Welcome To Mobile Gaming, Angry Dungeon Keeper Fans

Welcome To Mobile Gaming, Angry Dungeon Keeper Fans

After spending the better part of two years covering the mobile gaming beat for Kotaku, I found myself puzzled over the anger surrounding the free-to-play features and rating policies of EA Mobile's new Dungeon Keeper game. Then it hit me -- you guys must be new.

I do understand the anguish over what feels like the misappropriation and bastardization of a beloved franchise. Dungeon Keeper and Dungeon Keeper 2 were, for many of us, our first introduction to strategy gaming. They were deep and thoughtful. We made memories with those games -- memories many of us feel are being shit on by EA's choice to make this mobile monstrosity. I feel that pain, as keenly as I felt my own when EA released Wing Commander Arena. Hands off my favourite franchise, you maniacs!

Welcome To Mobile Gaming, Angry Dungeon Keeper Fans

Of course they aren't our franchises, technically. As much as it feels like we own a part of the games we love, those rights are out of our reach, and all we can do in situations like these is hope that someone comes along and does for Dungeon Keeper what Chris Robert's Star Citizen is doing for Wing Commander -- making the game the fans want, even if the name is a bit different.

Where my understanding of the outrage falters is in regards to the features that have become staples of mobile gaming over the past couple of years. Features that seem so common to me that when I sadly review a game like Dungeon Keeper, mindful of its dying roots, and call it not a bad example of the genre, I get called "corrupt" on Twitter.

Features like...

Free-to-Play, Pay-to-Win

Here is a game. You can play it for free. You can play it more/better if you pay some cash. It began on Facebook with games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, and spread like wildfire. Players can pay to complete quests in free-to-play games. They can spend money on more powerful weapons or minions. They can skip large portions of gameplay via careful application of cash.

I've been playing free-to-play games on Facebook and mobile devices for years now, and I've spent maybe $US40 across more than 100 different titles. That's what, $US2.50 a game? That seems fair to me.

Of course other people spend a lot more without blinking an eye. Their loss, I say. A good free-to-play game (see Plants Vs. Zombies 2) provides plenty of free entertainment for the patient. For me it's the pay-to-win games that get me right in the gamerspot. If it gets obnoxious, I don't play.

Why Traditional Gamers Hate It: It feels like we're being cheated somehow. We are used to purchasing a game for a set price, and having everything on that cartridge/disc/download accessible to us. It's why on-disc downloadable content pisses us off.

"But it's a free game!" So? Doesn't lessen the fact that we're not used to/do not want people holding out their hands to us every couple of minutes asking for cash.

The Paywall

The point at which you can no longer play a free game without paying money. It used to be there was a true barrier -- you could not play without paying cash -- but nowadays it is used to mean the point at which you either have to wait for a timer or more energy before you can play again. A good example would be Candy Crush Saga, which stops players before each new world until they can get tickets from friends, wait out a timer or pay $US.99.

It's really a test of patience. If you play mobile games like most mobile gamers do -- in short bursts between other tasks -- the wait isn't that bad.

Why Traditional Gamers Hate It: Traditional gamers do not purchase or download a game to play it five minutes at a time. If we go to the store and come home with a shiny new title, the only reason we're playing less than 10 minutes is if it was a midnight launch and we're too tired to go on (that's what caffeine is for). We don't see the paywall as "oh, time to play something else/get back to work/finish having sex." For us, it's "why the hell can't I keep playing this?"

Ratings Manipulation

Recently it has come to light that Dungeon Keeper on Android features a less-than-straightforward 'rate this app' screen. Check out this image, captured by Mike Robinson on Twitter (via Gamasutra).

Welcome To Mobile Gaming, Angry Dungeon Keeper Fans

Clicking the '1-4 Stars' button apparently takes players to a feedback page instead of the Google Play feedback page, asking them to tell EA what they can do to make the game worth a higher ranking. Hitting '5 Stars' takes players to the ranking page. That's sort of evil.

