Why Pixel People is more than ‘the new Tiny Tower’

There’s always something to tap in brand new iPad game Pixel People. The vibrant city-builder contains elements of Tiny Tower, Sim City, Pocket Planes, Habbo Hotel and Doodle God; yet it’s somehow greater and livelier than the sum of all these distinguished parts. The game strikes a great balance between accessibility, with its loveable pixelated population, familiarity, and innovation; wrapping it all up in a free-to-play model that only makes its presence felt after hours of complimentary entertainment. Crucially for a mobile game, there’s always something to keep you touching the screen as you expand your tiny empire deep into the reaches of space.

That’s why many, us included, are tipping it to be the next Tiny Tower – the mobile game that has millions collecting virtual coins and tampering with virtual lives when we really should be living our own.

“The idea for the game actually came from a light-hearted conversation about people we knew whose professional aptitudes seemed to be a result of a combination of their parents’ occupational choices,” explains CEO of LambdaMu Games Ivan Loo. “As we pushed this idea further, for purely pseudo-academic purposes, we realised that this mixing-matching-discovery element might make for an interesting game mechanic, and a great premise for the sandbox games we’ve always wanted to make. We love city building games, especially when well executed, and having enjoyed our time spent with games like Doodle God and Tiny Tower on iOS, we thought that Pixel People would be the perfect bridge between these popular genres”.

Loo and chief creative officer Abhishek Radhakrishnan are part of a seven-person team at LambdaMu Games, based in Singapore. While the pair agree that the App Store (and Android Marketplace) has created a level playing field between indie developers and their multi-million dollar rivals, they’re also grateful for the clout provided by its publisher, Chillingo.

“Mobile games have allowed independent studios to compete with bigger developers in the same arena, for the same market, and have often found themselves doing as well, if not better,” says Loo. “On the whole it’s also been great for gaming, because there’s so much more choice, so much more competition – it pushes everyone to up their game, to strive for substance in mechanics rather than just high-budget production value.”

However, they readily admit that Chillingo’s support has given Pixel People “the best chance of succeeding in an extremely competitive marketplace”. It’s a salient point – although the App Store allows everyone the chance to publish their creations in the same space, the end result is a vast ocean of content – the wheat mixed with the chaff, and few reliable ways of filtering between them. Break-out hits like Angry Birds, Tiny Tower and Hay Day may not be the best games on the App Store, but they’re all universal enough to appeal across age and genre, while being both easy enough to start, and compelling enough to retain players for months or years after that initial download.

Pixel People certainly has the right ingredients. Loo is keen to point out: “The average Pixel People player would be someone looking for a game wherein simple actions allow them to discover and build something they can call their own. The gameplay is such that it allows for long sessions of immersion as well as short bursts of engagement. By this definition, the appeal of the game cuts across age and gender”.

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