Dungeon Keeper Mobile, microtransactions and gaming

Feature David Hing 17 Feb 2014 - 06:17

Sims, sins and a light at the end of the tunnel? David has a word or two in defence of Dungeon Keeper Mobile...

There's something painfully alluring about the premise of the original Dungeon Keeper. You get to have a go at building a death trap for clichéd fantasy heroes, which means you have an opportunity to avoid all of those silly mistakes like giving them a fair chance whilst you sit back cackling maniacally as your devious machinations fall into place.

It is a safe statement to describe Bullfrog’s classic dungeon management sims as beloved by fans. EA Mobile’s and Mythic Entertainment’s recent Dungeon Keeper Mobile re-imagining of the series, less so. Now that the dust has settled a little on this alleged crime against gaming culture, it has left some of us a bit bemused as to what the fuss was about and why so much press was generated over this. EA hardly needs or even appreciates anyone standing up for it, but in this case it hasn’t committed such a roaring sin.

The disappointment is easy to understand. If you fire up a game with the words ‘Dungeon Keeper’ in the title, you can be forgiven for expecting something that plays a bit like Dungeon Keeper, especially if you haven't seen any of the sorts of games that pass for management sims on mobile devices these days. Gameplay wise there is practically no similarity. This is your traditional mobile money-sink-sim wearing the ill-fitting skin of something we are distressed to recognise.

Dungeon Keeper and its sequel were, however, never perfect. They were very much games bearing the Mark of Molyneux. The premise was never quite fulfilled and instead of pitting wits against aforementioned fantasy heroes and maybe squashing a barbarian warrior or two with rolling boulder traps, more often than not you found yourself engaged in abstract turf wars with keepers of other nearby dungeons. When you start playing Dungeon Keeper, the last thing you really expect is to be engaging in neighbourly disputes.

However, the saving grace of both games was that they were incredibly enjoyable. They had humour, they were fresh and it was a different take on a well-known trope. Thinking about the games retroactively, the Dungeon Keepers also have the amplification of the nostalgia filter, hailing as they do from a time before the gaming singularity; a time when stacks of shame and the concept of an overflowing Steam list was a problem many of us would dream of. This adds the fact that a lot of people who liked Dungeon Keeper not only played it, but played it to death, burial and right through to re-animation.

EA Mobile did not defile this cherished series. The mobile abomination they have created is of course horrendous and it would be impossible to defend the game, but it's a frustration that anyone in their right mind should have seen coming. The pain is best summed up by original creator Peter Molyneux himself who voiced the frustration of all gamers encountering a mobile game of this nature with 'I just want to make a dungeon. I don't want to schedule it on my alarm clock for six days to come back for a block to be chipped’. The game pulls all the despicable monetisation tricks you’ve seen before and adds nothing new in return, but Dungeon Keeper classic is still fine.

The paraphrased Alan Moore argument of ‘the films don’t destroy the original graphic novels because they still exist on the shelf and are perfectly fine, here come and look at them’ definitely applies. I’ve seen it declared on Twitter with accompanying expletives that this argument is no good and no excuse. Whilst this holds some weight when considering vintage games where the original works do need to undergo some form of jiggery-pokery to get running on modern machines, it still applies. This isn’t however why EA Mobile shouldn’t be cast into the fiery pits of developer hell just yet either.

This is the thing that exonerates EA Mobile from some of the blame: Were we really surprised?

If the only mobile game you've ever played is the port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a beautiful translation of an excellent modern release that is in itself a faithful translation of a classic PC game, maybe you are allowed to be surprised. If you have ever heard of The Simpsons: Tapped Out, you lose that right. You lose it twice if you've at any point seen how delighted the EA mothership is with the buckets of micro-money Tapped Out consistently drops off in time for its quarterly financial reports, which inevitably state that mobile is going to become increasingly important for the company.

It is therefore hard to be too angry with EA. Well, no, it is of course incredibly easy to be angry with EA thanks to its track record of server stability and a persistent sequelitis that abandons innovation. It’s not doing itself any favours with the frankly hilarious rating nudging shenanigans to ensure 5-star ratings on Dungeon Keeper Mobile either, especially when the hand-wringing excuse comes back that they’re only doing it to get more feedback from the player-base. What is more accurate to say is that it is becoming slightly more conflicted to be angry as the company is doing increasingly nice things for the world, like standing up for LGBT rights and whipping up a frenzy of charity money through bundle promotions. But even parking that to one side for reasons of irrelevance when it comes to game quality, the Dungeon Keeper Mobile mess is still not something you can really be legitimately angry about.

