Shoptown on iPhone: Light on impact and social, big on inspiration

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Shoptown on iPhone
By inspiration, we mean the real deal, not the "inspiration" that caused a stir this year. Shoptown on iPhone and iPad is Wild Needle's first-ever game as a studio born of veterans of Playdom and online ad supporter Adify. The game throws players behind the registers of various shops as they try to push Fat Ralph out of Shoptown for turning it into a wasteland.

Players have to take on increasingly larger shops along an avenue strip and turn them into profitable, honest businesses. However, the items that fill those shops and make players money rely on players' physical location. With support from services like Google Places and some clever keyword matching on Wild Needle's part, the game matches in-game items with the shops around you rather accurately. For instance, there's a bakery just down the street from this writer, so items like Kitchen-Aid-style mixers and cupcakes appear often.
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"We believe that mobile devices are very personal. People carry them almost all the time, and we felt like there was an opportunity to make the games very relevant and contextual through integrating location," Wild Needle co-founder Heidi Carson tells us. "If you play the game, you see the places around you. It's gives kind of a sense of familiarity, relevance and uniqueness to you, because the things you see are different from the places that other players see in the game."

While we're told that Wild Needle has thought up nearly 200 different items for players to sell, their impact on actual game play stops at giving Shoptown that sense of familiarity. And since this is a free-to-play game, players must wait for such items to arrive after buying them, but can buy their way to faster deliveries by paying up in real currency, not the coins it takes to order them. Of course, the developer cleverly explains this away as a delivery service for it to make sense within the game.
Shoptown location features
Once players price items and open up shop, however, the other primary hook of Shoptown is revealed. As customers shuffle through a given shop, they can either say that an item is too expensive, buy it as is, or attempt to haggle. And it's almost guaranteed that one customer per session will attempt to negotiate. Essentially, this gives players that opt to price items higher than usual (or simply order expensive items) a chance to make a return on their investments.

The inspiration for this core mechanic came from the most unlikely of places. "Negotiating as a game mechanic hadn't really been done before. We had seen that in a Japanese PC port called Recettear that some of us had downloaded and played on Steam," Carson says. "It has sort of a store-based negotiation mechanic that we really liked, but it's more a hardcore, MMO type of game. So, we wanted to combine that with the light, casual mechanics that we thought would be appealing to a mass audience."
Shoptown Postman
That said, the negotiating hook in Shoptown is only as light as you want it to be, if you get roped into maximizing profits for your stores. That's essentially the mode of Wild Needle's first game: spend coins to purchase contextually relevant items, sell items in shops and haggle with customers, earn enough coins to buy out the next shop and back on to step one. So, in both location features and core game mechanics, Shoptown is casual through and through, and that's just how Carson and crew wanted it.

"We wanted to create a location-based aspect that was not gonna force people to run around town and play hide-and-seek games. We wanted to be really light and easy, you know, friction-free for players," Carson admits. However, the game's social features lean on the light side, too. The game's Rewards feature simply allows players to post an item to their Facebook News Feed calling out for a special item--if enough friends "Like" the post, an in-game postman will deliver the item to them.


"Right now, this is kind of our first approach, which is definitely a light approach. But we definitely have some ideas of how to really take advantage of the people in the places around you, and not necessarily just your friends," Carson says of Shoptown's future.

All in all, Shoptown is one fine casual game born of surprisingly hardcore inspirations. However, with the location features at play, Shoptown is just screaming for ways to use players' locations in more interesting ways. Wild Needle is currently testing the game on the Canadian, UK and Australian App Stores, and expects to launch Shoptown in the U.S. soon.

Are you intrigued by or excited for Shoptown to release in the U.S? What do you think of the current stable of location-based games on iPhone? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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