Bit City lets you mold a metropolis from your iPhone

Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult
to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and
fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into.
With Freemium
Field Test
, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put
it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth
your time (and money).

If the original
Tiny Tower
was NimbleBit’s homage to the classic SimTower,
then the new Bit
City
is clearly its take on the better-known
SimCity. In both cases, the mobile “tribute” offers a
significantly streamlined version of the same core premise, and
this time around, you’ll gradually build up your city simply by
tapping menus and amassing coins. 

fft bitcity largecityNimbleBit

Bit by bit, you’ll bring your city to life.

But where SimCity’s urban settings felt like real places with
interconnected systems and consequences for your actions, Bit
City is pretty much just a spending spree: you’ll earn and
invest as much money as you can in a location before flipping
up to somewhere larger… and doing it all again. But while Bit
City is certainly streamlined, there’s still a mindless allure
to it. 

The pitch

You won’t see much when you first start up Bit City: a tiny
little town with just a few empty plots of land. Tap one and
you can place a business, residential, or service (like a
school or park) property in the spot. You won’t get to choose
what kind of building or property goes there, but it doesn’t
really matter anyway: once you tap the yellow Build button on
the bottom, a random property on your map undergoes
construction and is replaced with something new. 

fft bitcity smallcityNimbleBit

Hit the yellow button and some property will be swiapped out
for something new.

Why? That’s not entirely clear, but doing so increases the
amount of money you make every second you play, as seen up top.
That tally will continue to balloon with nearly every action
you take in the game, whether it’s buying new properties,
building atop old ones, raising taxes, or buying cars, boats,
and planes to populate the world. Every bit of spending earns
you more and more income over time; of course, then new
properties cost more as well.

Filling every open plot of land is your goal in each city, and
once you do so, you’re free to tap a button and start anew in
the next, larger, different-looking location. Despite never
again seeing your ever-changing properties from the last area,
there’s a gradual sense of progression here: the decisions you
make (by spending coins), like raising certain taxes or
automating some of the building, carry over into the next city,
plus you’ll still earn a small portion of money from the cities
you left behind.

fft bitcity returnNimbleBit

Money for nothing? I’ll take that deal.

You’ll continue to earn ample funds when the game is on your
screen, whether you’re tapping Build or not—and you’ll also
make a smaller amount of money when you’re not
playing, which you’ll collect the next time you open up the
app. It’s like
last year’s entertaining Best Fiends Forever
in that
respect, especially since you can amplify your earnings by
watching an ad (more on that shortly). And it means that you’ll
always have some fresh money to play with every time you launch
the game. 

But what starts to sink in after a while is that Bit City has
no real stakes; as mentioned before, there are no apparent
consequences to your admittedly minimal actions here. You can
constantly raise taxes on your citizens, but they’ll never move
away or revolt. You can fill a city with all businesses,
despite the game claiming “very low demand” after the first
few, and the population will still increase. It’s simply a game
about spending money to make more money.

The catch

And you can spend real money, of course! Luckily, Bit City
doesn’t make that feel like the default expectation at all, and
truth be told, the benefits can be pretty minimal.

fft bitcity menusNimbleBit

Coins and Bux can be used to boost various stats, which only
help you make more and more money.

What’s more appealing is watching video ads in exchange for
benefits. Watching a 30-second ad for some other mobile game or
app initiates 10 minutes of Double Time, wherein all income is
doubled, construction times are halved, and more bonus coins
and Bux appear on the screen. It’s such a drastic enhancement
that playing without Double Time quickly feels
pointless, so you may be tempted to watch an ad for every 10
minutes you play. That’s what I did. 

Alternately, you can spend $5 outright to enable Double Time
forever, without ads. I stuck with the video ads, but you might
not tolerate the recurring interruption. Also beneficial is
watching a video ad when you come back after hours away. Maybe
your city amassed 10 billion coins while you were out… but
wouldn’t you rather have 20 billion coins to play with? It’s a
pretty easy decision to make, and watching a video is the only
way to get that bonus.

The premium Bux appear here and there as bonuses from cars and
other vehicles, and you’ll also earn them for completing
objectives (like constructing 50 buildings). However, they’re
also sold in bundles ranging from 3,500 Bux for $5 to 25,000
Bux for $20. 

fft bitcity spendNimbleBit

The Pension Pig is a smart idea to reward long-term players,
although you’re still untimately paying money for in-game
funds.

There’s also a cool twist here: you’ll also gradually build up
a Pension Pig bank of Bux as you play, and you can only crack
that bank by paying $3 in real money. That’s a bad deal if you
have, say, 100 Bux in there. But if you wait, it becomes a
relative deal compared to the other bundles: I redeemed 4,852
Bux when I finally spent my $3. That gave me a nice stack of
premium currency to work with, but ultimately, the benefits
seemed minor.

You can spend Bux on in-game benefits, like extending how long
your bank collects money when you’re not playing, or reducing
vehicle costs—or you can pay to “Fast Forward” the game, which
gives you a speedy chunk of coins without the wait. There are
also premium buildings to unlock, including real-life icons
like the Eiffel Tower and White House, and each comes with a
sizable coin earning bonus. However, the top-tier buildings
also cost nearly $10 worth of Bux apiece, so it’s a pretty
massive investment for a tiny building on your digital
map. 

The verdict

fft bitcity prestigeNimbleBit

I fully understood the implications and intent of the Prestige
feature, but it still sapped my motivation.

There’s something entrancing about Bit City at first, and in
the early couple of days, I’d play at every opportunity. I
wanted to amass money and boost my earning power, seemingly
sure that some great reward awaited in exchange for my diligent
play. However, that initial allure faded quite a bit once I
realized how superficial this spending-centric simulation
really is. After the first few cities, I grew tired of the
grind. 

Bit City has a “Prestige” option that lets you cash in much of
your progress and start over at the first city, with the
benefit being a percentage earnings bonus based on how much you
had amassed. Rather than just continue flipping cities and
moving ahead, you’ll begin anew while pulling in more
income. 

That’s meant to be appealing, but once I’d pressed the button
and realized that the grind was back to square one, I realized
that I didn’t have the patience to do it all over again. It’s
the complete opposite effect that’s intended, but in an
instant, Bit City became Quit City, population: me. And I think
I’m staying there.

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