For large companies like EA, the existence of the mobile market is like leaving a plate of chocolate biscuits in a room with an unsupervised dog. It doesn't matter how well behaved the dog is, it will go for the biscuits. On some level, it knows you’re going to be angry, but it really wants those biscuits. EA has bills to pay, skittish investors to appease, corporate pressures that have interests at heart that are not necessarily purely consumer focussed and they are then presented with a proven method to generate revenue in the form of mobile non-games.

It's a shame, it’s disappointing, it’s a missed opportunity, but your anger in this case cannot turn back the tide because the target audience for this really doesn't care, won't ever care, doesn't know the Dungeon Keeper history and has probably already moved on anyway. There will be no retribution for EA Mobile and they don’t deserve it anyway. They are not making games for you, they are making them for a bottom line on a bank balance and they’re doing that adequately.

The baffling question is not ‘why is Dungeon Keeper Mobile awful?’ but ‘why use the Dungeon Keeper IP in the first place?’ Whiles there was clearly a business case for taking The Sims and making The Sims Social due to a crossover of interested parties, Dungeon Keeper Mobile is clearly not for Dungeon Keeper fans, made clear by the mutilated art style garishly greeting you when you fire up the app, and it's not like it has spectacular brand recognition in the wider market. It was possibly a grab for press attention but other than that there's very little reason to drag this nostalgia fuel through the mud.

There is something positive here. Thankfully this isn't a bad sequel marking the nail in the coffin of a beloved series and could open the door for new Dungeon Keepers if the numbers end up looking good. EA shut the door on a third Dungeon Keeper game around a decade ago when it decided strategy games weren’t what the cool kids wanted anymore, so we can’t exactly blame this version for killing a thriving franchise. Maybe the analytics will be misinterpreted in our favour and we could have a slew of actual Dungeon Keeper sequels receiving funding before we know it. Naive? Probably. Out of the question? No and any games journalist can picture the inevitable news item they put together about EA botching the server support for the pointless internet connectivity requirement on said resulting sequel.

Dungeon Keeper Mobile is bad, but the EA Mobile/Mythic combination is not evil and they are doing their jobs admirably, albeit without the 100% score for marketing ethics that would be appreciated. The only possible result of this mess that affects the future of the Dungeon Keeper saga is a positive one and the most likely scenario does no damage, but simply does not change a thing.

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The game in its current state is not enjoyable.
I'd rather pay £4.99 for the game and it be unteathered and I can enjoy playing it on a timescale that suits me.

I like your article, it's nice to see someone arguing different points then just. WHY HAVE THEY RUINED IT ALL!! This game cannot be compaired with real time strategy games because it isn't one.

I have to say as someone who has played a lot of free-to-play time management games (and never spent a penny) this is probably the best one I have played. For several reasons:

1) You can easily mine for the in game currency. You don't often get this with F2P, they usually make it nearly impossible to obtain the currency (gems, doughnuts etc) Granted this takes either 4/24 hours. but it's easily done. Even if you just hop on when your having a jobby once a day. Also you get gems from getting achievements which happens all the time. I've probably earned £7s worth of in game money from just playing it for free.

2) They usually make a handfull of items currency purchases only. Excluding you from a large portion of the game. This is not the case here - the only REAL thing you will want to spend them on is more worker imps. THERE IS NO REASON TO SPEND IT RUSHING THINGS. You cant be impatient if your going to play a F2P

3)This game is deeply strategic unlike most F2P with just involves building houses. That's it. You can not only send minions to attack other peoples dungeons but it's also an epic Tower Defence game.

4)You don't hit a wall in this game, usually there is a point in most F2P where you literally cant progress any further, I've been playing for a couple of weeks now. You don't have energy bars allowing you to do a couple of things, you can raid other people dungeons as much as you like, it just takes about 5 minutes to build an entire army.

