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EA downplays  Dungeon Keeper  free-to-play criticisms
EA downplays Dungeon Keeper free-to-play criticisms
February 6, 2014 | By Mike Rose

February 6, 2014 | By Mike Rose
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    32 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Business/Marketing



"I think any time you re-make anything that is much beloved and has a great sense of nostalgia for people—be it a game, a movie, or whatever—people are going to be very protective of it."
- Jeff Skalski of Dungeon Keeper studio EA Mythic dismisses criticisms of the new free-to-play remake.

Since the reboot of the classic Bullfrog strategy game launched on mobile last week, both critics and players have kicked up quite a fuss over the game's limiting microtransactions.

Now senior producer Skalski has told Tab Times that his team is "very aware" of the online outcry, but that he believes its simply down to the fact that people hold such a fond memory of the original, that they were always going to complain about a reboot.

"It's important to emphasize that we designed a game that is built around the typical mobile play patterns," he explains. "This means Dungeon Keeper is meant to be played on the go multiple times a day with a few minutes here or there."

Skalski says that, regardless of what is being said online, the majority of players are still enjoying and engaging with the game -- indeed, the game currently has more than a four out of five rating on both the App Store and Google Play.

[Update: As confirmed by Gamasutra, EA has employed a rather sneaky system for rating the game. As spotted by Mike Robinson on Twitter, when Dungeon Keeper asks you to rate the game on Android and you choose to give it less than 5 stars, the game doesn't allow you to do so, and instead asks you to message the company with your feedback.

DK1.jpgNote that when you choose 5-stars, the game takes you to the Google Play store, so you can potentially still choose a different rating -- and you can, of course, still rate the game less than 5 stars via Google Play.

Gamasutra has contacted EA regarding the move, and contacted Google to find out whether this is against the rules of the Google Play store.

Update 2: EA has responded to Gamasutra, stating that "The 'rate this app' feature in the Google Play version of Dungeon Keeper was designed to help us collect valuable feedback from players who don't feel the game is worth a top rating."]

"We're also seeing a lot of game downloads and in-game engagement so that tells us there is a large group of people who are playing and enjoying the game," he notes. "Obviously, this is counter to some of the angry reactions we’ve seen around the internet, so we’re still trying to look at all of these data points."

Rather, it's simply a case that some gamers "have fond memories" of the original, and they were never going to be completely happy about this mobile version.

"Our intention with the mobile version was to give as many people as possible a taste of that original Dungeon Keeper experience," he adds, "and for some people, that's not the way they want to re-visit the franchise."

This isn't the first time that EA has had to defend microtransactions in its free-to-play games -- for example, there was public outcry when both Madden NFL and Real Racing 3 launched for mobile.


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Comments


Michael Joseph
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@Jeff Skalski
How does it feel to be part of the EA spin machine?

noun: tool; plural noun: tools
1.
a device or implement, esp. one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.

The question is, "Is this version of DK better than the original?" and i think the overwhelming consensus is "No." The proponents of F2P will say "well games should be designed to be F2P from the start" which increasingly sounds like "F2P shouldn't have a non p2p version to compare it to lest people see the corruption of the original that has taken place."

Mark Velthuis
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"indeed, the game currently has more than a four out of five rating"
Easy to say when you have to actually download the game to be able to rate it. Everybody who thinks this remake is a joke won't even download it.

Patrick Cantin
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Indeed. Check out the Metacritic user rating. It's a thing of beauty. Hell even the critic rating is abysmal.

http://www.metacritic.com/game/ios/dungeon-keeper/user-reviews

Ian Griffiths
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Why would you have the authority to review a game you hadn't played? How do you think you could give an objective opinion?

Lucky Red
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"This means Dungeon Keeper is meant to be played on the go multiple times a day with a few minutes here or there."

We will never know, because that fanbase now is faced with the fact that the re-incarnation of their favorite game is a mobile game that fails to deliver as much entertainment as the original.

That is not what Dungeon Keeper was about. You just used the name, put it into a market that basically generates money from people desperate enough to throw money at and pretend it's OK to do that because people would get pissed off anyway.

Let's ignore all the user reviews, and throw all the reviews from reviewers that found more negativity in the game than before. What you are left is with all but a phantom image of what you want to believe that is a successful game.

It makes money? For sure it will make money. But you have sold yet again one more piece of your integrity EA.

Mark Velthuis
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"But you have sold yet again one more piece of your integrity EA."
After reading the updated part, I'm wondering if they even have any integrity left. I'm starting to wonder how many of those 5 star ratings are actually from EA employees with multiple accounts, or did they outsource that?

Lucky Red
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Who cares anyway. The players who at the end purchase and share their experience with the game aren't necessarily fans of Dungeon Keeper, or know that the game Dungeon Keeper existed altogether. Let alone care or know about what EA has done.

They probably aim to sell the game to those people, and we probably are just fools thinking that talking EA into understanding what it did is actually going to work.

