Casual Tycoon Games Research

For this semester’s ETC project, our client require us to make a casual tycoon game. I’m not very fond of this genre, but after some research I can understand why people spend so much money on it.

Here is my summarization of elements that make a successful casual tycoon game.

1. Customization

Restaurant City is the first Facebook game I had played. One of the most interesting part is that there are tons of objects you can use for decoration. If you visit the game community you’ll see lots of crazy themed restaurants. The essence of a tycoon game is to develop and manage something, then finally own something great. Player would want to have some uniqueness in the object that they spend hours in. Therefore customization is important in tycoon games

2. Randomness

Tiny Tower is a great example of utilizing randomness creatively.  Everything you built in this game is random. You don’t know what you’re building until it’s finished. You can told them to build a restaurant, but it may turn out to be a Chinese cuisine or a fast food restaurant.

This is a crazy mechanic and I wonder if it will work again, but the reason behind it is totally understandable. Randomness is a good way to create tension-release process. Applying randomness into building mechanic suddenly turns the boredness of waiting time into a mind state full of curiosity and expectation.

Randomness also make the game lean more toward “casual”. In Clash of Clan, the village you can raid is random, which is totally different from the concept of traditional “raiding games” like Travian. Since you know the person attacking you is randomly selected by the computer, you won’t take it too serious even they loot lots of your resources.

4. Secondary Mechanic

Beside building and managing, most tycoon games have special theme and some mechanics related to the theme. Combining two core mechanic is a good way to make a tycoon game more interesting.

In Restaurant City, players have to find the most efficient route for waiters if they want to play efficiently, which is actually a deep math question.

Clash of Clans has another core mechanic beside building a village: attacking other’s village. The experience of “bullying” other is surprisingly satisfying. Being an attacker in a tower-defense game is quite a clever idea.

5. Balance between different players

Clash of Clans balances very well between hardcore and casual players. In typical raiding games like Travian, it’s almost impossible to play if you’re not commit your life into it. But in Clash of Clans, I never felt frustrated when being attacked. For more serious players, the game provide “leagues” ranking system that you can only see players with close rank. Finally, they have the global leaderboard for the most hardcore gamers.

It’s also important to balance paid and unpaid players. To keep unpaid players you have to make them believe that if they spend enough time they’ll be able to experience the whole game. Tiny Tower done this by giving players “Bux (a resource mainly obtained by real-world currency)” in random mission.

6. Stickiness

In Clash of Clan, the building time between army and building is very different. It takes hours to upgrade a building, but creating an army won’t take more than 5 minutes. Therefore it’s very temping to enter the game frequently to check the progress of training army.


5 thoughts on “Casual Tycoon Games Research

  1. One thing I’d like to mention about Tycoon games is that I absolutely and completely HATE waiting for things in many of the tycoon games nowadays. Since people think it’s cool and innovative to use real time to create building times and delays for games, they’re now found everywhere. That’s perhaps the only reason I refuse to play any building games nowadays even though it’s one of my favorite genres.

    Growing up, I played a lot of Rollercoaster Tycoon, Sim Ant, Sim Hospital, Startopia, and more, all these random simulation games since you can always speed up time and never had to wait for things to develop; you simply fast-forwarded until the next happening. I can’t get immersed in simulation games nowadays because you’re constantly forced out of the game after just a few minutes of play. Perhaps it’s to keep the game “casual”, but it repulses me.

    I want to be able to play at my own pace, otherwise I feel like the game is just a waste of my time rather than me spending my time on it as I choose.

  2. I have not played a proper tycoon game since SimCity 3000, so I find it interesting that you mention balancing a difference between types of players. To me single player is part of the definition of a tycoon game and you don’t really interact with other players except maybe indirectly through some neighboring city/country mechanic. Maybe I’ve been away from the genre for a while but Clash of Clans and Travian sound more like real time strategy games than tycoon games.

    I also wonder if there is a nuance in how you are talking about stickiness. The stickiness you describe sounds like impatience from the fact that the game is intentionally paced slow. Contrast that with the “just one more turn” feeling of a Civilization game, which might actually arise because the game is moving faster than the player. I think what contributes to the stickiness of a “just one more turn” kind of feeling is fun of mentally running through a bunch of different strategies and playing with your options in a way that gets cut short by the game rules. Its more of a “how much could I do?” instead of “how long does it take me to do it?” In the ideal cases you probably want the answers to those questions to be “a lot” and “very little time.”

  3. Unfortunately, I don’t get chance to play the games you mentioned above. Although, stickiness you mentioned, I agreed that this is a quite important property this genre game should have. I personally don’t like waiting. If I don’t have anything else to do I will probably minimize the window to do other things and have high possibility of closing that window and never played it again later on. I would like to try the Clash of Clan, since it seems to have interesting mechanism to minimize the “waiting is boring” problem.

  4. It seems there would be an interesting tension between customization and randomness, if you are trying to make something according to your design but that design is strongly influenced by random occurrences. Maybe the element of random surprise contributes to stickiness as it gives the game more addictive potential.

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