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Keep Me Out Of Your Dungeon
by Andrew Smith on 02/04/14 04:23:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


If you're interested in games, you'll have seen that Dungeon Keeper got rebooted as a free to play mobile game this week.

If you're a gamer of a certain age, you'll have been wishing they would release Dungeon Keeper 3 for years now.

Now, the internet (read: twitter) has been positively aflame with people crying the new game. there have been swear-heavy video reviews. There have been detailed articles about the ins and outs of its many failings. There have even been reviews so full of negatives it becomes almost comical.

Now, I'll be the first to admit it's probably a really bad game. In fact, I've not played it because everyone says how bad it is. I mean why would I want to? Plus I'm a fan of the original two games, and would really like to play a modern update. They were a lot of fun, if flawed, and knowing free to play as I do (not 'like a pro', but at least as much as I need to be making one...) then this game will be fundamentally changed from the structure and pacing (to mention but two aspects) that were part of the original's draw.


Now, I'll say again I'm not suggesting for a minute that the new DK is a good game. Apparently it really isn't. But what has struck me as interesting is the way the public have been reacting to it.

A common aspect - and the one drawing the most attention - is related to the fact that people responding REALLY negatively put the fact that they do not like free to play games/games with micro-transactions in them out there. Now, we wouldn't really heed the words of someone who hates platformers opining on a new Mario game would we? It's a bit of a blunt comparison, but free to play games are so fundamentally altered by their sales model that they're almost a different genre to themselves. It'd be the same the other way around - in fact I don't think it'll be long until we see some prominent gamers used to 'free' games ranting about how duped they were by a paid game, having to pay up front and then finding out the game in question is sub par.

To put it simply, to expect the game to be the same after a freemium makeover is a mistake, but this fact seems to have been ignored in favour of an emotional response. Which I'll get to.

The biggest critics also seem to be self-confessed fans and admirers of the original games. So the first thing I ask myself is why would they be interested in this 'update'? First thing to note, it's on mobile, while the original was built for PC. Second, it's been so long since the last game in the series I doubt anyone involved in them is involved in this one. Just from a fan's point of view, we're getting ready for disappointment. Wildly different platform and development team, not to mention the tweaked (more mass-market friendly) art style.

Now I don't mean to draw with broad strokes here, but I'm going to say any remaining fans of the first two in the series are core gamers. Owned a PC to play games on. Enjoyed gaming sessions for an hour or more at a time. Enjoy competition, exploration, and wringing the most out of a game that they spent £30 on.

That's all gravy. It's brilliant! I'm one of them too! But, honestly, to not understand why the new Dungeon Keeper isn't for me (or you) is to wilfully miss the point.

Now that's out of the way, I'll go back to the emotional side of it, because this is what really fascinates me, as someone who hopes to create characters and worlds people care deeply about.

Obviously the gameplay and the characters in Dungeon Keeper struck a  chord. It sold well enough to get a sequel, and in my eyes at least it sort of represents an era of PC gaming that many of us are eager to get back to. Systems, challenge, depth, control and a dose of humour too.

Now, players have obviously identified with DK in ways the creators never truly intended (that's the nature of art) and this is a wonderful thing... but it's led us to the point now where the backlash against a game is (I think) more about a perceived 'theft' of something precious from us the gamers, by them the publisher, for no reason other than an attempt to wring cash out of everyone. But it does highlight a great questions - after a game's release, who really owns it? I'd argue the fans do, but I'd love to know everyone else's thoughts on the subject.


This is a bad thing for all those involved. Our treasured memories are looted, a bad game is made (regardless of the payment model) and a long-wished for sequel (which was always going to be as potentially brilliant as we could collectively imagine it to be, and as such fall short in any number of ways) is a huge disappointment.

What I object to is when a Bad Game in and of itself is somehow hoisted up as evidence of how a payment model is 'bad' for games. It was bad for this series. EA should have launched the same game without the IP attached (and then I'd wager nobody would've noticed or cared), and frankly it's just insane to read any more into it. I don't decry paid games every time I read a review of a crap one (and there are plenty) I just avoid buying it, or even playing a demo.

