Star Wars: Tiny Death Star - Microtransactions Are Quicker, Easier, More Seductive

The Free-2-Play microtransaction debate practically parodies itself as Tiny Tower developer NimbleBit revels in the Dark Side of video game monetisation strategies. Available for iOS, Android and Windows devices.

When NimbleBit's Tiny Tower came out in 2011, I was attracted to its concept of playing building supervisor to an ever growing high-rise population of bitizens. Its retro graphics and quirky charm reminded me of Little Computer People from the 80s.

Tiny Tower was unsurprisingly a commercial success and is following in the footsteps of the Lego games series, Angry Birds et al and is back with a new Star Wars skin. I'd be disgruntled by this, but I suppose if we can have Yoda selling us cellphone tariffs, then the credibility of the Star Wars brand has already become a bit of a joke.

In the era of F2P, Star Wars: Tiny Death Star was inevitable.

A Fully Operational Cash Cow

Fandom grumbles aside, Nimblebit have done a competent job of adapting the Star Wars universe to their pixelated brand, taking the role of a nameless Imperial skivvy whose job it is to construct the Death Star under the watchful attentions of the Emperor and Darth Vader.

The game design is more or less identical to its vanilla predecessor, with the player starting off with a few Death Star decks stacked atop one another in a vertically scrolling format. The first floor lobby is simply decoration, now featuring a Death Star hologram and what I think is a children's TIE-fighter ride.

The other two starting floors comprise a cafe and a residential floor. These are key to the management of your growing technological terror as you house and employ the influx of Imperial bitizens.

Each bitizen has an ability level from one to nine in each of four trades; food, service, recreation and retail. Each deck (aside from the residential ones) has three employment positions to which bitizens can be assigned. For each employee, the deck can produce goods which will automatically generate Credits. These Credits can be used to construct more decks, which will attract more bitizens and so your Empire grows.

With that simplicity, Tiny Death Star soon worms its way into your heart as a background obsession. The free-to-play microtransaction mechanic takes a while to emerge, with the need to wait for progress bars initially hidden by the multitude of things to do and the initial availability of free Imperial Bux which enable the bypassing of the waiting mechanic.

There are many nice touches and in-jokes that add to the Tiny Death Star's charm and NimbleBit has clearly polished their formula since the Tiny Tower prototype. The addition of unlockable cutscenes is a new addition and the first one certainly made me smile.

This Deal is Getting Worse All the Time

As with Tiny Tower and countless other games designed around encouraging unlimited spending, it soon becomes a matter of choice to take the slow path and wait for things to build naturally or pay for quick access to new decks and other content.

I have yet to explore Tiny Death Star to excess, but providing NimbleBit has stuck to the Tiny Tower formula, I don't expect a paywall preventing access to content. What will be needed in order to see everything the game has to offer is either Jedi-like patience or disposable cash in vast quantities. 

Overall, Star Wars: Tiny Death Star will probably stay on my iPhone for a while, but even this will not convert me to the dark side of microtransaction gameplay.

 Edit: After playing for longer, the attention to detail alone has caused me to bump the score from 6 to 7.

Our Rating
The Free-2-Play microtransaction debate practically parodies itself as Tiny Tower developer NimbleBit revels in the Dark Side of video game monetisation strategies. Available for iOS, Android and Windows devices.

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Nov. 11th 2013
  • Ste Grainer
    Featured Correspondent
    I started playing this over the weekend just to explore it. They've got a lot of the little details right. I enjoy that you can "collect" cutscenes and different characters/races.

    I don't remember the original Tiny Tower having a "quest" structure, but I may have simply forgotten. The quests really help to guide you through the basics of playing the game and using the UI.

    All in all, it's not something I'd expect to spend money on, but it's a mildly entertaining way to pass the time while watching TV.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    Missions and reward goals were introduced in Tiny Tower in one of the updates as I recall. Tiny Death Star has definitely benefited from the evolution of its predecessor.

    The Imperial sub-decks and interrogation assignments are certainly a new twist though.
  • Coatedpolecat
    Featured Correspondent
    Good read. Don't hold much interest in the topic, but that didn't stop me from wanting to read all of it.

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