[Review] Playfish Lets Facebook Users Become Hoteliers in Hotel City

This article was originally written for Site of the Gaming Dead, a now-defunct video gaming blog, on April 20, 2010. I have attempted to recreate the article here, complete with images (when possible).

Start screen for Facebook game Hotel City by Playfish game studio

Playfish has done it again, introducing yet another micro-managing app to the wide world of Facebook applications and games. This time it’s Hotel City, where you can build, decorate, and maintain your very own hotel. Like some of the other games in Playfish’s growing Facebook arsenal, Hotel City revolves primarily around your acquisition of stuff (guest rooms and functional rooms), your sense of decor to make that stuff even more awesome, and visiting your friends’ spaces in order to get money.

But while the more-established, popular Playfish title Restaurant City still has “BETA” stuck next to its moniker, there’s no such label on the fledgling Hotel City, despite the fact that it’s missing a number of features.

Hotel City is fun, but it doesn’t encourage more than five minutes of total daily interaction the way most Facebook games, including many Playfish titles, do.

The game starts out by giving you a sizable lump of in-game cash to use to get started building your hotel, along with a brief tutorial on what to make of your space, like how you should not just have a lobby with a few small guest rooms, but add other spaces, like a cleaner’s closet, a gym, earning more functional  rooms as you continue to level up. Every room costs you money and takes up “blocks,” but as you level up, you can earn the ability to buy more blocks.

Already this is a change from how Playfish first introduced the game: initially, hotels had to be designed according to a fixed grid. In other words, all hotels are rectangles, but not all rectangles are hotels. Now, the new “total block” system lets users design hotels in all sorts of crazy shapes, including rooms that appear to be floating in midair. The catch is how many blocks you have to design your hotel in. Will you be fine with 30 or want to upgrade to 40? Go for 50 or maybe aim for the Stratosphere with over 100?

Standard rooms, with only a single bed, gray flooring, and green wallpaper, take up one block. More spacious rooms, some of them pre-decorated, can be purchased for cash, or you can make use of the small-but-steadily-growing collection of decorations ranging from wallpaper to floor lamps to decorate your rooms. The nicer your room looks, the more money you get when a guest stays in there: the goal is to get the bars inside each room to fill as far to the right as you possibly can, meaning you’re squeezing the most possible money out of that space.

You can also build commercial rooms like a “Posh Restaurant,” an “Outdoor Disco,” or even a “Bar,” if you’ve got the gold to spend. More commercial rooms become available as you level up, but many of them are prohibitively expensive. Sometimes the pricing and what’s available at what level changes; most recently I noticed the “Outdoor Disco” suddenly changed from being available at Level 13 to not being available until Level 30. But who cares about discos? I’m saving up to get an arcade once I hit Level 28.

If decorating isn’t your forte, you can choose to work at a friend’s hotel, but currently, the only way to do this is by clicking on a Wall post made by your friend indicating that they’re “hiring.” Likewise, friends can only work in your hotel if they click on the links that you post. What your friends end up working as is entirely random, and they can’t specify the appearance of their avatars the way you can in Restaurant City.

When a friend is working in your hotel (or if you’re working in theirs), your name will appear in green above your character’s head. You can collect tips from a tip jar usually found on the right side of the screen in the room you’re working. So, if you’re working as the bartender at a friend’s hotel, look for the jar near the right side of the bar. Once you click on it, the jar will vanish until enough time has elapsed for “you” to accumulate more tips. Sometimes a tip jar that’s ready to be plundered is indicated by a bellboy icon appearing on the lower left of your friend’s avatar, but sometimes it’s not there at all.

You can also earn money by waking up guests. It’s a bit like you’re the hotel Mafia, shaking up your guests and telling them “Hey gimme some money!” Sometimes you succeed, other times you just get sleepy-eyed guests bouncing on their bed for a moment before they head back into Dreamland. This applies to guests in your own hotel or in your friends’.

Also randomly, you can visit your friends’ hotels when your friends have a speech bubble with a money bag in it. This means that there’s a random sack of money just waiting for you in their lobby. It’s usually not much, but collect enough of them and you’ll at least have enough to redecorate one small guest room.

Gifting items and selling them is a basic feature in other Playfish games, but it’s not quite enabled in Hotel City; while you can send some free gifts to friends (and the selection is based on your current level), you can’t buy gifts and send them to friends yet, nor can you sell items you don’t need any more.

The general goal is to get your hotel up to five stars, all while leveling up, increasing your hotel’s girth, and adding prettier and prettier (or scarier, as is the case with one of the pre-decorated rooms: a dungeon) rooms as you go, all to squeeze a bit more gold from your cartoonish guests.

The game has a ways to go before it’s nearly as fully-featured as Restaurant City. Besides more content, bugs such as disappearing rooms need to be ironed out, in addition to making gameplay more fun and interactive. As it stands, there are so few players that it only takes a few minutes to add a room, decorate a bit, grab some money from your guests, friends’ tip jars and guests, and finding what random sacks of gold may be awaiting you in various lobbies. Since you can buy “shifts” for your staff in increments up to 48 hours, there’s often no reason to even go back to the game unless it’s to see if you’ve earned enough cash to buy a pre-decorated or commercial room.

Without the ability to customize your avatars or the jobs you take at friend’s hotels, it seems like much more than usual is controlled by an AI than by the player. This contrasts with Restaurant City, where the success of your eatery depends largely on your ability to buy and trade ingredients to level up dishes, all while keeping your restaurant clean and your friend’s venues free of bears, skunks, penguins, leaks, and poisonous mushrooms. So far in Hotel City, I’ve only seen one cockroach, and that was because someone failed to put in a Cleaner’s Room for a floor of their hotel.

Until Playfish adds a bit “more” of everything, like what I’m used to in Restaurant City, that poor ol’ addicting game still stuck in beta, I’m giving Hotel City a:

Wounded: 2/5