The Tap Lab released Tiny Tycoons today, a location-based tycoon game where players can buy up real-world empires and businesses, hire their friends to work for them and leave their footprint on real cities.
CEO and co-founder of The Tap Lab, David Bisceglia told Polygon that the studio created Tiny Tycoons after seeing the success of apps like FourSquare and Scavenger — popular apps that gamified social utility services, but lacked any gameplay elements.
"We saw a huge opportunity to create games that were made more intriguing and more compelling by pulling in real-world data," Bisceglia says. "The most compelling part of using real-world locations instead of coming up with something fictional is when we made our first prototype, players just lit up, because we were kind of tapping into existing relationships with existing places.
"These are places players already have a strong connection with in the real world, so it's their favorite bar, their favorite restaurant, their favorite club, or even dormitories and classroom buildings in universities."
"We were kind of tapping into existing relationships with existing places."
Bisceglia says it means more to players when their in-game avatars are working for companies in buildings they're familiar with, buying up real estate they see in their every day lives and using a world they know as their game board. "You realize, 'Hey, I'm taking over this place which means so much to me and so much to my friends," he says. "Whereas in a virtual world there's really no meaning behind those places until you get into it."
The Tap Lab built its own game engine and there are currently more than 50 million in-game properties set in real locations around the world, with more locations to be added as the game grows. Players begin in a location of their choice and can build their pool of resources by taking jobs at local businesses, such as becoming a celebrity chef at their favorite restaurant or becoming the CEO of local start-ups. As players earn coins, they can make offers on buildings and businesses, and the game is balanced in such a way that players are given incentive to sell and accept offers.
Everyone in Tiny Tycoons plays on the same game board. In single-player mode, a player can work on their own to grow their resources and buy up the town. In multiplayer mode, players can connect with their friends and give each other jobs in their businesses, which helps them earn coins so they can make offers and purchases. Once a player acquires property, they can spend real-world money to buy cosmetic items to customize their buildings.
Bisceglia says Tiny Tycoons is unlike many early location-based games that spawned several years ago that coupled Google Maps with 2D graphics.
"Players see through that," he says. "They want to feel like they're playing a game and, luckily, this engine we built allows us to deliver that."
When the game launches today, players will be able to visit locations they're familiar with or even unfamiliar with and begin plotting their global empire. Bisceglia hopes Tiny Tycoons will reinvent the location-based genre of games.
"Location-based games have been around for more than a decade, and there really hasn't been that runaway success yet," he says. "We're running ahead full-speed to try to define this space."
Tiny Tycoons is available now for free on the iTunes App Store.