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The demon driving Dungeon Keeper backlash
by Ethan Levy on 02/10/14 07:34:00 am   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.

 

EA is in a unique position as games publisher with a deep history. Between internally created games and a long history of acquisitions including Origin, Bullfrog, Maxis, Westwood, DICE, BioWare/Pandemic, Mythic and Criterion (just to name a few), the company holds the reins on any number of classic game brands.  Like few competitors, any time EA wishes to develop a new game for a given genre or platform, there exists at minimum one IP that can be leveraged as opposed to developing a new brand. Browser-based strategy MMO? Games have been made using both Ultima and Command & Conquer settings. Casual city building game? Sim City is a natural choice, but so are Populous, Theme Park and Theme Hospital. Mobile based infinite runner? Mirror’s Edge, SSX and even Burnout would get the job done. Any time a new category breaks and EA feels the desire to be competitive, there is a reasonable case to be made for taking an existing brand and using it to build hype and awareness in the ever heightening competition for player’s attention and dollars.

EA is the company the internet loves to hate. It is the two time winner of Consumerist’s Worst Company In America. It has made its share of public mistakes as well as releasing its share of incredible games. Over the years, the company has used its stable of intellectual properties in a variety of ways. Although there is always some backlash, the recent release of Dungeon Keeper on iOS and Android has been met with an unprecedented wave of hatred.

Not counting mainline releases like the troubled launch of Sim City or the ongoing issues with Battlefield 4, the vitriol surrounding Dungeon Keeper is truly unique. On mobile, EA has launched F2P games using both Ultima and Dragon Age branding to much less fanfare. On social networks, the backlash after releasing F2P Dragon Age Legends (disclosure note: I was the producer of this title) was minimal compared to the current DK scandal. Syndicate’s reboot as a first person shooter was met mainly with a shrugging of shoulders. Browser based Ultima and Command & Conquer games largely flew under the radar. I’m willing to bet that many fans of the original Theme Park and Populous games are unaware that updated versions are available on the Nintendo DS.

As a monetization design consultant, I play a lot of F2P games. After a few days spent with Dungeon Keeper, I can safely say two things. The first is that the game is a highly polished Clash of Clans competitor with slick UI, high production values and very little innovation (in the first few days of play) to tempt players like me burnt out on CoC style games. After playing at least 10 short sessions a day for the past few days, the only feature that gives me a sense of newness are the event raids that I did not dig into. The second thing I can say is that if this game was called Spirit Sovereign and released by Just Another Bay Area Startup (or even Glu Mobile or Gameloft), none of the major gaming sites or forums would be discussing it. The most noteworthy aspect of the game for those who consider being a gamer as a core pillar of their personality is the name.

One reason that DK is experiencing such strong backlash is that fans of the game have been starved of a release in the series for years. There are only 2 DK games and no true competitors or spiritual successors. Compare that to Ultima which has seen 9 mainline releases, the Underworld spin-offs, 16 years and counting of Ultima Online and Lords of Ultima before the F2P Ultima Forever was released on iOS and Android. I hypothesize that a F2P game released using the Road Rash, Privateer or System Shock names - none of which have seen releases since the late 90s - would induce a similar wailing and gnashing of teeth to the current uproar. Conversely, a F2P Command & Conquer game for mobile phones would be far less controversial for a series that has reached satiation with 8 mainline releases and a F2P browser game.

The second reason that DK is experiencing such strong backlash is because it was clearly not designed to appeal first and foremost to fans of the classic game. This is readily apparent within minutes of downloading the game. After completing the tutorial, the natural instinct for an experienced player will be to survey the dungeon and try to dig their way to one of the alluring ore or gold mines tucked away in the corners of the map. This was my first attempted action and I was immediately confronted with a 24 hour timer to dig out a square. As a general champion of F2P, I have no issue with a 24 hour, appointment based action. However, the reason this wait antagonizes DK fans is that it takes one of the original’s most basic actions and transforms it into the embodiment of why core gamers hate F2P.

Contrast this with EA Mythic’s previous mobile release, Ultima Forever, which feels much more as though it was built to appeal to fans of the original series. Playing the mobile Ultima for even 15 minutes will make it clear that the game wishes it was on a PC. In a revealing interview about the game’s long history on Kotaku, the game’s producers explain that over Ultima’s tortured history “it was going to be made for Netbooks, then for Facebook. It was going to be a PC browser game, then it was going to be downloadable.” Strip out the F2P elements and the official Ultima branding, and the game would have done a killing as a throwback PC game on Kickstarter followed by a lucrative pre-launch on Steam Early Access.

