Charm and Promise
When I think of Codigames’ new sim Hotel Empire Tycoon, the first word that comes to mind is “unfortunate.” I’ll start off by saying outright that the game would merit four stars because fundamentally it is an outstanding mobile game. However, as happens too often with freemium titles, an excess of greed has spoiled the player experience.
The monetization scheme used in Hotel Empire Tycoon isn’t immediately overbearing because it’s not obvious right away how difficult it will be to ignore. So the second I started playing the game, I was hooked. The first two days, I played every chance I got. When I needed to work, I wanted to be playing. When I was supposed to be falling asleep, I was playing in bed.
There is a wonderful charm to the visual presentation of the game, a blocky and simplified look that also offers incredible amounts of detail if you look closely. Each tiny item in every room has multiple forms that are revealed as you make upgrades. From patio chairs to shower decorations to desk phones, it’s clear that the developers put a lot of work into planning each hotel and its item upgrades.
There are four different hotels to build and improve upon. This might not seem like a lot but each new hotel is a little more complex than the last. There are spas, swimming pools and ski lifts to build and an ample variety of enhancements for each uniquely themed hotel. They are all different enough from one another that you’ll feel a little excitement when it’s time to start work on a new hotel.
Accompanying the endearing graphic style is an equally pleasant soundtrack that unfortunately isn’t super diverse and quickly becomes repetitive. But upon first launching the game, that music is part of what draws you into the world of Hotel Empire Tycoon. It’s catchy and jazzy, makes you want to dance a little bit, and puts you in the mood to build an empire.
So What’s the Problem?
The major downfall of Hotel Empire Tycoon is its extremely unfortunate monetization scheme. Overall, there aren’t a lot of in-app purchases. You can buy gems, but they only serve to add bonus items that are purely cosmetic. You can hire a general manager to earn profits even when you’re not playing. And you can pay for a marketing expert to permanently double profits. These in-app purchases aren’t thrown in your face too blatantly or insistently, and it is entirely possible to play the game without investing a dime.
Despite this, Hotel Empire Tycoon still proved to be one of the most difficult games to resist spending money on. This is because the game developers have opted to use a monetization method that’s just as annoying as incessant prompts for in-app purchases. There are constant, and I mean constant, in-game advertisements. No, you don’t have to watch them; you can play the entire game without watching a single one.
A Game Changer
What’s my complaint then? The game is designed so that in order to progress at any speed faster than that of a slug, at least in the beginning, you’ll watch the advertisements. To double your profits in 10-minute increments, you watch an advertisement. If your maids don’t clean properly, you watch an advertisement to finish the job. To earn money more quickly, a sparkly, dancing businessman wanders into your hotel every minute or two. Click on him to watch an advertisement that’ll earn you between a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. Trust me, it is very difficult to resist a happy, dancing, sparkly man offering you money. You just want to click on him. It’s designed to be irresistible and it usually succeeds.
If you decide to not spend money and watch advertisements instead, they will fill about 70% of your play time. I’ve never watched so many ads on my phone. It completely changes the game from one of enjoyment to one of tedium. The monetization scheme is so embedded into the game that it transforms how it’s played. One might say, well, it’s a choice to watch these advertisements, so it’s not fair to judge the game so harshly for them. It’s a choice to hire three maids instead of four, it’s a choice to build a spa, and it’s a choice to watch the advertisements. They are all equally a part of the game’s core mechanics.
What’s obvious is that the developers know how intrusive and annoying this monetization scheme is. That’s why they have the audacity to charge $10.99 to turn off advertisements and get all the associated perks permanently. Like too many freemium titles, the devs designed this facet of Hotel Empire Tycoon to be horribly tedious in the hopes that some people will pay a ridiculous sum to turn it off.
Once I figured out how Hotel Empire Tycoon worked, I began to game the system, no pun intended. I’d have the game open on my phone and a book in my other hand. Every minute or so, I’d look over, click on the sparkly guy, and return to my book. A minute later I’d glance over, exit out of the advertisement, and return to my book. After reading for several hours, I’d accumulate enough money to complete massive upgrades on my hotel in one swoop. I found it nonetheless addicting because I still wanted to upgrade everything, but getting there was incredibly boring.
The developers would have been better served by simply charging a one-time fee and removing the in-app purchases and advertisements. Sure, they might have made less money. They would also have created an exceptional game that people could fully appreciate instead of constantly being assailed by the game’s incessant advertisements.
Is it Hardcore?
Hotel Empire Tycoon is a prime example of greed ruining what could have been an excellent gameplay experience. Eagerness to play quickly transformed to boredom. And that’s really unfortunate because the game actually has great things to offer that are obscured by an unnecessary and overly obtrusive monetization scheme.