PopSugar’s Retail Therapy: A Growing Boutique Business Game on Facebook

The last time we came across a Facebook game tailored to women was with 6 Waves-published Mall World. While the game has done well for itself – even making our top ten of 2010, thus far – its now getting a bit of competition from women-focused online media company PopSugar and its growing Facebook application, Retail Therapy.

Having dramatically grown over the past few days to about 93,000 monthly active users, it’s safe to say that Retail Therapy is doing well for itself so far. In a Sims-like setting, players create, own, and operate, their very own boutique. With a different style and feel, it’s a game that does feel like a better experience then Mall World in regards to aesthetic appeal, but isn’t quite as social.

Though it is seated in virtual space concepts, the primary goal of Retail Therapy is not so much to create a beautiful store (though that is obviously a major part), but to be a successful businessperson. Each day, players must stock their shelves with a wide variety of dresses, tops, shoes, and handbags as non-player characters browse and purchase the wares.

It’s all fairly simple. Players are granted a handful of stock shelves in which they can place orders. From here, they can determine how long an order will take to be delivered by adjusting the quantity to be purchased. A small order of five will take five minutes to arrive, while and massive order of 2000 will take two days. Immediately, the primary time consumption mechanic of the game is made extraordinarily convenient and it doesn’t require users to level up in order to use it.

Of course, level does gate the quality of items one can buy, but that’s a mechanism that should be expected in any modern game containing a virtual space of any type.

Regardless, once the clothes show up, they are stocked and displayed on various racks, shelves, and counters that the player must purchase before moths come and eat them (like when crops whither if not harvested). This is where the next sort of business choice comes into play, as these items are a requirement for NPC shoppers to actually, well, shop. As the user grows in level, other functional items are also be unlocked. This stems beyond mere aesthetics as eventually, more registers and even dressing rooms may be required.

This is actually where things become a bit unclear in the user feedback department. Evidently, the characters that enter the store exhibit forms of like or dislike, indicated by stylized thought bubbles. As the tutorial pop-ups suggest, their happiness drops in situations where they can’t get what they need or want. Examples include waiting too long at the register, the store being devoid of goods, and, likely, whether or not dressing rooms are available (though we are currently not high enough level to purchase any). The problem is, that whether or not happiness or unhappiness of customers affects the store in any way is invisible. One would presume that more happy customers and/or better stock would increase the popularity – such as in Restaurant City – but there is no clear cut way to tell.

As far as social elements to the game go, these feel a bit shortchanged compared to Mall World. Rather than friends entering your store and buying items, they can be hired as extra help, so these two sort of counter act one another. However, one of the draws to Mall World was that players could visit other players’ stores and buy goods from them. As clothes were gated by level, and there was a tremendous variety of them, players could visit other higher level users’ stores and purchase any number of ensembles for their avatar that they could not otherwise buy.

In a sense, you can still do that here, but it is limited to visiting friends that play. Beyond this, the only other stores in which to purchase stuff are two fancy retailers: Diane von Furstenberg and Topshop. It is worth noting, however, that while these are not other players, they are real brands that users can try on and buy, giving the game tremendous potential for acquiring other clothing lines.

While the game could use some work on the social front, it is a lot more gratifying to play then Mall World. With its isometric, Sims-like view, players are able to create a far more intricate, personalized store than the simple 2D layout of Mall World. Moreover, the prior game may have had friends enter and buy goods, but if they did not play, they all looked the same. Here, they may be NPCs, but there is such a wide variety that the store does truly feel alive.

The core of Retail Therapy is solid and with a few tweaks and improvements, it ought to do quite well for itself.