It's also sort of par for the course. The ratings for free-to-play games on Google Play and iTunes mean about as much as the average Metacritic user rating of a mobile game under fire for ruining a classic franchise. Have the people rating the game played it? Who knows? Were the raters coerced? There's a good chance.

I've seen games that award in-game currency or special items for writing a review -- that's much worse than asking for feedback. Plus, once you make it to the Dungeon Keeper review page on Google Play (right here), you aren't locked into that five stars.

Ultimately these ratings mean nothing, especially for a free-to-play game. People are more likely to take a chance on a game when there is no initial investment. It doesn't hurt that everyone is talking about Dungeon Keeper right now.

Why Traditional Gamers Hate It: Because it's damn shady. It's a system that allows itself to be fiddled with and gamed. It's a broken system. Mobile gamers don't mind. They seem to enjoy broken things.

***

If features like these make you angry, well then welcome to the club. I was railing against these sorts of features years ago. I still despise the energy meter, to the point where a developer whose game I'd been keeping track of for over a year admitted they were scared to show me the beta build because it incorporated such a feature. And timers? Timers are dicks.

But again, these are all features that mobile gamers are used to, and in the grand mobile scheme of things, Dungeon Keeper is no worse than any other free-to-play base building strategy game. There is nothing in the game, aside from some temporary buffs, that can't be accessed without paying -- it's just much harder to access it. That's where mobile gaming is right now.

Which brings us to...

The Real Problem with EA's New Dungeon Keeper -- It Wasn't Made For Us

When I say us, I refer to the traditional gamers. The ones who purchase games at the store or online. The ones who line up for console launches. The ones who's second-favourite pastime is talking about the games they love online. Some of us play mobile games too -- some more than others -- but our hearts belong to the scent of a newly-pressed disc or the slow progression of the install meter.

I used to harbor the romantic notion that the explosion of mobile gaming would lead to an influx of new console and PC gamers. That the bite-sized games they play, many filled with features traditional gamers find downright insulting, would make them curious about the richer pleasures more robust modes of gaming had to offer.

That would be lovely, but it's not going to happen.

The new breed of mobile gamers don't consider their phones and tablets gaming devices. They are tools, and the games they play are just toys for those tools.

These mobile gamers play for distraction instead of passion. They are passing the time. They aren't as emotionally invested in what they are playing, so when a meter or timer pops up, it doesn't affect them as strongly. They have no experience paying $US60 to play a game -- to them, microtransactions are the way these things are done.

They're unwise to the ways of the greater gaming world, and they won't be wising up anytime soon. When they pick up their phone or tablet with gaming in mind, they're going to play. They aren't going to surf the web for forums. They aren't looking for a gaming site to see what new mobile games are on the horizon. They're in their own mobile gaming bubble. Games pop up on their screens. If they look interesting, they will play them. If the game's got the right addictive formula, they'll pay to play.

They're odd. They're casuals. They're also legion.

A trend report from 2012 -- two years ago -- showed the total number of Americans playing games on their mobile devices had surpassed 100 million. Last year EA Mobile's The Simpsons: Tapped Out -- a game that features timers and microtransactions galore -- reached $US105 million in revenue. Recently GungHo's Puzzle & Dragons, a collectible monster puzzle game heavy on the in-app purchases, reached $US1 billion in sales. Again, these are games featuring mechanics traditional gamers are known to despise.

What does it mean? It means there is a massive market of new gamers out there willing to accept smaller, limited games. They are willing to invest a little cash to get their town or adventuring party up to snuff, and they aren't put off by timers and energy meters and other free-to-play bullshit. They don't complain. They just quietly play their games and make companies like EA millions of dollars.

Back to Dungeon Keeper then. Who do you think the target audience for this game is? The relatively small, extremely vocal minority yearning for the good old days, or the teeming masses eager for a new, colourful icon that doesn't cost them any money down?

No one can tell me this game was built with fans of the original franchise primarily in mind. Not when its core gameplay is built on a framework of everything traditional gamers despise. Dungeon Keeper was an existing property that no one was doing anything with, which just happened to be built on concepts that could be stretched over the frame of Supercell's Clash of Clans, a game that at one point was reportedly bringing in $US2.4 million a day. Maybe EA felt they might draw in a few hardcore fans with the name recognition, but I cannot imagine the developers expected a positive reaction.

