe as a game or mini-game is substantiated here but cannot be confirmed without looking at code:

"I can confirm that accuracy DOES affect tips. I've been doing this for ages, and I've managed to become pretty accurate. I get tips around 60% of the time I'm accurate so yeah... I think it does affect. Otherwise, Idk how I'm getting so many tips LOL. After I upgraded my elevator I never got tips anymore cos its harder to be accurate when the elevator is uuber fast"
- from

In the end, it doesn't matter if this bonus game exists in code or in players' imagination and in the community - just like the original Sim City, there was perceived emergent complexity that didn't really exist, that brought the game to life for players.

You say, "To me, the game was a cycle of click-to-earn money, recycle that money to fund next step on the game's ladder, rinse, repeat." That is an exact description of The Sims, which at 20m copies is the best-selling PC game of all time, by a brilliant game (not toy) designer.

How does your logic apply to board games? Is the Game of Life a misnomer and should be labeled the Toy of Life? All you do is spin a wheel and move spaces with few significant choices. Yet I would argue you have manifold more choice in Tiny Tower than in the Game of Life, again hence the strategy guide.

You write, "games like Bejewelled do have choice enough to solidly place them as a game," yet in endless mode progress can be made by randomly clicking to score - how is that a game and not a toy by your definition? I bring this example up specifically, because when Bejewelled with endless mode was introduced, there was a backlash from game designers proudly declaring it "not a game."

Like fiction or drama, it is the interaction with the player and the player's imagination that creates the game. The endless mode Bejeweled player (or Tiny Tower player) makes the game by their intention, willingness to play, and suspension of disbelief. For various reasons your 4th wall with Tiny Tower was broken, and you were disappointed and wanted them to do better. You're a designer, I get that. But calling it not a game is a denouncement not an academic investigation and NimbleBit deserves better.

Robert Green
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I don't want to speak for Jennifer, but I'd like to make some points regarding your claims.
Tiny Tower may have strategies, but notice the title of the link you provided - they're strategies for maximising efficiency, not strategies for winning. Similarly, there are many strategies for maximising the efficiency of your cardio workout or your morning commute, but that alone doesn't make them games. In all cases, you may be heading towards the same end-point, just at different speeds. It's entirely possible that this is enough to be considered a game, I don't pretend either to be an authority on this or that there is consensus, though I would say that I'd be quite surprised if the people playing it are thinking "all I'm doing here is optimising the speed at which this loop repeats".

I would also absolutely agree that the logic being discussed here would make The Sims a toy or hobby rather than a game in the traditional sense. The fact that it is the best-selling PC game ever does not dispute this, it merely reflects what the current iOS market would suggest - that toy/hobby players are in fact that majority of the market.

Citing The Game of Life is also an extreme example, precisely because it contains so little player choice. As an avid boardgamer, I would be perfectly happy to see such things considered as toys that present themselves as board games. The overwhelming majority of board games though do not fit this description, and the ones that do are typically aimed at the very young who are assumed to prefer randomness over strategy.

Jennifer Canada
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Thanks, Robert! Yes, I'm of the same mind regarding the strategies cited for Tiny Tower in that guide. I had started to write up something about it, and you phrased it much better! ;)

I like your point that toy/hobby players are the main part of the mobile market now, and that makes this discussion particularly timely. And I hope the ubiquity of demand for these types of experiences takes any sting out of being a designer of toys vs games vs something in the middle.

The only thing Robert said that I would add my two cents on is the Sims. I do think it's a game, with a ton of toy mechanics added in. The Sims, to me, isn't a ladder with a player's progress all directly mapped out. It's a huge web, with choices that affect outcome in every direction.

For TT, I think if it had more in the way of gameplay, even just a tiny bit more, it would be super addictive AND super fun. With regards to NimbleBit, I think they have a lot of talent. I hugely enjoyed NimbleQuest. It's a fabulous game and I've recommended it to several friends.

To Joshua: I am truly sorry that you feel insulted by an unintentional implication that you design toys and not games or that that somehow is a bad thing. (I don't think it is, either way!) You seem very thoughtful, which I've always found to be a primary characteristic of a good game designer.

I guess the main thing is maybe that as designers, our definition of game solely needs to help us craft the best player experience, not please anyone else. For me, a delineation helps me sort through how a mechanic can affect the experience and whether that's what I'm aiming for. I feel like it brings me to my best design. I can easily see that for someone else, imagining a wide open field is the way to their best design and segmentation might just get in the way.

