It's time once again for the Weekly App Review. This week we'll be focusing on "Pixel People," for iOS. Published by Chillingo Ltd, "Pixel People" was released earlier this year but for many was unplayable until Feb. 7 when version 1.01 was released, fixing a bug that prevented the game from progressing past the first few tutorial screens. With technological issues resolved, I can honestly say that the game was worth the wait, at least for the first day.
"Pixel People" plays like the lovechild of a Facebook resource management game, and "SimCity." Players develop a city idealistically titled Utopia, whereby they splice together different professions leading to the creation of new buildings, thus leading to the development of Utopia at large. Urban development does not come without a price, however, and land expansions must be purchased should players wish to add more buildings. As each building is populated by new Pixel People, however, it produces more gold which can then be used to purchase said land, continuing the cycle.
Construction in "Pixel People's" Utopia is time-based, both in regards to its citizens and its buildings. While initially the timeframe required for urban development is short, it seems to grow exponentially as the city develops, with higher level buildings sometimes taking hours to complete, putting a serious damper on playtime. The price of development too seems to rise exponentially, going from hundreds of in-game coins to millions within a few levels. Both problems can of course be bypassed, however, through micro-transactions.
It is through this time-based device that "Pixel People"keeps players coming back for more. The prospects of unlocking a new character, and adding new buildings to their sprawling metropolis seem enough to bring players back every few hours. Though production does eventually stop, and each building must be tapped to resume making money, hinting at some well established labor laws within Utopia, the timers do not, giving players incentive to revisit Utopia periodically, albeit never with the same verve that they once felt. Resources can of course be purchased with real money immediately, but this has become as intrinsic to the app world as tapping itself. At least in this game I don't have to worry about my people dying, or my strawberries wilting like that other once-popular, time-based, resource management game.
For a city-simulator Pixel People is good. For a free app it's great. Were the time limits not implemented, players would plow through the game in a matter of hours, quickly unlocking all 150 professions and creating their own perfectly developed Utopia, forgetting the game just as quickly. The issue here is not within the mechanic, but rather the scale of the mechanic. Though favor of the masses when it comes to mobile apps is fleeting at best, it is especially easy to foresee players forgetting about the game within a few days (as has admittedly happened for this reviewer) due to lack of progress.
Once again we see the adoption of micro-transactions intrinsic to the game's success. If i want immediate satisfaction, I must pay, or else wait and the game runs the risk of me losing interest. As a free game, with no initial investment, this is a risky gamble, but somehow Pixel People pulls it off, at least for now. For a city called Utopia, it is far from perfect. Perhaps it just needs a little more time.