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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