But the hoopla surrounding Dungeon Keeper on mobile will subside as the gaming public finds some new outrage. Divorced from the reaction from gamers on the internet, DK is performing much stronger financially than the more traditional Ultima Forever. In the first 10 days of launch, Ultima did not crack the US top 200 grossing chart on either iPhone or iPad (according to App Annie). In the same time period, DK has enjoyed a median top grossing position of 156 on the iPhone and 81 on the iPad. This is a significant improvement for Mythic’s F2P outings (yet not as strong as Heroes of Dragon Age’s median top grossing positions of 34.5 on iPhone and 33 on iPad).

To corporate ears, players speak much louder with their wallets than their Reddit posts. Given the improved performance of Dungeon Keeper and the strong performance of Heroes of Dragon Age (earning it 3 mentions by new CEO Andrew Wilson in the most recent quarterly earnings call) we can expect more F2P mobile games based off brands both current and classic. And with those classic games, the longer it has been since a game has been released in the series the more outrage we can expect to see garnering headlines across the internet.


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Comments


Leandro Pezzente
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As far as I know , main problem has been introduction of monetization elements into DK's game mechanics. I understand it's reasonable in a F2P model to introduce such elements, but seems like most fans who loved original releases would have preffered a $25 to $35 remake.

Nathan Mates
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You can get the first two Dungeon Keeper games for $6 each on gog.com, after which there is zero additional payments. (Other than power to keep your PC running, etc.) And, any copy you have on CD or from gog can never be Lucas'd into garbage. A more effective complaint about this F2P release would be to continually point out how much additional fun and reduced expense are in the original version(s).

Disclaimer: I was hired by Pandemic Studios in 1998, and still around in 2008 when EA bought out Pandemic/Bioware. Left, voluntarily, in November 2009.

Ethan Levy
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Hi Nathan. Not sure if you remember, but I used to fetch the Battlefront team dinner! I was an intern working on the original Battlefront. Anyways, thanks for commenting on the post.

Leandro Pezzente
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I actually don't know much first hand about this new version. But a question keeps dancing in my head. How do you effectively redesign a pre-monetization game into a monetaized plattform while keeping all the game core mechanics fresh and fun ?

David Fried
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By monetizing in the areas of customization, and allowing shortcuts to new (but balanced for pvp) gameplay styles, then adding highly social elements whereby players can show off their customization via direct combat or cooperative play.

Soeren Andersen
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Hi Ethan and thanks for the insightful article. I have a question regarding the use of IPs such as Dungeon Keeper: The flavor of the game and the legacy it has doesn't seem to necessarily appeal to the casual F2P player who (im guessing) in most cases has never heard of the IP.

On the other hand the people that knows and loves the original games have much less affinity towards f2p (these are assumptions on my part) and only seem to become alienated.

I understand that the best "defense" for EA's choice of IP is that "wallets speak for itself" and in this case it seems to have worked out, but wouldn't you concede that there's no reason why EA couldn't have chosen a different IP (or even a new one tailored for the demo) and made even more money?

Is this just laziness on their part? (to be blunt)

Ethan Levy
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I'm glad you enjoyed the analysis.

I have a few thoughts on why EA would choose to use a venerated IP like Dungeon Keeper instead of developing an entirely new brand.

My first thought is that I have met a handful of the people at Mythic and I can say that these are passionate game developers, not money hungry dragons slumbering beneath The Lonely Mountain. I suspect that the drive to make new Ultima and Dungeon Keeper games was driven first and foremost by a love for the original classics.

The second thought is about the greenlight process. I have worked at 3 game publishers (two small start ups, one global behemoth) and whether you are asking for $50,000 or $3,000,000, the process of getting someone to write you a check to fund a game is incredibly hard. The executives that hold the purse strings at a publisher get an incredible amount of inbound requests for games and must be risk averse by nature. It is there job to decide how best to spend a company's limited resources of capital, human talent and time. In this environment, any pitch that plays on a known quantity has a better chance to be greenlit than an entirely new game.

