House Flipper is a simulation videogame that casts me as an entrepreneur who takes on home repair projects. Each “flip” takes anywhere from ten minutes to an hour to complete, depending on the extent of the damage and the size of the property. When I finish I auction the property for a profit that lets me buy bigger properties which I can flip for greater profits. This gameplay loop guides me from small properties I purchase for a few thousand dollars up to mini-mansions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. As solid as this premise is, House Flipper is let down by how repetitive many of its home repair tasks are and how difficult some of its systems are to interact with.
When I arrive at a new property I usually find it covered in trash, defaced by graffiti, and its interior surfaces crawling with mold. Job one is to get the property clean. Trash is easy to pick up—just point and click and it disappears in a blink—while surfaces can be cleaned with a mop that can only be described as magic. No matter how pernicious the mold I tackle, this mop will have it cleared with a few swipes. Forget house flipping, I should be making money selling this mop! As unrealistic as the cleanup step is, it may be the most successfully designed part of House Flipper. It creates the most immediate impression of progress and is not as tedious and repetitious as the next step.
Once the house is free of garbage and mold, I must turn my attention to the property’s interior walls. The previous owners often leave the walls damaged, which must be repaired with plaster, and either left walls bare or painted an unpleasant color. On the job site I am always equipped with a tablet computer, which I can open to browse an IKEA-like catalog of home design and repair products, including dozens of different paint colors, wood panels, and wallpaper patterns. Once I decide how I want to decorate the walls of the current room, I purchase supplies from the tablet and get to work.
Painting, paneling, or wallpapering walls is the most time-consuming task in House Flipper. Each wall is divided into narrow stripes which must be decorated individually. Paint is applied by a roller which can paint several stripes in a row before it must be refreshed at a paint bucket; panels and wallpaper are stored in stacks on the floor, and I must walk back and forth between the stack and the next stripe one at a time until the entire wall is covered. Painting speed may be improved by an in-game perk system that lets me paint multiple stripes at once, but paneling and wallpapering never moves past one-stripe-at-a-time design. Even though panels and wallpaper increase the house’s value much more than paint, the process is so time-consuming that I nearly always opted to paint each room to save myself some of the mind-numbing tedium.
The next step is to install the property’s appliances. In most projects this means putting a radiator in each room. Bathrooms also often need to have sinks, toilets, and showers installed. Each installation must be hooked up to electricity or plumbing already part of the property’s infrastructure, completed via button prompts. To install a toilet I must purchase one from my tablet, place it on the correct mount in the bathroom, then hold down the indicated buttons to secure the toilet to the floor with screws and place the lid on top. It’s a silly and quick process which can be made quicker through perk investment, and by far the least time-consuming part of House Flipper’s design. It’s so non-time consuming it seems like a half-implemented idea; there are many bathroom sinks that don’t hook up to any plumbing, and kitchen appliances confusingly do not need to be hooked up to electricity or gas. This seems to have no effect on their function for the property’s future owners.
Once a house is cleaned, painted, and has its appliances installed, the last step is decoration. This is where House Flipper fumbles its premise the hardest. There’s a smart system that changes the function of a room depending on what furniture is inside it; a room with a toilet and sink is a bathroom, a room with a bed is a bedroom. A room with a refrigerator and oven becomes a kitchen, but if I also add a couch, coffee table, and television, then it becomes a living room with kitchenette. All these different rooms affect the value of the home, and the hundreds of different styles of furniture available through the tablet allow a vast amount of customization, imbuing each flip with unique potential.
The trouble is that placing furniture with precision is difficult, especially on consoles. Furniture does not lock to the parameters of the room, happily ghosting into walls where it turns red and refuses to be placed. The ability to view a room from a variety of angles, particularly from a top-down view, would mitigate this problem, but my perspective is locked to the first-person angle every other task in House Flipper uses. It did not take me long to grow frustrated with this system and quit trying to make each house unique. I dropped beds in rooms to create bedrooms, dropped kitchen appliances to create kitchens, then got out of the property as soon as I could. I was able to get away with this because House Flipper’s systems aren’t sophisticated enough to recognize if a room’s decorations are practical or not.
I progress in House Flipper in one of two ways: Jobs, where I complete a home repair in somebody else’s property for money, and the actual house flipping, where I buy a property outright, make changes to it as I see fit, then sell it for profit. The difference between the two is how much creativity I am allowed. Jobs give me specific tasks, including requiring certain paint colors, exact furniture models, and only changing the rooms I am requested to change. Early on, jobs are where I earn the money to buy properties to flip.
Flipping gives me more choices. While I work on a flippable house, a ticker appears on the screen’s side that shows prospective buyers commenting on my progress. The person at the top of the ticker is the one most likely to buy the property. This system is ultimately meaningless; as long as I fully clean the property, repaint it, install missing appliances, and put a minimum amount of furniture to create bedrooms and kitchens, it seems impossible not to make a significant profit off each flip regardless of who buys it. The only reason to interact with the ticker is to avoid selling a house to someone I don’t like—but nearly all the buyers make baffling criticisms of every house they see. One elderly couple memorably criticizes every property for having too many rooms, including the properties that only have two. House Flipper has systems full of creative potential, but they feel too hard to interact with and too arbitrary in their reward to be worth my effort.
I chose to give House Flipper my time and attention because I was charmed by its premise, and I did spend my first few hours giggling at its audacity. The mundanity of home repair turned into a simulation videogame has an appeal, but House Flipper is too simple and too unrefined. Too many of its systems are either tedious, or difficult to interact with to get the results I want. Worse still, whether I put a little or a lot of effort into creatively decorating my flips seems to have little bearing in how much profit I earn. House Flipper’s design is too shallow to be rewarding and too dull to be entertaining.