They made a game, it made money. And that's probably as far as EA's interest goes.

Who can blame them anyway?

Michael Joseph
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"Who can blame them anyway?"

Anyone. Even if in your deepest cynicism you convince yourself that their efforts are utterly pointless, they remain unconvinced.

Lucky Red
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How so? They are a big company trying to make money to pay their employs, managers, investors and offices.

The whole point is to make cash. So if they want to be in the industry as the cash monger then that's only natural due to the fact that they exist to make money and even profits whenever applicable.

Michael Joseph
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You can't blame a lion for killing the antelope and so we shouldn't blame the corporation for any actions it takes because it too is just acting out it's inherent nature? That may be true, but the act of publicly blaming or criticizing a corporation serves to change corporate behavior indirectly (not directly!) by enlightening the antelope. And history shows it is effective.

Kyle Redd
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@Michael

I wouldn't want to argue against the power of the people's voice, but EA has been engaged in exactly this sort of mindset for several years now, with no indication that any of the ongoing criticism has had any effect whatsoever.

Seriously, the most egregious part of the rating shenanigans to me is that statement: "5-star ratings from you help us provide free updates!" Holy god, that is insulting.


Edit: Also this practice may very well be a violation of Apple's TOS, via the developer of the game "Battlebow" (http://tinyurl.com/k65p9nk):

3.10

Developers who attempt to manipulate or cheat the user reviews or chart ranking in the App Store with fake or paid reviews, or any other inappropriate methods will be removed from the iOS Developer Program

So I asked for an explanation and got this very contradictory reply:

To clarify, it would be appropriate to remove any request for a positive rating. It is not appropriate to request a five star/positive rating from users.

Michael Joseph
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certainly the effectiveness is related to convincing customers to not just change a behavior (because that can be temporary) but to change their outlook and philosophy so they're no longer saying "why bother?"and corporations start saying "we do not dare!"

I'm not saying it's not a tall order. It'd be nice if it were easier to explain to people the wisdom in punishing economically those companies that betray the public's trust.

That said, we cannot prove EA has not been impacted. EA could be doing much better these days if they were less antisocial. But until we can slide
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sliders
we'll never know.

Josh Charles
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This game is the quintessential example of why there's such distrust towards the combination of F2P, microtransactions, and mobile from gamers who know what traditional game design was like before these types of games started to take over the app stores. Everything about this game was designed to take advantage of people for one sole purpose: to make as much money as possible.

I understand that ultimately, companies are looking for a way to get paid. But designing a "free" game that purposefully frustrates a consumer into paying money to alleviate the frustration and continue playing should raise serious ethical concerns.

In any event, I'd rather pay an upfront one time fee of $40 to $60 for an unadulterated experience rather than paying a lower price indefinitely for a "free" version of the game where the only difference is that microtransactions allow me to play as frequently as possible or provide me with some other temporary virtual good. That's like reading a free book and then it asking you to pay if you want to be able to turn the page sooner than every 5 minutes.

Samuel Carrier
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I wholefully agree. When I look at games that offer "$99.99 Best Value" packages and then look at what you can actually purchase with all that money and realize you might still have to spend money in the foreseeable future if you really enjoy the game, I can't help but feel it caters to the very vulnerable kind of gamers.

The worst here is that the production teams most-likely definitely agrees with the criticism of this model, but I suspect they don't have much to say on this matter...

Ramin Shokrizade
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I have been pleased that EA has embraced F2P and online gaming, both of which I think are progressive moves that meet the needs of consumers. That said, over the course of the last few years I have seen no evidence to suggest that EA knows how to operate within this new business model without destroying the quality of their gaming products, and their relationship with consumers.

Michael Mullins
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I think it is quite clear that EA has embraced a slot-machine business model and is tarring the ability of F2P as a field of study *and* as a business model to mature.

Yet I'm also beginning to conclude that the window for "ethical free-to-play" and its cousin "in-app-purchase" design is very narrow after seeing multiple attempts. One that sticks in my mind is Ace Patrol whose designers gave up on IAP and released the sequel for an Appstore premium.

Do you have any new insights on market reception to all this?

Ramin Shokrizade
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I'm waiting on Wargaming's Blitz and another product I am still not allowed to name to see how my approach works. I'm hoping both will trigger debate here when they go live. I've been hoping to show methods to the community for a while, and I think actually putting out a product is a lot more effective than just talking or writing papers. Putting out a good product takes time, money, and trust though. There are risks involved in embracing any new untried business model.

Ian Griffiths
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How is this free-to-play model from EA unethical exactly?

Adam Merkel
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the whole situation reminds me of when Pac-Man released for the Atari 2600 - it looked nothing like nor was as intense as the arcade version, meaning it was a bit of a disappointment to Pac-Man fans.

So what's going to be the E.T. of the mobile market then? Or Pepsi Invaders? Because Dungeon Keeper Mobile clearly shows that the mobile market is suffering from similar problems as the console market back in the early 80s.