Take Skylanders: Spyro's Adventures for example. It is safe to say that the target market for the game had no knowledge of or existing attachment to the PS1 classic series. However, I am sure that the Spyro name made the risky and groundbreaking pitch of a toy/videogame hybrid more appealing to the executive team at Activision.

The third thought is that despite the negative backlash, I am willing to guess that using the Dungeon Keeper name has been a net positive. The power of name recognition is incredibly strong, even among people who may never have played the game. I suspect that using the name has helped to drive prime promotional spots on the iOS and Android app stores, as well as downloads among people who see the name and think "that sounds familiar, I'll check it out."

Robert Green
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It sounds pretty cynical, but I'm tempted to agree that even if EA thought the existing Dungeon Keeper fans might not like this game, the value of that brand recognition would probably help them rise up the charts quicker, at which point the hundreds of millions of mobile-users who hadn't played the older games would be more likely to try it.
It's not the best strategy if you want the best reviews, though at this point I'm not convinced that great reviews are all that important, or at least not as important as feature spots and a high position on the charts.

Katy Smith
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To me, EA's biggest misstep with Dungeon Keeper is misreading the audience. Dungeon Keeper would have been a perfect "mid-core" title. Instead, they tried to appeal to the mythical "casual f2p player" and alienated both. They could have had the depth of a AAA PC game with the shorter play session of a mobile title, and instead turned it into Tap Zoo: Dungeon Edition.

Ian Griffiths
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I agree with your sentiment Katy. However, I don't think it's easy to design dungeon Keeper to be played in short 5-10 minute bursts.

I think they should have taken more from the original games to build a tablet based game that would typically have longer play sessions. Basically take the 2 hour Dungeon Keeper levels down to 20-30 minutes.

Bob Fox
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Taking advantage of tech illiterate people of low intelligence should not make any game developer proud. It's the good old American self deception that being a con artist makes one an honest business man.

Ian Griffiths
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People who play F2P games and/or casual games are not technologically illiterate or of low intelligence, no-one is being conned here.

I agree with Katy, I think EA misread their audience and designed a Clash of Clans like game over a legacy Dungeon Keeper one.

Bob Fox
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@ian

I'm sorry to tell you but F2P is an IQ test. If you pay for anything in an F2P game you are certifiably a moron. If you do not get the models/textures downloaded onto your computer of things you buy in game for you to use forever, it is a scam.

When an F2P game 'shuts down' that game and the money you paid for digital goods is confiscated. That's called fraud. Until you and katy actually are capable of thought beyond a 1st grade level do not reply.

Americans always try to use words to redefine reality to get their way they're hustlers and conmen and they've been known to be so since their founding and their warmongering around the world that is currently threatening our long term survival. Your illiteracy of history and abject circlejerking of scamming people is showing through.

Daniel Backteman
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@Bob

Understand your sentiment and loosely agree with your view, but no need to express it in such a vitriolic way.

Games have mutated and its audience has been broadened. A lack of deeper knowledge and commitment to games doesn't equal low intelligence, at its hight only apathy towards the medium. Yes, it is frustrating that people without love for games are deciding its future by voting with their wallets, but marking them as idiots doesn't help anyone.

The games that you actually own these days, as opposed to only being granted the limited right to use, are by the way quite uncommon.

John Owens
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@Bob what's it got to do with America's foreign policy?

Having a bad day ;-)

Katy Smith
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Take a breath, bro. We're talking theoretical game design here. No need to throw around insults.

jean-francois Dugas
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Spending a buck inside a F2P game is better than paying 60$ for a new NHL game, that will get shut down 1 year later.

Spending money to go see a movie you'll never be able to watch again for free is therefore also stupid.

Usually, when a F2P game shut down, they warn the users and give a package for other games. They also unlock everything inside the game for free.

I understand that some people don't "get" or don't believe in F2P games. However, stating that people that do so are "Stupid" is equivalent to saying that believing in a world that isn't flat is stupid.

F2P is a business model, much like some Shareware were free demo with a Pay Gate. However I would agree that spending cap in F2P games are not set and you don't "Own" the game like a Shareware.

Going back on the topic, Mobile and Facebook game are not appealing the same audience than Console & PC games. Where EA did great is to bring a good PC game license to the Mobile universe and gaining information on the "Brand strength". The success of DK could actually ends up with the production of a new DK games.