Look at this quote from the game's senior producer, Jeff Salski, from an interview with TabTimes earlier this week.

Mythic is committed to continuously fine tuning the player experience based upon fan feedback. We're looking at a ton of data right now to help inform that: media reviews, comments, and reviews from players, and a bunch of in-game data like downloads, and engagement. It's too early for us to get an accurate sense of what changes might be needed, but we didn't make this game for ourselves, we made it for the players. We know that you can never please everyone, but we want this to be a game that most of our intended audience enjoys.

That intended audience? Not us. No way.

Is using the name of a beloved franchise for such a purpose despicable? Yeah, it is. They've taken an amazing concept and twisted it for mass market appeal with no regard to fans of the original games. EA Mythic is the Michael Bay of video games.

Are mobile games a cancer on the game industry? At this point it's almost a completely different industry. Two separate markets with unique tastes and expectations. Developers try to pander to both sides, but no matter how console-like their mobile games get, there will still be traditional gamers that despise it because of the platform it's on.

Does that mean we should be ok with what's been done with Dungeon Keeper because it's the current status quo in mobile gaming? Not at all. What I am saying is we can be as angry and loud and boisterous and resentful as we want, but it's going to be hard to be heard over the tens of millions of casual mobile gamers who couldn't care less.

So, welcome to mobile gaming, angry Dungeon Keeper fans. You should probably just turn and walk away. While I love seeing my favourite franchises branching out onto mobile devices, incidents like this make me think that we'd be better off keeping the trees pruned. Mobile casual gamers over there, traditional gamers over here.

Just as long as they can get their own damn franchise names.

Top image credit.


Comments

    I downloaded it, I enjoyed it a lot. I'm kinda done with it now though. Not because of nefarious pay walls or things like that (in truth this game lets you do quite a lot before having to wait for things to recharge) but I feel like the gameplay doesn't rev my engine much. I don't like the tower defence nature and the aesthetic doesn't excite me.

    But other than that it's been a fun game so far.

      Side thought re-ratings. Reviews should show hours played of the reviewer. We know they are recording it anyway so why not do something useful with it.

    You're defending a game that's gouging customers. They purposefully hike up the difficulty so that you HAVE to pay in order to win.

      No, he's not. He's just pointing out reality, that it's shit for us who are used to games, but unfortunately the game isn't for us

        But why isnt it for us? If i was a fan of the series and they did this, i would be pissed off. Its really not ok that the editor says "its not for us" because it should be.

        It is not OK to justify this sort of crap. Nearly every single game with a free to play system, ramps up the difficulty to near impossible, forcing you to pay to skip that level or have a better chance of beaten it.

        Last edited 09/02/14 9:40 pm

          It's not okay for the editor to say that? They don't decide. You think people who write articles decide what a products target audience is? They don't. It was decided by EA. Why isn't it for us? Probably because someone at EA say it as a good chance to make a shit tonne of cash on the casual mobile audience. The author here isn't justifying it, they address the fact that it's reprehensible behavior and disgusting. They're just pointing out that we aren't the target audience. And that's a fact, not something that an editor decided

            Coolhandluke isn't really blaming the editor or his right to an opinion, he is questioning why it's ok that beloved franchise not be made for it's fans. The editor can speak of the cruel reality of the practice, but it doesn't make it right, opinion or not.

            Just because something is fact, it doesn't mean we can't ask why.

    This article confuses me...

    Why do you keep making excuses for these games and then immediately back pedaling to say you hated these things before everyone else?

    Do you think most of us don't understand these shitty games are raking in the cash from a different audience? Or do you think big media scandals of misappropriated classic IPs aren't helpful in giving feedback to corporations?

    Sure, it might be a new system to a lot of the people who got into it where as it's old hat to you. But shouldn't you be supporting them raising their voices to echo ideas you've had for some time?

