Small computer people, big iOS success: The making of Tiny Tower

From Pocket Frogs to BitBook

Small computer people, big iOS success: The making of Tiny Tower
The Marsh brothers behind US developer NimbleBit have released a lot of iOS games - 15 to-date - but, more significantly, they've always been happy to experiment with new business models.

From paid to free games, now firmly freemium, they've demonstrated success with 40 million downloads to-date, while their most recent release Tiny Tower has already been downloaded over two million times, ranking top 5 in 26 top grossing charts.

We caught up with Ian Marsh to find out more about the game's development.

PocketGamer: What was the inspiration behind Tiny Tower?

Ian Marsh: When designing Tiny Tower, we wanted to take what people enjoyed about existing building/sim/management games and make it feel at home on the iPhone with lots of charm and character.

How much influence did you take from Pocket Frogs?

There were certainly lots of elements of randomisation and customisation that made Pocket Frogs enjoyable that we wanted to apply to Tiny Tower as well.

How did you design it to stand out against other social freemium games?

We made sure to balance the gameplay so that the game was an enjoyable experience whether the player decided to purchase in-app purchases or not. We also added a level of charm and interaction not commonly found in similar freemium games.

How did the design change throughout the game's development?

As development progressed, more and more of the focus turned towards the bitizens themselves, in addition to simply building your tower up. Many features were added to allow the player to customise, interact with, and peek inside the daily lives of the bitizens.

Tiny Tower seems to be less socially focused than Pocket Frogs. Was this planned?

One of the goals of Tiny Tower was to test how important the 'social' aspect of these freemium games really is. I think Tiny Tower has proven that freemium games appeal to many people who don't have lots of friends on networks, and still play and pay these sorts of games.

Can you give a rough breakdown of the development time and any significant tools you used?

The game took roughly four months of full time development by two people. On the graphical side we use cocos2d.

Were there any features or elements that didn't work or that you didn't have time/resources to complete?

Luckily we didn't have any time constraints so each feature was carefully planned and included if we thought it was necessary for the game's enjoyment.

How did you come up with the idea for the bitizens and their BitBook?

Once we had these cute pixelised people in the game, we knew that we needed to focus on them since they were so darned adorable. Giving them the name bitizens and adding things like the BitBook [their version of Facebook] helped us bring them to life.

The BitBook ended up being one part of the game that brings people a lot of enjoyment. It was planned as a small side feature but invariably ended up being one of the most talked about parts of the game.

What most surprised you about the audience reaction?

I think we were most surprised by just how positive the reaction was and how consumed people were with the game. We are always prepared for negative feedback and poor reviews, but they were very lacking after the game's launch.

Did you notice any differences compared to the audience for Pocket Frogs?

Just perhaps the size of the audience. Pixelised people seem to have a much wider appeal than beautiful frogs!

What plans to have to support the game in terms of more content?

The biggest addition in version 1.2 [just released] will allow people to customise their tower even further by allowing them to rename their floors.

Thanks to Ian for his time.
Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.