Thinking that EA was doing a DK Mobile game to appease the Fans would be a mistake; it doesn't aim the same market audience.
The real Strategy of EA in doing a mobile version of DK is to steal CoC players from Supercell, back to EA pool of players. Ranking up the Global MAU of all EA Games will provide an even better result for future EA Mobile games.

The real stupidity is people believing EA was doing a PC game inside a Mobile game.

Amir Barak
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@Mr. Fox
Dude, chill, really... I said it before, ad hominem attacks do nothing but dilute the message you're trying to convey.

I'm pretty harsh on F2P myself but there's no need to insult people like that (not to mention my daughter is in 1st grade and I take offense at people implying she's of anything but stellar cognitive persuasion).

While I [vehemently] disagree with Katy on many issues regarding F2P design it's not hard to see she's, firstly very capable at what she does, secondly has a lot of knowledge about what she does and finally is quite passionate about what she does... so there...

*ends conversation by blowing raspberries then runs away*

Andreas Lindmark
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Ian Griffiths: "no-one is being conned here."

With regards to F2P games that's a highly questionable statement.

I quote Edge:

"In fact, a large body of psychological research conceptualises our self control as a pool of finite resources from which we draw whenever we need to beat down our impulses and let the rational part of our brain take charge."

We are getting better and better at controlling the minds of customers. At some point we will have crossed a threshold beyond which a customer's choice ceases to be his own, but a choice made for him through advanced techniques of manipulation from marketers and psychologists.

Look up another article here on Gamasutra called "Coercive Monetization".

Katy Smith
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aw, thanks man! :)

Don't worry, I won't hold this against you in future debates!

Alan Boody
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Well, here's the big question: are the people paying for these games doing so because they're having fun/being entertained or is it do to addiction?

See, what I'm getting at here is when we go to a movie and watch a movie we're being entertained. When we're playing video games we're also doing so to be entertained and to have fun. However, when a game throws out a wide net (by being f2p) to search for whales willing to spend a lot more money (apparently more so than a traditional video game) they're purposely looking for people addicted enough to spend way past what the entertainment is really worth.

My problem with f2p isn't the concept of going f2p, having IAP, and so forth. No, it has always been those games that end up costing players (if they want the full experience) far more money on games that cost far less to develop.

There was this browser-game that had one player that would spend $500 - $600 a month on it. He made up about 50% of the game's monthly revenue alone. He even asked the admins to remove his ability to purchase the premium currency. The next day he came back begging for the admin to reinstate his ability to purchase stuff.

He knew he had a problem and even wanted to fix that problem, but couldn't. He was addicted to betting in-game against other players or against the game itself. Mind you, the daily actives of this game as 5; it was text-base; and it had far less features than most mafia based browser games out there.

So, I have a perspective of what type of players that these games target. Companies like EA, Supercell, and so forth justify these models because our country (and the world) bases ethics around how much money you make. If there's no law then exploit and plunder people until it gets to the point where ethical minds have to put a stop to these psychopaths that run companies nowadays.

Leonardo Ferreira
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"But the hoopla surrounding Dungeon Keeper on mobile will subside as the gaming public finds some new outrage(...)To corporate ears, players speak much louder with their wallets than their Reddit posts."

That's some harsh, but so, so, true words.

evan c
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Yup. I won't be surprised when EA announce how successful and profitable this game is. It's getting a lot of free publicity.

Leszek Szczepanski
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I'm not surprised DK is doing well financially. It is highly polished and looks really good.

It's sad to see crap like that earn money and ruin the market in turn.
My only hope is that the F2P market will collapse painfully and soon.

Mark Velthuis
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"To corporate ears, players speak much louder with their wallets than their Reddit posts."

This line of thinking gives me the creeps given the current situation of the games industry. So many choices have been made only for the benefit of corporate wallets. The ammount of manipulating and false advertising that's going on, in my opinion makes it incorrect to make the claim that if it makes money, people like it.
Often the focus seems to be short term income instead of building a strong fanbase and keeping it. Of course corporate people don't care about that, they only need to rake in the money for a few years and they'll be set for life, or at least a very long period of time. It's not their creativity/integrity that's being compromised.