Finally - and I find myself reacting weirdly emotionally to this aspect - I absolutely hate it when people try to portray other people as stupid or otherwise impaired based on the kinds of things they enjoy. I've had this discussion with too many people, and I just don't understand why anyone thinks there is an objectively 'fun' thing and an objectively 'not fun' thing. I know plenty of people who like movies that are bad, but I'd never be so judgemental as to question their enjoyment of it Same goes for anything in life. 


It seems the new  Dungeon Keeper is shit. A lot of people who it was never intended to please are displeased. A lot of them seem to be blaming a payment model rather than poor design. It's s shame people insits on oncflating the two.

EA made a really heinous decision to use this IP in this way, but more importantly they made a bad game and that's the root of the problem. Team Fortress, LoL and DoTA seem to suggest you can make F2P games that core gamers enjoy a lot. Here's hoping EA learn from their mistakes.


I propose that the only way EA could have made the right move would've been to pay Firaxis to make a proper sequel.


(I regularly write blog posts and update the development of all my games on my tumblr over here...)

Follow me on twitter: @SpiltMilkStudio

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Steve Peters
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I believe that the Dungeon Keeper title merely brought attention to the payment model, to the original fans; and despite the quality of the game, there is most certainly a way to do F2P, and charging over $100 for a finite number of gems is not the way to do it. I can't comment on the quality of the title, but forcing players to fork out money to rush excavation is wrong "After the tutorial, one of the first areas I attempted to excavate had a four-hour" --Destructoid
I believe there's even an article under the Gamasutra Design blogs, in which "ethical" free to play is the subject.
The fact that this ill conceived, deceptive tactic to reach into a players wallet was slapped on top of a cult classic franchise just made this slap to the original fans sting all the more.

Stefan Park
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Well said Steve. I absolutely refuse to put any pay elements like this in my game. If i was to do it, they would be one off payments that unlocked something you keep and can use forever, much like the excellent Jetpack Joyride does it.

There are ways to get the freemium model that doesn't repel people. Again, I can site an example with the excellent Path of Exile. I've played this game and felt in no way deceived or that I needed to buy something. In fact this actually MADE me want to buy something. I felt so happy that they did such a great job and I was enjoying their game so much, I felt i would really like to buy something from their store to support them.

Not having played this new "Dungeon Keeper" (but having the olds ones from GOG on my laptop), I can't really comment on how the game is. But the videos I have seen make it quite clear that right after the tutorial, you get a 24hour block unless you pay gems. EA did this recently with a game i DID try, which was Heroes of Dragon Age. It's not even a game. All you do is arrange figures and the game fights itself. It's just a customer cash extraction scheme pretending to be a "game". EA seem to be one of the worst offenders in this area at the moment.

Andrew Smith
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I'm just relieved to see some sensible debate coming through from it - thanks both for your comments, all very reasonable! :D

Steve Peters
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I love path of exile, it's an excellent game. It's got a great monetization system, because it doesn't affect play in the least (I just hope they're making their budget back). And I completely agree with the "one off payment" system. I shouldn't be paying $15 for a finite number of gems. If I pay $15, I should get the entire game in working condition. I could see making a $1.50 to increase worker speed by 30%, or paying a small sum to get access to exclusive buildings and units, which I then use the currency EARNED IN GAME to construct. But the core game should be entirely playable, and entertaining, even at the free level. Still, a one time payment to get access to a fully functioning, and entertaining game, seems to be the best option.

Patthey Joel
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Yes PoE seems so right in its model, I have gladly paid for more bags something that I was so reluctant to do in Diablo III (even though the money wasnt real) !

Katy Smith
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I normally come to the defense of f2p games because I believe that they can be made in a way that isn't "evil", but oh man, Dungeon Keeper does everything people hate about f2p. After an overly long tutorial that gave me too much information at once, I was forced behind a 5 HOUR paywall. Uuugggghhhh....

