Exclusive: What exactly is different about Zynga’s Dream Heights?


By AJ Glasser Comment

Dream Heights, Zynga’s newest mobile game, has made plenty of pre-launch headlines in the last month given its similarities to NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower. Inside Mobile Apps takes an exclusive hands-on tour of the version that arrives in the U.S. App Store tomorrow.

We’ve covered cloning at length on both Inside Mobile Apps and our sister site Inside Social Games. The purpose of this article isn’t to rehash the cloning debate. Rather, we present to you the differences between the two games — and leave the rest to your own judgement.

Both games are “tower” titles where the player is tasked with building individual floors of a skyscraper, designating some as commercial spaces and some as residential spaces. As virtual residents move into the tower, the player must staff the commercial spaces, trying to balance each resident’s natural skills to the skills needed to run specific storefronts. The storefronts go on to earn the player virtual currency, which is primarily spent on building more floors. That’s what’s the same about Dream Heights and Tiny Tower.

Here are the subtle and not-so-subtle differences:

Presentation: Dream Heights goes for a cartoonish, 3D look that’s intended to appeal to a mass market. The game puts players in the role of a customizable avatar that hangs out in the lower level of the tower. Players are encouraged to build more floors to their tower by a set of visual landmarks like the Big Ben that they try to “outgrow.” In contrast, Tiny Tower uses an 8-bit art style that appeals to retro video game fans and progress is encouraged mostly by running out of jobs to offer residents or not having enough residents to fully staff all stores.

Social features: All Zynga games incorporate the company’s massive userbase through social interactions very early on in the game experience. This takes place in Dream Heights with a “Sky Bridge” floor the player constructs during the tutorial. This floor connects the player’s tower to other Dream Heights players in a visual way. The player avatar is seen walking along the Sky Bridge to a series of storefronts connected by the floor, each represented by one of the player’s friends.

Visiting a friend’s store nets the player special items that can be brought back to their own tower and traded in for virtual currency. Friends’ avatars will also visit the player’s tower, looking for specific items in different stores. Selling a friend character these items nets the player a currency bonus. Tiny Tower’s social features are currently limited to seeing friends’ towers via Game Center.

Currency System: Like in its other “Dream” games, Zynga uses three types of currency in Dream Heights: coins, cash and reputation. Coins are the “grind” currency players earn through normal gameplay and spend on main game objectives like building more floors. Cash is the premium currency players are expected to buy via in-app purchases. They can spent on speeding up floor construction or item stocking in stores. Reputation, or hearts, comes from visiting friends. This currency unlocks special items to stock in stores. Tiny Tower, meanwhile, uses only two types of currency and can earn them both through normal gameplay activity.

Quests: Aside from the friend shopping feature mentioned above, Dream Heights doesn’t offer quests. Tiny Tower sometimes asks the player to locate a specific resident on a floor to complete a quest and carries a list of Missions the player can complete to earn currency.

Manual Collection: Dream Heights currently requires players to enter the game and click on a store to obtain all the money earned from selling goods in the store’s inventory. Tiny Tower automatically harvests this money even while the player isn’t in-game.

Pace: Dream Heights moves more slowly than Tiny Tower. It takes longer to earn enough currency to build floors and the manual collection element means the player spends longer scrolling up and down floors looking for places to collect currency.