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EA's Dungeon Keeper is a real torture

EA's Dungeon Keeper is a real torture

Fri 07 Feb 2014 7:52am GMT / 2:52am EST / 11:52pm PST
MobileFree-to-Play

Rather than condemning all F2P, Dungeon Keeper should be a lesson in what can go wrong and how to avoid it

Nobody seems to be terribly happy about the new Dungeon Keeper game. That's a sentence I hoped I'd never write, given how much I loved the original Bullfrog games - but that fact alone places me firmly within the least happy demographic of all: the original fans of the franchise. The rest of the unhappy parties can form an orderly queue behind us; that means you, game critics who think the game is terrible, mobile gamers who think it's not nearly as good as its most obvious inspiration, Clash of Clans, F2P advocates who could do without another awful example being used to unfairly crucify the entire business model, and, well, EA themselves, I expect.

Lots has been written about Dungeon Keeper in the week since it launched, almost all of it deeply critical and a good deal of it entirely fair. Dungeon Keeper is a nicely presented but mediocre game in the mobile/F2P genre it inhabits. Within the franchise it inhabits, however, it's a disastrous, idiotic travesty of a thing, a game whose design process wouldn't be out of place in the imaginative dungeons of the original titles - involving, as it did, the snapping of limbs and crunching of bones in order to stuff the screaming body of a much-loved core gamer title into a box that is distinctly too small and painfully the wrong shape. It's enough to make a Dark Mistress' eyes water.

I like the free to play business model, in principle. More than that - I think the free to play business model, still in its infancy and thus still making countless mistakes, is actually an inevitable step for the games industry. It's not going to replace other business models, which will continue to be a better fit for certain types of game and certain types of audience, but it'll probably be the most important and profitable business model in future (some would argue, convincingly enough, that it already is). From the moment it became possible to distribute games for free, it was certain that someone would do that, and devise a system for making money later, once an audience had been built up. Under the circumstances, carefully considered and ethically implemented F2P is probably the best, and fairest, system possible.

"I reject the notion that Dungeon Keeper is an illustration of F2P's intrinsic evils"

So I reject the notion that Dungeon Keeper is an illustration of F2P's intrinsic evils. It's not, any more than any number of terrible boxed games were an illustration of intrinsic evils of the retail game business model. F2P isn't intrinsically evil or bad, but it's open to abuse - just like the old boxed game model was plenty open to abuse, as you'll know if you've ever preordered an expensive game only to find that reviews were withheld until after launch, previews had been based on glimpses of unrepresentative sections of the game, screenshots and trailers were a cocktail of lies and the whole thing is actually a massive stinker. F2P trips up more often because it's new and many developers are still feeling out the parameters of the business model - and moreover, because it requires developers whose core skill is designing games to also design a business model in tandem with their game, which is a new skill that doesn't necessarily come naturally.

That means that if we're being reasonable, rather than just howling pointlessly into the wind because it makes us feel better, we need to consider Dungeon Keeper not as an omen of doom but as a learning exercise. It's obviously a mess. It's disappointed lots of people and made a core group of those people - people who ought to have been its most rapt advocates - very very angry indeed. But why is it a mess? What does Dungeon Keeper actually do wrong?

You could say "microtransactions", and you'd be right in one sense - it does microtransactions wrong, but not because microtransactions themselves are intrinsically wrong. Plenty of games handle them rather nicely and fairly. Supercell's games are pretty good examples - Hay Day is, I think, the only F2P game I've bought premium currency in, and I'm perfectly happy with the few quid I spent there, as I knew perfectly well what my money was buying and what the alternative was to acquire the things I wanted in-game. I mentioned last week my Japanese friend who has spent the equivalent of $500 in Puzzle & Dragons, and doesn't regret it in the slightest - from my own experience, P&D, the biggest-grossing F2P game in the world, is also scrupulously fair and up-front about its micro-transactions, and generous to a fault at handing out premium currency for free, thus allowing you to save up for things you want instead of feeling forced to fork out.

"P&D, the biggest-grossing F2P game in the world, is also scrupulously fair and up-front about its micro-transactions, and generous to a fault at handing out premium currency for free"

Those games - and Clash of Clans, the Supercell game to which Dungeon Keeper owes much of its genre heritage - get F2P microtransactions right. Even Candy Crush Saga, a game which I personally dislike quite intently (I think that describing yourself as a puzzle game and then confronting the player with randomly generated levels which are actually impossible to solve is a miserable failure of fundamental game design), is far from being abusive in its approach to microtransactions; a solid majority of players who complete all its levels do so without ever spending any money. I played Clash of Clans for months without spending, and I'm coming up on a year in Puzzle & Dragons without spending - both of which I still find fun, and both of which, I think it's fair to say, are genuinely living up to the promise inherent in the words "free to play". I'm quite convinced, incidentally, that they're among the world's most profitable games precisely because they allow most players to continue enjoying them for free, rather than in spite of that seemingly foolish generosity.

Dungeon Keeper isn't a generous game. It's a grasping, unpleasant game - which is a shame, because with a more likeable, generous approach to its players, it wouldn't be a terrible game. It's certainly among the better of the Clash of Clans clones, a multitude of which fill the App Store with game mechanics and art styles shamelessly copied from Supercell's hit and absolutely zero effort at innovation. Dungeon Keeper - though I say it through gritted teeth, since the franchise abuse still rankles - has the guts of a decent mobile game that builds worthwhile variation onto the Clash of Clans formula. The problem is, you advance through that experience at a snail's pace, halted every few seconds by a glowing gem icon that invites you to spend expensive premium currency to speed up your progress. That premium currency itself arrives in an absolutely miserable trickle, rendering the notion of saving up to buy things into a sad joke.