David Lindsay
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It's a tough ride launching a game these days. Failure is in the destiny of almost every product. The market is saturated and extremely hostile. Nothing is guaranteed.

A lot of companies rely on hard data from other titles that have worked in the past to reduce overall risks. This looks like what happened in DK. Yes, those tricks have all worked very well in the past, and they will probably allow the game to break even or finance the next development cycle.

It's nice when a company can afford full-time community managers and PR staff to massage the community and make informed decisions on what to implement or not. In this case, they should have done this, but it's not something we can expect from everyone. The cost is too high.

Articles like this worry me about the future of game development. In a market where success is becoming ever more difficult, and mimicking the success of previous games (CoC clones, for example) is condemned, innovation risks everything a company has with no guarantees.

IMHO, games like PoE work simply because the rest of the market is saturated by the same monetization tricks that the game community has come to loathe. Each purchase says "thanks for your sincerity". But were every company like Grinding Gear Games, I think players would become accustomed to never spending anything.

Brian Buchner
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What? No Highlander comparison?

Mike Jenkins
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Who knew that the lesson learned from Ultima Forever and Simcity Social was: "Keep making games like this."

I wonder why they canceled the Command and Conquer f2p game.

Benjamin Quintero
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C&C was probably canceled because the fans who were testing the game suddenly stopped liking it after the pay wall was implemented. Early reaction to the game was generally positive, then suddenly it all went to hell. It makes me wonder if they should have just taken the pay wall out and sold it for $20 instead of throwing all of that hard work away...

I was excited for C&C and as soon as I saw "Free" in the trailer I threw up in my mouth a little.

Brian Peterson
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I've noticed that f2p games are only mentioned on popular gaming news sites when a preexisting game franchise gets a f2p version. Examples include the Simcity Facebook game, as well as the Sonic and Tetris mobile games. Sites like IGN, Kotaku, and Gamespot usually ignore f2p games unless they have a very specific reason to report on them. The audience of these sites is generally not used to engaging with the popular f2p monetization methods, and reacts in a violently negative way when confronted with them in a game from a beloved franchise.

Based on the reviews, there exist a lot of people willing to give this version of Dungeon Keeper a 5-star rating (I'm ignoring the ratings shenanigans here). I wonder how many of these ratings are from fans of the original Dungeon Keeper, and how many are from general fans of mobile f2p town-building games. Maybe these two types of players overlap: some could be fans of the original DK, but no longer play PC or console games, so they're more accustomed to this type of monetization.

It's clear that the target market for the original Dungeon Keeper games is significantly different from that of the mobile DK, but fans of the series don't know and can't be expected to understand that. As soon as EA put the DK name on this game, they established expectations in existing DK fans that could not be met.

Jim Perry
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"Based on the reviews, there exist a lot of people willing to give this version of Dungeon Keeper a 5-star rating (I'm ignoring the ratings shenanigans here)."

I don't know how you can ignore the review shenanigans. The fact that the only possible rating to give in-game is 5 stars invalidates the game's score completely IMO. Given how used to instant results people are these days, how many of the 5 star ratings are people just not wanting to click more than one button? We'll never know, but I'd be willing to bet if the option existed to give any rating in-game the score would be a bit different.

That they made it so difficult to give anything other than a 5 star rating is simply another smack in the face to gamers and strikes me as somewhat dishonest.

Juan Del Rio
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I am a fan of the originals and I am playing the mobile game. While I appreciate the humor and return to the franchise, the artificial nature of the "wall" is way beyond other free to play games. I'm playing Clash of Clans as well, and they slowly ramp you up from a few minutes, all they way to 14 day timers near the end game. With Dungeon Keeper, 24hours timers in the first minute of gameplay. It feels like they copied many of the values of Clash of Clans, like the real money gem pack values and the building upgrade timers seem similar. But in CoC they don't punish you for removing environment, it's just a few minutes to remove the largest tree's. I am hoping for a patch that would make digging out your dungeon a matter minutes not weeks! You want people to come back often to do something in your game, not just stare at the screen looking at 24 hour timers counting down.