Besides, is it realy too much to ask to make a game for the fans the way they would have wanted it ? Syndicate’s reboot for example was't met mainly with a shrugging of shoulders, it was met with mainly a huge facepalm. I think X-COM : Enemy unknown showed pretty well that you can indeed cater to fans and be successfull. I know companies exist to make money, but do they realy need to squeeze every possible penny out of their games ? How bad is trading a little profit for a better name and more loyal fans realy ?

Brian Clair
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There is actually a spiritual successor to DK in the works right now on Steam Early Access called War for the Overworld - http://store.steampowered.com/app/230190/. A fair amount is pretty much cloned from DK's gameplay elements, but for those with the itch, this does nicely.

Craig Timpany
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Yeah, lair building games are actually a bustling little niche. I regard Dwarf Fortress as scratching the same itch (amongst other itches!).

DF got famous in 2006. It stumbled on to a geyser of customer demand for a lair building game. I remember thinking someone's going to make a killing when they manage to take it mainstream. Lots of indies thought the same thing and now we have Gnomoria, Towns, Clockwork Empires and A Game of Dwarves.

I looked at this and thought, a new Dungeon Keeper is inevitable, right? I think the intensity of the backlash reflects the level of still-unfulfilled consumer demand. Yet EA's chasing the tail lights of Clash of Clans. I guess small, profitable and sustainable isn't enough to get their attention.

Mike Jenkins
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I don't agree with the sentiment of this blog post.

Reaction to Ultima Forever's announcement:
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/07/12/in-des-porate-times-ul
tima-forever/#comments

Wasn't the reaction to the C&C game so negative that it was cancelled pre release?

I think you are tuned into the world of F2P, where DK seems to be igniting a conversation in that circle about "F2P done wrong!!" etc. Among whatever you want to call 'traditional gamers," all of these EA games are equally looked upon as insulting horseshit. DK has actually gotten far less attention than Ultima Forever did on traditional gaming blogs.

Ethan Levy
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@Mike every day I read every headline on Kotaku, Polygon, GameIndustry, Azenberg and Gamasutra. I frequent IGN and Penny Arcade, participate in gaming threads on Reddit and follow mostly game industry on Twitter and follow over 60 indie game developer blogs via RSS. From my perspective I am very tuned into traditional gaming blogs and press.

I was not saying there was no negative reaction to Ultima Forever. There of course has been some level of negative reaction to every game mentioned in the article. But the DK reaction has been an order of magnitude bigger.

For comparison, search Ultima Forever and then Dungeon Keeper on Reddit and sort by Hot. The top 10 responses for Ultima Forever are not about the game. The top 10 responses for Dungeon Keeper are all negative reactions to the mobile game with over 1,000 up votes.

Regarding C&C, I was talking about the C&C Tiberium Alliances browser based strategy game, which was very much released: http://www.tiberiumalliances.com/home

Mike Jenkins
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I was aware of Ultima Forever from the day of its announcement, whereas I was not even aware of DK's existence until news stories ran about how EA was trying to prevent players from rating the game under 5.

By far the biggest backlash against the game isn't even related to the game, would happen to any game EA released where they interfered with player reviews, and has nothing to do with people waiting longer for a DK installment.

Will Hendrickson
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24 hours for a single tile...

It seems to me like they *intentionally* tried to piss off their fanbase. If so, it worked.

Maxim Zogheib
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This is one of those "ownership" and "entitlement" arguments all over again. Who does an IP really belong to after release? The publisher? The studio? The Visionary? The community?

Arguably, to all of the above, if you ask me. But copyright and intellectual property laws say that it belongs to the current IP holder, enabling EA to do whatever they damn well please with it.

And, as Ethan mentioned, a studio will pull out all the stops, when it comes to shoring up any weaknesses in the greenlighting process with a publisher.

Whether doing what Mythic did was ethical is, essentially, infinitely debatable. Depends on your point of view. I know it's something I'd never let myself do, but, then again, I don't know all the details. If I was faced with, say, a choice between cannibalizing a much loved, but, ultimately, dead IP and preserving a studio's turnover and the jobs of its employees, I'd choose the latter.

Besides, I've never seen a single developer, who would willingly make a game they didn't believe in. Bad design decisions - maybe, poor use of IP - certainly, intentional malice - I seriously doubt that.

P.S.: The article itself doesn't really shed much light on the subject matter, though. I have a hard time believing, that it all boils down to nostalgia and a misuse of marketing material.