    Beyond that, you ignore a very simple fact. The reason so many people unused to mobile gaming likely picked it up and got angry was due to brand recognition. Despite your dismissals that they're an isolated group, obviously they're large enough to become vocal and create some media attention, certainly not a niche group to be dismissed out of hand.

      "Beyond that, you ignore a very simple fact. The reason so many people unused to mobile gaming likely picked it up and got angry was due to brand recognition."

      Actually, he didn't ignore that. He covered it. Several times. It was KIND OF THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ARTICLE.

      I do understand the anguish over what feels like the misappropriation and bastardization of a beloved franchise. Dungeon Keeper and Dungeon Keeper 2 were, for many of us, our first introduction to strategy gaming. They were deep and thoughtful. We made memories with those games — memories many of us feel are being shit on by EA’s choice to make this mobile monstrosity. I feel that pain, as keenly as I felt my own when EA released Wing Commander Arena. Hands off my favourite franchise, you maniacs!

      The Real Problem with EA’s New Dungeon Keeper — It Wasn’t Made For Us
      When I say us, I refer to the traditional gamers.

      Back to Dungeon Keeper then. Who do you think the target audience for this game is? The relatively small, extremely vocal minority yearning for the good old days, or the teeming masses eager for a new, colourful icon that doesn’t cost them any money down? No one can tell me this game was built with fans of the original franchise primarily in mind. Not when its core gameplay is built on a framework of everything traditional gamers despise.

      That intended audience? Not us. No way. Is using the name of a beloved franchise for such a purpose despicable? Yeah, it is. They’ve taken an amazing concept and twisted it for mass market appeal with no regard to fans of the original games. EA Mythic is the Michael Bay of video games.

      You couldn't have missed the point any harder if you had your eyes closed and pretended to read the article.

      If I had to summarize the entire thrust of the article in only one sentence it would be, "Mobile gaming is a different beast with its own accepted mechanics that gamers find abhorrent, which is why it's shitty that they stole a name gamers love and used it on the market not populated by gamers." (But that's an unwieldy sentence, so I'd rather make it two.)

      And you mention that as a separate group they're too large to be ignored... HE WRITES ENTIRE PARAGRAPHS ON THAT FACT. Jesus, GOD, go back and read the article again.

      Last edited 09/02/14 11:40 am

        Apologies I may not have been completely clear on that last point.

        What I meant to bring up as the missed fact, was that this group was large enough to cause a sway in the media coverage and attention that the mobile market made. I was arguing against his definition of it as a vocal minority, suggesting that the outlash showed there was likely a larger market there than both EA and the article's author were suggesting.

        Whenever the "vocal minority" moniker is brought out, it immediately is used to marginalise that opinion. I was suggesting that this may not be fair in this circumstance. As you'll notice my comment specifically references those points where he identifies them as a vocal minority.

        Again sorry if I wasn't clear on that point, it wasn't even the main gist of my comment rather an afterthought I added at the end.

        I would suggest that being overly confrontational to strangers on the internet based on a single sentence of an comment might not always net you the best results though and personal attacks generally don't lead to reasoned discussion.

    Just hack the game. I don't have the game, but I'm sure if you have a jailbroken ipad you can easily use Gameplayer to change your currency

      Wheres the fun and challenge in that, give yourself a bazillion credits, and sweep through the levels with absolutely no challenge at all. Quite quickly you will realise that the game has no redeemable features, and after 4 or 5 levels that bazillion credits you had is down to half a bazillion, and you've just 'spent' several 1000 real world dollars to complete a few measly levels.

      These are games, and i use the term loosely, where every single action is mired in timers and pay to speed up obstacles

      Thats the issue with these pay to win games, you literally pay to win the level, or for more tech savvy people, you crack the game to win the level.

    I've had it for a while now, but I still give KeeperFX a good workout every week.

    Seriously - Math Skills FTW...

    I’ve been playing free-to-play games on Facebook and mobile devices for years now, and I’ve spent maybe $US40 across more than 100 different titles. That’s what, $US2.50 a game? That seems fair to me.

    Would seem fairer if you calculated correctly - $40 spent over 100 games is 40c a game...

