Digital Chocolate Jumps into Facebook City Building with NanoTowns

Facebook is always a space looking for a new trend for its social games to follow. Without being so bold as to say this will be the next big social gaming trend, the concept of city building and planning is one that we have begun seeing a lot of lately. Games such as My City Life, My Town, or Tiny Town to only name a few. but now social developer Digital Chocolate is stepping into this engineered genre with its own version of city workings: NanoTowns.

Known for creating high-quality games, Digital Chocolate has done it again with NanoTowns. The game takes an almost Sims-like feel with a saturated, cartoon-like style, and well-designed game play.

The basics are simple enough. The idea is to create a city, fulfill quests, and unlock new buildings, with the help of your friends. Users start with a simple tutorial: starting a simple bakery. They’re immediately prompted to learn about a key parts of the game: Pick a building from the building marketplace, buy it using virtual currency, get the building constructed, earn money from it, and invite a friend to staff it.

A lot of these mechanics can be seen in other simulation games on Facebook — Restaurant City comes to mind, because of the bakery reference — and NanoTowns does a clean job of taking advantage of them.

The game has a construction component, where users can pay  X period of time, but you can spend virtual currency to build it immediately, what it calls “Instant Build.” Otherwise, the larger and higher level the building, the longer it takes to build. However, Instant Build requires a sizable amount of in-game currency (Town Coins) — though sometimes the virtual currency is required.

The virtual currency  system is perhaps one of the more notable features of this app. Other games tend to require the use of virtual currency (in this case, called DC Cash) only to make anything instant. However, in the case of NanoTowns, virtual currency usage appears to be limited to the “Market” for buildings and other goods. This actually makes for an interesting choice, as all items in the regular market items cost DC Cash. In fact, the only things that cost Town Coins are random “Featured Items” that change daily and cost a hefty amount of in -game money.

None of these purchases are actually required. You see, each building in the game, except residences (i.e. apartments), produce goods. A donut shop makes donuts, a coffee shop makes coffee, and so on. From here, you make the various goods using small portions of in Town Coins with the familiar option of instant production.

As far as the purpose of all this goods production… well, the residents of your town have needs, resulting in quests for the user to accomplish in the game. Sometimes they ask for cake, other times, a library card, and unless you have the DC Cash to buy the items at the market, you are going to need the corresponding buildings to produce them. And produce them you will, because the monetary and experience rewards are big, and you need both money and experience in order to level up and build new unlocked structures.

Of course, sometimes requests are not always so obvious. For example, one such quest asks for a stapler. At the time, we bought it in the market for virtual currency. Luckily, it cost only one DC Cash, and you start with that much (so likely it was just for teaching purposes). But what building produces a stapler? There isn’t exactly an Office Depot building. It’s a corner market that made staplers, as we discovered. The point is, the player doesn’t have a good way to know which items come from which buildings. So they have to guess the right building, buy it, wait for it to finish, then find out the hard way whether or not it was worth creating. Furthermore, some buildings don’t seem to produce anything, making the guessing an even greater gamble.

Another minor complaint comes in the form of collecting produced products. Unlike collecting the minor funds from buildings such as apartments (rent, essentially), which requires only a click in the game world, collecting a burger, for example, opens a new window and seems to take about nine thousand clicks before it accepts. Moreover, many quests require more than one of the same item, so why can’t we tell a building to produce two or three, then click produce and come back later? Granted, having to schedule each item to be produced is likely to keep the player coming back frequently, but it is still annoying.

On the lighter side, friends actually play a direct role in this game. Players can actually assign them to attend to each of their buildings (and even some of the decorations), to unlock different items for production. Certainly, a nice addition, though it would be nice to see them moving about the city too. Actually, it would be nice to see anything moving about the city, but that is a complaint to be had with most Facebook city builders. These are not desktop computer games like the Sim City series, after all — Flash-based Facebook games can’t match the graphics and other technology requirements that more complex games require.

Overall, between its visually pleasing art style, and purpose behind the creation of buildings from the quest system, this is a game is well worth playing. Currently, NanoTowns is sitting at around 1,300 monthly active users, but it’s brand new and we expect it to grow.