Joseph O'Donnell
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Hello Ethan,

After reading your post I was inspired to post here because there were a few things about it that didn't really sit very well with me and I wanted to address them. Firstly, I'm obviously a big fan of the original Dungeon Keeper games and obviously I would have liked a genuine update to Dungeon Keeper, such as the ambitious original plans for Dungeon Keeper 3 that would have seen you both defend your dungeon and attack heroes castles on the surface. I still decided to give the F2P version a chance despite hearing initially bad things about it from the games soft launch, but the actual app itself was much worse than I expected and ultimately what Mythic had done with the mobile version completely abhorrent. However, it's not simply any kind of outright repulsion or dislike of "Free to Play" as a model but several aspects of how the game does things overall.

For example you write in your analysis of the game above: "The second reason that DK is experiencing such strong backlash is because it was clearly not designed to appeal first and foremost to fans of the classic game. This is readily apparent within minutes of downloading the game. After completing the tutorial, the natural instinct for an experienced player will be to survey the dungeon and try to dig their way to one of the alluring ore or gold mines tucked away in the corners of the map. This was my first attempted action and I was immediately confronted with a 24 hour timer to dig out a square. As a general champion of F2P, I have no issue with a 24 hour, appointment based action. However, the reason this wait antagonizes DK fans is that it takes one of the original’s most basic actions and transforms it into the embodiment of why core gamers hate F2P. "

I feel this actually misses the point about why the F2P aspect of the game is disliked so intensely and has to do with if you played it (or are familiar with the game) during its soft launch - as well as what EA have done with Plants vs. Zombies 2. During the initial launch of the game, a lot of upgrades, traps, timers and similar were a lot less severe than they are in the final release. Indeed a recent update actually sneakily changed an upgrade for the dungeon heart from 120,000ish stone to 600,000 in one go. A massive leap. Numerous other examples abound of stealthy updates rapidly inflating prices all over. Inflating prices in Dungeon Keeper even has two consequences: The first is making upgrades unobtainable for longer periods of time than a 24 hour timer would suggest because you need to dig more rooms/space to store resources. The second is greatly impeding overall progress for the player and making spending money to bypass them much more likely.

Certain bad F2P games survive in the first place because they have deliberately targeted demographics who either don't understand what they are doing or a psychologically exploited group. In the case of Children, the reason this was a massive issue is because many parents didn't realize that once you make a purchase on the app store, it kept the connection "live" for several minutes afterwards. This was the case here in Australia where a woman downloaded Simpsons Tapped Out for their 5 year old child and then thought it would be fine, only to see a bill of over $1000 on her credit card. Why? Because the app store left enough time for the child to hit the barriers in progress and then begin to rapidly spend real money. One has to wonder why any game should possibly allow someone to spend that much money near instantly of course, but this was an incredibly simple and easy to make mistake when most people thought "The store requires a password, so it should be okay". This was the basis of the lawsuit against Apple and you know, given that they won it seems the court agrees none of this information was easily obtained! This is the kind of person/ignorance that a game like Dungeon Keeper relies on to get that sales rank - Frustrating individuals into paying money either because they don't understand (children) or they are vulnerable to this kind of trick (coercion).

There is even a widely regarded name for the sort of person that I described as being vulnerable to these kind of coercive timer based mechanics: Whales (Ref 1, Ref 2). Games like Dungeon Keeper are not trying to be good games, that are fun, satisfying experiences to play on their own merits - They are attempting to frustrate the players that are vulnerable to that frustration and exploit them to get money. During the soft launch as I mentioned, Dungeon Keeper was actually a considerably less frustrating game to play in both the time it took to do things and the costs of upgrades. Since its release they have stealthily and drastically increased both time and resources required for certain upgrades.

That reason is for profitability: Not gameplay. A good example is actually in your own OP and it's worth comparing them. The F2P Ultima game was also dreadful, but it was nowhere near as bad as Dungeon Keeper in impeding your progress or making life difficult for the player if you didn't spend any money on the game. It was mostly just a very bland action RPGish thing and it wasn't actually that offensive really. Was it the Ultima game that everyone wanted? Absolutely not: But it also wasn't using every single possible trick in the book.