Also, @Kyle: If you can, it would probably be best to report the possible TOS violation to Apple and inform Google Play about the rating manipulation the game does. Ratings that are fabricated and exploited like this, and goes as far as "block" users from giving the product a low rating only devalues the rating systems these stores use.

Katy Smith
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So I downloaded Dungeon Keeper because I was hearing it was a hot mess, and I wanted to see if it was really as bad as people were saying it was. I have played the original a little bit, but I can't say I was a big fan of the series. I mention that because, wow, is this F2P version not good, and it has nothing to do with me being an uber-fan of the original. I get a lot of flak on Gama because I'm not anti-f2p. This game is such a "two steps back" example of f2p design. It's using just about every trick in the book to "fun pain" the player into paying money. In addition, the costs are really high! If each green stone thing is a penny, it's eight dollars to get a third imp. Considering there's no confirmation on build instructions, you can (like I did) accidentally get your two free imps on 5 hour digs and then be stuck for a third of the day. A boost that expires in a week is $7.50. The resource caps are low and require upgrades that take an inordinate amount of time. But hey, at least I haven't been asked to invite my friends (yet).

These are techniques that were popular 5+ years ago and have quickly fallen out of fashion with players and (hopefully) developers alike. I am so disappointed.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Katy, I don't know if these methods were ever popular with consumers. I am all too aware that they were very popular with early social network gaming companies as they would refuse to employ me in previous years unless I agreed to use exactly the techniques you describe to convert unwary/unsophisticated consumers.

Consumers have largely adapted and are not so easily falling prey to these techniques. Other companies have begun adapting but EA seems to have gone "all in" in using Zynga style F2P business models. Perhaps they got some of these designers cheap after Zynga started shedding employees.

Katy Smith
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I'm not sure if popular with the players was the right word to use. "This is novel and I'll give it a shot" is more like what I meant. :)

I worked a contract project 3+ years ago on a f2p game which did not do well on the market. At that time, they were doing the exact same things. It frustrates me to see companies are still throwing the same stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

Richard Lackinger
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Sadly I missed the original. That said I have no nostalgic ties to it and I can tell you that I did not enjoy my brief playtime with this game. The whole F2P feels like a bait and switch. Don't advertise your game as free if I have to pay in order to actually enjoy it. As others have said I would gladly pay an up-front fee to enjoy the game unburdened by the unknown cost of enjoyment via microtransactions. Plus that rating scam is just plain sleazy.

Ian Griffiths
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Everyone knows what 'free-to-play' means, that's why it's not referred to as just 'free'.

SD Marlow
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It's so odd that before seeing a single review, I had just watched a great review by TotalBiscuit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DJmS7prcmE that perfectly frames the real issue with this mobile version. The short version is that the game play and mechanics of Dungeon Keeper 2 is what made it fun to play, and this mobile version chops the natural flow of play so badly that it's just not the same thing, at all.

Zach Grant
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Thanks for the link. It brought back some great memories of playing Dungeon Keeper. Fark F2P games like DK:Mobile and their garbage mechanics.

Taylor Transtrum
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EA has their reasoning backwards. Players aren't complaining because they really like the original titles. Players are STILL playing because they really like the original titles. At least that's the only reason why I still have it installed and open it up for a minute or two to get my imps started on an 8 hour process.

It's because I have such strong nostalgia for the previous titles in the series. There's some part of me that yearns and hopes and wishes that it would be just as fun as Dungeon Keeper 2. I don't even actually play the game (no dungeon raiding for me). I just open it up, tell my imps to dig a square, slap them, then quit.

If this was a new IP (not tied to the Dungeon Keeper franchise) then I would have uninstalled it and forgotten about this awful game within a few minutes.

Dana Laratta
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So funny. "We're receiving a lot of complaints but we're also receiving a lot of data. So we're going to wait things out and measure the revenue to make sure this backlash is real and that we're not dealing with a vocal minority of weirdos."

Spin paraphrasing is my own. :)

Jonathan Murphy
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They won worst company in America 2 years in a row! Yet people still buy their games! How about we address that. EA is just living up to their expectations.

Nathaniel Flurry
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I completely agree. If everyone did this, then what is the point of ratings? This violates Apple review guidelines for a reason.

Ian Griffiths
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I imagine that if someone made an indie game where you wait for long periods of time to progress just a tiny amount that people would rave about it. It would be seen as a commentary on today's impatient society and a personal and somewhat tortuous lesson on the virtues of delaying gratification.

I find it interesting that the ability to pay is what ruins games for so many people, I guess it shows how perception is everything.

Hakan Bilenler
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I think you are partly right because, if it is a indie game you can say it is a commentary. Not if you put the name and looks of an already established commercial product that has a lot of nostalgic memories of people attached to it. If EA would have named the game different and it would have look different nobody would trash talk it this much.
The main problem is that people think this is an insult to them. Which kinda feels like that.
But decision like this are made in boardrooms and not at the desk of a developer.(most of the time at least)


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