I know people love the original, as do I. I can understand the rage if people were expecting a whole sequel, or a direct port of the original. If you just take this game as just any Free-to-play strategy, you will enjoy it immensely. remember, you don't have to mine the 4/24hr gem blocks if you don't want to.

Wow, that was a massive post. I think it's because I feel like im the only one defending this game on the internet. Everyone seems to just be jumping on the hate wagon.

I think so far as free-to-play mobile games go, Dungeon Keeper Mobile is a pretty standard one in every respect. It's certainly incredibly close to Clash of Clans and the like. The issue is that, so far as I'm aware, it's the first time a publisher has used an existing (and loved) franchise as the skin to dress it up in, and that's obviously hit a nerve. It's likely also brought in some people to get it, under the guise of it being a sequel to a franchise they like, who wouldn't have got any F2P games before, making a whole new demographic properly aware of this format for the first time which would inevitably lead to the whole debate being brought up afresh.

The problem isn't whether DK Mobile is a sin in itself, it's whether the franchise being used like this is a sign of developers moving away from traditional game formats in favour of things like this, which IS something more worrying.

Loved the original GTA, and i don't Hate this new version, but 'microtransactions' are an abomination. £69.99 for the top package, and it doesnt even unlock a complete game? Man i thought £45 for a ps4 game was steep!
The mobile releases of GTA are what we all want from these great classics.. please make them like this!

I still don't agree. A game is meant to be played. Having to wait 4 to 24 hours for two simple actions is insane when you can't do anything else in the game! Reminding that this is a mobile game is a terrible excuse! Surely you spend more than 10 seconds even on the shortest commute, so you want at least a few minutes of entertainment in a row every time you pick the game up. And by entertainment I mean, recievr a problem, solve the problem then receive a reward - not checking how many hours left something will happen, or if that something happened - receive a shitty little block.

I wondered about trying this out, but then GoG emailed me with an offer of Dungeon Keeper free, and Dungeon Keeper 2 for $1.99. So I did that. :P

You seriously think EA is raising money for charities for any other reason but the fact that all other marketing attempts to lift them from three-peating Forbes' 'most hated company' poll have failed miserably, and changing the market practices just doesn't enter their lexicon?

If they thought they could achieve the same PR for $5 cheaper by enslaving 3rd world orphans to make advertisements in 'work camps', they'd switch over in seconds,

My point is, you don't need to mine those little blocks. They are just a way of earning the in game currency and have nothing to do with the actual game play whatsoever.

It's a free-to-play strategy. Not a Real-time strategy. Not a full game. It's like comparing Mario Kart with Forza. Like the article argues, if this game gets the thumbs up it's more likely that EA will make a full blown game. Which everyone wants.

"This is the thing that exonerates EA Mobile from some of the blame: Were we really surprised?"

I am not blaming EA because I am surprised. I am blaming them for resurrecting an old, fondly remembered IP only to piss on it and grab all the cash they can. There is literally no redeeming feature about the "game" itself - and the only positive thing you can think of is akin to "Yes, I know they raped my daughter, but at least they didn't shoot her".

This doesn't so much read like a defence to me, but more of an explanation as to "why did they do it?". I and every other gamer knows why - EA likes money, but I am not about to applaud them knowing how to squeeze it out of people who don't give a toss. So what is the point of this piece?

If you really think that they "need" DK Mobile to fill their pockets, you aren't paying attention. That is what their entire range of sports games is for - release a slight update every year, and all the addicts will cough up £50 every time for a "new game". And no - any success that this abomination of a free to wait "game" has will not result in a "true" Dungeon Keeper sequel. If anything it will result in DK Mobile 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on.

Well it certainly fooled me! The game is designed to tell you to mine the blocks to receive in-game currency, to reach certain corners of the map and to rally your opponents into traps.

There are already too many free-to-play strategy games - they all are designed to be harder and more boring so to inspire you to pay up for more gameplay.

With this game EA is taking it a step further by extending the time taken for actions and raising the prices. I really hope they are scaring other companies off rather than inspiring them. I'm also afraid this kind of game scares real developers off the mobile gaming space.

Wait did you say theres a version of X-Com on the mobile......how did I not know about this :-S

I have this its moderately distracting. Its not Dungeon Keeper though not even close

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