This is where I come to a different conclusion than you and certainly a more worried one. Is Dungeon Keeper a more profitable game because it's a better designed game more faithful to its subject matter than Ultima? Or is it more profitable because it's literally front loaded with coercive microtransaction tricks and techniques? Dungeon Keeper is literally a "How to design a free to play game to get someone to spend money" textbook in a video game form. Everything that I have read about "Bad" F2P games is in Dungeon Keeper:

Excessive costs
Upgrades that scale even faster than exponential growth
Long frustrating timers
Rapid barriers to progress
Pay2Win aspects (especially in getting better creatures on raids)
It badgers you within 30 seconds to spend money on microtransactions
The google play version of the game only prompts players into leaving a positive review on the store (Ref 3)

And so on, including the concept I immensely dislike where you can lose things you paid for permanently through gameplay (such as upgraded monsters). It's quite easy to see how ridiculously fast these F2P games can attempt to drain money. Dungeon Keeper uses all the above mechanisms together to exploit markets that fail to see the value in money (Children) and whales (For whatever reasons they get addicted). Games like Dungeon Keeper are designed to extract money not out of people like us who are well aware of these tricks, maybe only ever throwing $5-10 at a F2P game in its lifetime, but the psychologically vulnerable whales and children. There are very good reasons why several governments are starting to look at free to play games almost like gambling and it's not going to be good for gaming (in general) if they conclude it is similar.

Indeed, compare what Ultima does to Dungeon Keeper. Is Dungeon Keeper getting more profitability because it's what people want to spend money on; Or is it more profitable because it's designed more vigorously to generate profit from those who would spend money on it?

That's the question I think you avoided with your assessment on why "Core" gamers hate F2P games: It's because there is inherently a realization that there is something distinctly wrong with a game that can be an infinite money pit and give absolutely nothing back for that. Where you are right is that Dungeon Keeper merely get's noticed because it's the first time the IP has been used in a significant amount of time and it's well beloved by its fans. It's fans I imagine are people very much like me, grew up or were old enough to be gaming in the 90s and where unique experiments like Dungeon Keeper were allowed to exist. To see it turned into basically a shameless clone of another game, when the original stood out for - well - it's originality and novel genre mixing is an immense shame.

When you combine that with everything else on it from the F2P baggage and how that conversation among is being widely had (see the references at the bottom) you get the immensely vitriolic reaction to the game from "core gamers".

From this long rant (and I apologise for the length) you might assume I am also someone who totally hates EA and thinks they deserve their awards: I don't. EA can't be blamed for doing what everyone else is doing in all honesty with F2P games. They're just unlucky enough to control beloved old IPs that will get noticed by people like you and me on a site like this (and on game news sites in general). I'm sure I could find just as bad clones that do everything DK does in 5 minutes if I wanted to. In truth, I really want to buy a new version of Dungeon Keeper and I intend to keep buying EAs games as well. I'm looking forward to Dragon Age 3, I can't wait to get a next gen console to enjoy Battlefield 4 in all its glory and I'm somewhat fond of EAs sports titles as well.

The point is that if nobody criticises these things how does EA even know that there is some kind of demand for the game? You're completely right that the entire internet has almost picked up pitchforks over Dungeon Keeper and within days of the F2P game coming out formally the originals soared up the sales charts at Good old Games. EA have even found a clever way to capitalize on this by actually going ahead and working with GoG to offer the original game for free this weekend (which anyone should take them up on).

And really if you take them up on that it's easy to see what Dungeon Keeper mobile really is. Even if you took away all the timers, the excessive upgrade costs and other F2P things what you would be left with is an extremely poor, shallow game that fails to capture the essence of what made the original game worth playing. That's the real shame.

Ref 1: An excellent article from this very website; http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/195806/chasing_the_whale_ex
amining_the_.php?print=1

Ref 2: Another excellent example of how F2P mechanics are designed for "Whaling"; http://gameful.org/group/games-for-change/forum/topics/how-pay-to
-win-works

Ref 3: When prompted to rate the game, a player who rates it 5 stars goes straight to the store while one that doesn't ends up being stuck on a "Email us your feedback" page http://techland.time.com/2014/02/10/dungeon-keeper/

Ethan Levy
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Thank you for taking the time to write such a long and detailed comment. I feel like it should be it's own post. Maybe you should start a Gamasutra blog of your own with this comment as the foundation for your first article.


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