    Last edited 09/02/14 12:47 pm

      That's all sorts of embarrassing. How do you write a 2000 word article and fuck up simple math?
      I could understand if he said "85 different titles" because 85 is a trickier number, 100 is like the easiest thing to divide by though. Move the decimal place twice, ya done!

        It's not that bad - he just got the values mixed up. $100 / 40 is $2.50 per game. Innocent mistake.

      Or maybe $100 spent over 40 games. Wouldn't that be $2.50 a game?

    Just as long as they can get their own damn franchise names.

    That's the problem though, they won't. Big companies and businesses are always going to take the safe route, their always going to pick 'the game that was once a hit, and could be a hit again' over John Doe's new idea.

    Way to click bait Mike, although you wrote a nice article its only going to enrage others against you because you come off as saying gamers are entitled. It's the gamers that made this industry and when the majority is up in arms you better just shut up and fix the problem instead of making excuses for these shill games that are cancer to the industry.

    "We made memories with those games — memories many of us feel are being shit on by EA’s choice to make this mobile monstrosity."

    I feel like this is a little patronizing. Give people some credit.

    I don't get it... if It Wasn’t Made For Us why name it Dungeon Keeper? The only reason to call it that way is to cash in the goodwill of the brand... only to sully it and crush the expectations of players that know it. Moreover, it was not a widelly loved franchise with super popular characters that can sell anything just by appearing on it; it is a cult, niche series with a dedicated, intelligent fan-base that are not going to stand by this just because it has that name. All the opposite, they're going to feel disappointed and angry.

    I seriously don't get EA.

    I think that perhaps the problemwith this is the extent of the waiting - four hours to dig a cube out? If it were, say, five minutes, maybe players wouldn't be so horrified by the result. Impatient players can still pay to win, but the moderately patient person doesn't have to.

    I've played plenty of these - Jurassic Park Builder I enjoyed - but the basis was I could play for ten minutes, put it down and come back again in fifteen and have something to do.

    I don't mind when some games use this business model to gouge their customers, but when it gets to the point now that so few games are released that you can buy and then that's it, it gets pretty frustrating. Even games that cost more than a couple dollars are including in-app purchases and restricting play-time.... I just want to find a quality mobile game I can play without knowing I'm going to have to wait for an hour to play for ten minutes.

    Last edited 09/02/14 2:18 pm

    I shudder to think what the world would be like if everyone just accepted "That's the way it is." and never questioned anything. Sure, people who have only ever been acquainted with mobile games might be happy forking over money and waiting a long time before they can have fun again, but I question whether that is because they truly don't mind how mobile games are commonly structured, or whether it's because they don't realise there are better alternatives.

    Last edited 09/02/14 9:16 pm

    It doesn't matter that these mobile games are short bursts instead of long playthroughs, portable consoles have been doing that right for decades.

    I don't care if it "wasn't made for us." To tell you the truth I don't even care that it's Dungeon Keeper (that's just insult to injury!) The rest of the evil and deceitful practises surrounding the games PR and ratings debacle just drag it all down further.

    It's unacceptable is what it is. Women's fashion shoes are not made or marketed towards me but I find it equally disturbing for a fashion label could make shoes with sweatshop labour, sell it at exorbitant prices while strategically targeting women with social status issues - all the while hiding behind the claim that it's "how the market is."

    The issue is that when we buy our 'traditional' games, we don't buy into anything to do with playing the game, we buying ourselves into the position to play the game. If you want to overcome that barrier faster to get more players into the game faster then make some goddamn demos, or even better: trials. Then instead of sucking endless cash out of people in the same manner as gambling machines; your super fun and addictive game will convince players to shell out and purchase the game.

    "...is hope that someone comes along and does for Dungeon Keeper what Chris Robert’s Star Citizen is doing for Wing Commander..."

    It's already happening and it's called War For The Overworld. Peter Molyneux had this to say "Dungeon Keeper has to be remade. It has to be remade by people who love it and the Kickstarter campaign for War For The Overworld is the campaign to support if you want to see Dungeon Keeper back."

    Check it out on Kickstarter, it's already fully funded. Now all you need is a little patience.

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