Gary LaRochelle
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Personally, I feel a "game" should have a win/lose (or tie) outcome.

That being said, you can lose at the Sims. I put the BBQ pit too close to the hedges. It started a fire and burned down my house, killing my main character.

Game over. I loss.

Altug Isigan
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I see two problems in the question "is this even a game": First, we ignore the fact that games are both language and narratives. Second, as such we ignore that languages and narratives can be of the broadest imaginable variety. Hence Tiny Tower is a game whose language and narrative is different from what you expect it to be. It's like reading Waiting for Godot when you are looking for a bestseller like Jaws. You'd probably say "is this even drama?", but yes it is, because language and narrative is not limited to what the industry maintains as a norm. You may say that this isn't the kind of game you like, but questioning its status as a game makes no sense.

Joshua Dallman
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I know no slight was intended, but when games are defined as less than art, or as less than games (i.e. the suggestions here as "toys"), I feel the very medium with which I work is being assailed. Imagine making a film with no narrative, then having reviewers decry it as still photography, when it is not still photography, it is a narrative-less film. It wouldn't be "bad" to call it still photography, it just wouldn't be accurate and wouldn't pay the work nor the artist its proper respect.

I'm curious how you would further use these restrictions to define games such as Bingo, which is most certainly a game and not a toy (arguably one of the older social games around). If you added "gameplay" to Bingo - added depth, "just a tiny bit more mechanic" - you would ruin the game, and cut off its accessibility to the mass market. There is no choice in Bingo whatsoever, except whether to play or not and how many games at once, and that is in part its design elegance.

Another example of a game is a horse game called The Friendly Game (
aspx). This is a game with no choice where all you do is touch the horse and be friendly. Hi - it's ok! Hi again - still ok! With a good horse you could play The Friendly Game a long time and both have fun. There's really no choice - be friendly and act friendly and you win. Lose the horse's interest or trust and you lose (but can keep playing - endless runner). No choice, no loss condition, no doubt that it's a game, and fun as hell to play. Not a toy, not an "interaction", a game. If you can understand The Friendly Game, you can understand Tiny Tower. You could say that all Tiny Tower is doing is playing The Friendly Game with the player really, really well.

Dave Hoskins
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In the nineties there was Tamagotchi, a virtual pet who's life was in your hands.
Perhaps, not too seriously, these games fulfill people's deep down need for more control of their own lives.

Gary LaRochelle
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"There is no choice in Bingo whatsoever, except whether to play or not and how many games at once, and that is in part its design elegance."

I'll have to respectfully disagree with that statement. The object of Bingo is to be the first person to yell out "BINGO!". You can choose not to yell out BINGO!, and that choice will result in a loss for you.

BTW, what conditions do you have to satisfy to win at Tiny Tower?
(I'll have to admit that I have never played Tiny Tower.)

Barry Hindmarsh
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I don't mean to call you out on this but the objective of Bingo is not to be the first person to yell "BINGO!" but to be the first person to fill your board. Shouting Bingo is just the final act now granted you could not call Bingo and lose but you'd be pretty stupid to play Bingo and choose not to shout it so therefore it isn't a choice.

Also in regards to the win/lose scenario like someone said he completed the tower to maximum efficiency and also you can theoretically lose because if you build floors for business but no residential floors then you would have no employees and no means to make money and therefore no way to progress so therefore there are plenty of choices available to the player. What if you only make residential floors you wouldn't be able to progress or if you fired everyone from a certain floor then people become unhappy. It's also your choice who lives in the apartments, who needs 5 people whose ideal job is working in an aquarium when there is only 3 spaces available all choices.

On this level of thinking you are suggesting that Pong isn't a game, the only choices are move up and down.

Gary LaRochelle
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Rules of Bingo:

Yes, not calling out Bingo is a really really dumb choice. But it still is a choice. Mr. Dallman was saying that there are no choices in Bingo.

Grigory Kireyev
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Almost every social game (in our country we call them "farms") has no any challenges, neither logic (like puzzle games), nor reaction (like action). They just propose "do this thing, next you can do another thing". Yes, they can give you an illusion of choice: you can plan either wheat or maize, but there will no qualitative result.

If my next week interview will be failed i will exit from game industry. There are 9 of 10 vacancies about "farms" and only 1 about real game. Not sure, if you've read this:

It's not mine but about me too.

Wish you luck.