I don’t think that having one wall completely missing is up to code.
—Dora Spencer, Tiny Tower Bitizen
Tiny Tower is not a fun game. It just isn’t. Endlessly poking at a little screen, repeating the same tasks ad nauseum may be somebody’s idea of fun, but not mine.
Okay, I’m back. What was I saying? ...Oh, right. Tiny Tower is no fun, and here’s proof. Kurt Squire and Henry Jenkins - two of the most respected scholars in their fields - agree with me. In their seminal essay “The Art of Contested Spaces” they attempt to explain how games deliver fun.
They cite “Spatial Exploration” as a key. Well let me tell you that staring at a static blocky tower for hours on end ain’t exactly my idea of exploring a space. Squire and Jenkins also mention “Virtual Romanticism” (good vs evil, heroic quests, etc.), and Tiny Tower comes up empty there too.
It turns out that Tiny Tower fails nearly every Squire/Jenkins criteria (atmospheric design, social space, etc.) Okay, fine. But I know what you're thinking. Maybe I’m being unfair to the game by applying only one critical lens.
Let’s consult another respected source: Tom Francis - one of the best writers on games in the business. But hold the phone a sec, a VIP just showed up in my lobby, and I need to get her up to the 7th floor pronto.
...So, Tom Francis. Right. He wrote a clever piece recently called “What Makes Games Good,” and his list includes a bunch of other criteria that Tiny Towers chokes on. Here they are, accompanied by grades assigned by me, because I’m a teacher, which entitles me to assign grades to anything.
- Challenge: After a few minutes figuring out how to play Tiny Tower, the only real challenge I can detect is remembering to check my iPhone every ten minutes. Grade: D
- Feel: I’m poking a screen with an input device that obscures said screen. Fail. Holding my finger on the screen makes the elevator go up. That’s about it for “feel.” Grade: F
- Freedom: This game delivers the opposite of freedom. Playing it makes me feel like an indentured servant. If I slough off even a little, everything shuts down. I'm buried in notifications that all deliver the same message: Get back to work!! Grade: F
Speaking of work, a tenant just moved in whose dream job is to work in a travel agency. Eureka! I just opened a travel agency. Supply discounts for me! Hold on while I evict a guy and move this keeper into his job...
Okay, I’m back. So, wrapping up Tom Francis’s list:
- Place (“a world you want to be in”): Tiny Tower has no appeal here. In fact, keeping my distance from this place helps me keep tabs on the big picture. These blocky little people may like it here, but I’m definitely on the outside looking in. Grade: F
- Promise (“the temptation of further possibilities”): Uh, no. The only “further possibilities” I can see with this game are more floors followed by more floors. I suppose building a ridiculously tall tower can be seen as promising to some, but I can’t see myself devoting that much time to such a repetitive game. Grade: D
So, as you can see, Tiny Tower fails the Tom Francis test. But wait. I made my own list of “Fun Factors” awhile back. Maybe this game delivers on some of those. Let’s check and find out...after I install some dollar slot machines in my casino. Because, see, if I get a celebrity in here any time soon, this floor will deliver major moolah that I need to open more apartments. Because I need more workers in this joint. Because I’ve been evicting dead-weight tenants left and right.
Well, I just consulted my Fun Factors Catalog, and guess what? That’s right, Tiny Tower stumbles badly again. Puzzle solving? Nope. Sense of danger/fear/surprise? Nope. Learning from failure (i.e. “the hard teacher)? Nope. Competition? Nope. Creating and feeling connected to a character? Nope. A heaping mound of fail.
Tiny Tower is hopeless. As game design, it’s a disaster. Clearly, the players who enjoy this type of game fall into one of two categories: 1) People with empty lives. 2) People who can’t handle real games. I’m glad I don’t fall into either category, because if I did I would feel worthless and pathetic. I play games like Outland - a game for people who truly appreciate video games. I’ll write about that one very soon.
In the meantime, I need to figure out if it’s possible to sync my Tiny Tower saves between my iPhone and iPad. This one feature would improve my quality of life dramatically. Because I can’t always carry my iPad with me, and those coins really add up when you’re not playing. Plus, somebody just delivered flowers to Dora Spencer, and how is she supposed to get them if I’m not there?