There’s a very special genre in the free-to-play segment. It’s one that is both hated and loved, drawing an amazing number of players but that also seems like one of the most unfair ever designed – the city-building games. Or city-waiting games, as I would call them.
There are several examples out there, from Evony to Caesary, Travian, Richstate, Terra Militaris and many more. Most of these games share one thing: they ask you to upgrade your town/village in a time-consuming manner, for one simple reason: cash. Things may start smoothly with quick construction and upgrades, but soon you’re waiting a couple of hours for one simple upgrade. That is where microtransactions enter, with players eager for dominance spending some real money to gain an edge over the competition. Is it worth it? Well, just like any other virtual item, you’re purchasing something that isn’t physical and doesn’t have any intrinsic value, except for the game in question. Give up playing that game and you’re giving up the items and time you bought with your money.
In unforgettable series such as Command and Conquer or The Settlers, construction time was part of the fun and strategy of the games. You even had some cool animations while you waited a few seconds for the building to rise from the ground. In free-to-play, however, this is something that unbalances the natural flow of a strategy game and privileges those who are willing to pay for the best positions in the ranking. Isn’t that just like cheating?
Games inspired by those mentioned above need to rethink their monetization options, even the odd item or weapon is preferable to this time scheme. But the real answer is yet to be found in the future, something that will allow developers to strive and yet maintain the balance of the game. It’s not the Holy Grail, but it’s also not the easiest task. Maybe, just maybe, when that day comes, the flooding of low quality isometric city-building clones will also give us a break.