Nathan Mates
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You still own any copy/copies of Dungeon Keeper you have. It doesn't matter what the maker does or doesn't do, your copies -- especially as it's a 100% offline game that EA can't ever revoke access or change a byte on your system -- are still untouched.

Your comment about fans "owning" a game/franchise are like car fans who love|hate|ignore the styling on the 2014 model of a car. Or fans of a book|movie franchise that love|hate|ignore newer offerings. You're not in charge. Sure, your disappointment can hurt the strength of a franchise. But, you don't own or control it just because you enjoy it.

Rik Spruitenburg
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But we do. The value of the franchise is that people who liked it will buy more. If well all agree not to watch Transformers 4 then the franchise has no value. That's control. But's probably more correct to think of us as stakeholders. We have power if we act as a group, even if we don't coordinate.

Jim Perry
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And what is the likelihood of a majority if fans of an IP banding together to affect something in a significant way. The internet outrage over the previous Transformers movies didn't change anything. It still looks like people are going to hate the one in production now as much as the previous ones, but I'll bet people will still flock to see it and it'll make $. Your supposed control is an illusion. Start a petition to get the next movie changed unto something hardcore fans want and see how successful you are.

Nathan Mates
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That's lofty words, but it doesn't work in practice. Case in point: Star Wars. Episode I. If fans had any control or ability to act as a group, it would have made about $800 at the box office. There were fan fiction stories better than that movie. There were plenty of non-Star Wars films that should have done better than Episode I at the box office. But, fans ate it up, and the franchise expanded and increased in value.

The best I've seen fans accomplish is a slow death of a franchise over time. For example, the first 3-4 Tom Clancy books were great. But, later ones stank. I stopped buying them. Voluntarily, no group action. And enough other people did the same.

Troy Walker
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didn't EA announce a while ago that they're going to do this for all future franchise / games?... why should we be surprised by this. It is just a matter of time before people wake up to this tactic... or, well.. I guess an ignorant customer is just an ignorant customer.

Jim Perry
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EA announced they were going to make all future games unplayable by putting all game play behind outrageous paywalls? I think that's the main problem. It's not the fact that it's F2P, it's how they implemented it.

Jim Perry
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The whole " F2P is the only way to make $ these days on mobile" excuse strikes me as pure laziness. Is it just me? Who wouldn't have bought the game done normally for $5? I'd be willing to bet they'd have made a profit and not ticked off the fans. They also would have gotten some positive PR instead of all the negative.

Leszek Szczepanski
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A couple of months ago I finally got a decent Android device, so I hit Google Play to find something fun. The first thing I did was to hide all "free" games. There weren't many titles left :/

I'd buy a good mobile game for $5. Using the Humble Bundles I did. But on Google Play there's almost nothing that you can actually buy...

Andrew Brozek
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From what I've seen about the game itself, it really doesn't seem THAT bad. It seems to be a F2P game designed for mobile phones. It's designed to be played in short bursts, for on the go mobile gaming. Yes, you can spend a lot of money clearing a room out all at once, but it doesn't seem like you are supposed to do that. Rather, it seems you are supposed to slowly build your dungeon up over time.

That being said...

I have absolutely NO IDEA why EA would call this game Dungeon Keeper! Dungeon Keeper came out 15 years ago! Surely the only people who would be drawn to this IP would be fans of the original game. Fan who WANT the original game on their tablet or phone. Fans who would be infuriated that their beloved game would be transformed into this slow paced F2P style game. It really seems like EA shot themselves in the foot by calling this game Dungeon Keeper and invited all this criticism on themselves. I think a different name would have been a much better idea.

Again, this game is an extremely poor substitute for the original Dungeon Keeper. But it doesn't seem like it was designed to be... So why on earth did they name it Dungeon Keeper?

Leszek Szczepanski
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"A lot of them seem to be blaming a payment model rather than poor design."

F2P is not something that is well defined. In case of DK the payment models IS the design. The whole game is built around that.