Of the many thousands of free online games to be found on the Internet, Tower Defense games make up a huge proportion. The games are simple, often formulaic. Some games, like Ninja Kiwi’s Bloons franchise, are out and out blockbusters despite being relatively basic. What’s the deal?
Here are five reasons we think Tower Defense games are so enduring, and why they may never disappear from the internet in years to come.
1. They are simple to understand
Yes, yes I know we just talked about the simplicity of tower defense games like it was a drawback, but it can also be an advantage. Present a new TD game to someone with even a tiny bit of experience with other tower defense games, and they will grasp the basics pretty much immediately. That is a major plus when trying to attract new players. Sure, we all love the intense imagery of a highly stylized new world brought to life out of the imagination of some genius designer, but the world’s those games inhabit often come with a steep learning curve. Investing a lot of time in a game only to find out you do not like the structure of it is a bummer. Choosing to play a tower defense game means never being disappointed on this count.
2. Defending is fun
The earliest online games were mostly shooters of one type of another. The problem with shooters is they lack the clear signals of victory that a defensive game has. Old shooters had levels that players would have to clear. This provided, at least somewhat, a sense of accomplishment. But you never knew if that level would be the last one, or if there were more to come. Remember the old-style games where you had to defeat a “boss?” It is boring. Those bosses were always slow and annoying. And the reasons to want to attack them were contrived. Yes, this giant monkey stole your girlfriend, but it’s not your real girlfriend. When you defend you are defending something that represents yourself. You know you are doing well simply by surviving.
3. Defending is psychologically satisfying
This is similar to our second point. There is a base need in all people to survive, and Tower Defense games play right into that instinct.
Ryan Clements notes in his article on the subject:
There’s always something familiar, something vulnerable, behind those defenses you build. And, in most circumstances, the ghastly invaders represent the “other.” Perhaps the aforementioned orcs, or pulsating insects. Name something scary and it has very likely invaded a tower defense game. This urge to protect and preserve fuels our need to keep playing. And it drives us to play well.
4. There is no “right answer”
Another difference between tower defense games and attacking “shooter” games is the impossibility of mastering a game with muscle memory. Everyone who has played an attacking game of any type enough times knows this point they reach, when they are able to clear each round or room without really thinking about it. They know where to stand, where to point the trigger, what pixel to stand on for the next jump, where the bonus shotgun is hidden, etc. The game becomes a contest for perfection of timing and precision, not strategy and planning.
Tower Defense games can be mastered to the extent that the best strategy is well understood, but there is rarely a point reached when the game can be played on autopilot. If something like that point is reached, simply reducing the resources that need protecting (switching to “expert level” perhaps) normally takes care of this problem. Think you know Bloons by heart? Just reduce the number of balloons you can let through and even the simplest level becomes a serious challenge.