Slowing down progress to encourage players who are really engaged with the game to spend a bit of money to advance is a core tenet of F2P design. Some people hate that, which I perfectly understand, but it's not necessarily the end of all things - it's worth pointing out that lots of non-F2P games also stretch out tasks artificially for a variety of commercial and gameplay reasons (I'd point to World of Warcraft in the first instance and Animal Crossing in the second as good examples of this). The point is that in doing this, designers need to make sure they're not compromising the fun of the game, and err on the side of generosity rather than grasping. Dungeon Keeper fails these tests. It starts asking for money almost straight away, long before any player has a chance to become really engaged or engrossed in the game, and continues to wheedle at players to pay up on an ongoing basis, ramping up within a couple of days to the point where it's taking 24 hours to complete simple tasks like digging out a square of rock, and literally weeks to finish a tunnel or room unaided by a dip in your wallet. Good F2P design is about making people really love your game and then giving them opportunities to spend money on it. Dungeon Keeper is a grubby chancer who tries to steal your wallet before the main course has even arrived on your first - and last - date.

There's an even more fundamental problem at work here, though. Making a bad, greedy F2P game with the beloved Dungeon Keeper license is inexcusable - but to be honest, making any kind of F2P game with this license was a terrible idea. Dungeon Keeper is an old franchise, one which never came to consoles - making it much loved by a significant group of gamers who are older and significantly more "core" than the primary market for mobile F2P games. If you weren't a PC gamer in the 1990s, Dungeon Keeper has almost certainly passed you by entirely. On the other hand, if you were a PC gamer in the 1990s, I think it's fair to generalise and say you're probably firmly in the camp that by and large dislikes microtransactions and considers F2P in general with suspicion - suspicion which you'll consider to be all but confirmed by Dungeon Keeper's many transgressions.

"Good F2P design is about making people really love your game and then giving them opportunities to spend money on it"

So why did EA do this? What on earth did they believe they stood to gain from resurrecting a franchise like this in a form which would be utterly despised by the only people who recognise it, while the potential audience it might reach successfully - gamers who like mobile F2P and are looking for something different in flavour and approach to Clash of Clans - will have zero brand recognition with Dungeon Keeper, but may be dissuaded by the outpouring of one-star scores on the App Store with which gamers are registering their dislike. Note too that while it's conventionally and reasonably held that the specialist games media has no impact on mobile game performance, the hatred for Dungeon Keeper has spilled over into the mainstream press - and while "no publicity is bad publicity", newspaper articles accusing your game of greedy monetisation tactics aren't the ideal way to introduce it to the public at large, while Google results populated with fiery critique and all manner of accusations don't help much either.

Ultimately, EA could have avoided this by making essentially the same game (although doing a lot more careful consideration of monetisation tactics and trying not to destroy the game's hopes of retaining players by being too greedy too early wouldn't go amiss) without the Dungeon Keeper brand and the vaguely ghoulish overtones of corpse-robbing that go with Dungeon Keeper's pilfered, ill-matched mechanisms and characters in this game. Alternatively, it could probably have made quite a decent commercial success out of a premium-priced Dungeon Keeper game carefully updating the original and launching on Steam and iPad - a game with a significant built-in audience and a huge store of goodwill, much of which has now been squandered. It could even have included some IAP further down the line for deeply devoted players, although more in the line of cosmetic items and so on than game-changing consumables. Hell, EA could have done both of those things, resuscitating a much-loved franchise and creating a brand new F2P franchise, thus ending up with two successful IPs rather than one battered, bruised and sorely abused one.

This comes back to a point I made earlier - there is an audience for F2P, a huge audience with a significant amount of spending power, but it's not the only audience (even if it's the biggest). There are other audiences who crave other genres, other business models, other price points. The notion that the vast expansion in the demographic reach of videogames is going to be attended by an absolute contraction of the possible business models for videogames is a transparent nonsense - F2P is an inevitable and by no means negative consequence of the reduction in distribution costs to (just about) zero, but it's not the only business model or price point enabled by recent technological change. The first challenge for designers, producers and executives in this new era is to figure out what business model best fits the franchise, the genre and the audience for your project. EA isn't the first company to fail that challenge, nor is Dungeon Keeper the last game which will do it - but for those of us with fond memories of Bullfrog's glory days, this is the one that leaves the most bitter taste. The lesson, however, must not be "F2P is bad" - it must be, "Do F2P where appropriate, do it with care, and do it well".

59 Comments

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst

88 67 0.8
So far the most interesting thing about this game is how the rating metrics have been stacked.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/210168/EA_downplays_Dungeon_Keeper_freetoplay_criticisms.php

Allegedly, it requires active effort to rate the game less than 5 out of 5.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Eckley on 7th February 2014 8:09am

Posted:8 months ago

#1

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
Popular Comment
we need to consider Dungeon Keeper not as an omen of doom but as a learning exercise.
Interestingly, this isn't the first time EA have done something incredibly strange with a well-loved, older IP, and it raises the question of whether they. as a company, can learn from their mistakes.

The Syndicate FPS should have shown them that taking a beloved critically acclaimed IP and making something perversely out-of-character for it was a road to ruin. Paragraphs 11 and 12 could, with very little effort, be rewritten for that game. The reasoning for both games using older IP instead of newer is simple - it's lying about, no-one's going to do anything with it, we might as well. It shows a clear lack of understanding on the one hand, but possibly Machiavellian levels of cunning on another - the majority of the criticism for both games has been waved away by EA by saying that fans were never going to be happy no matter what game was produced. In one fell swoop, every negative comment can be disregarded.

Rather than learning from their past mistake and listening to fans/consumers, they've repeated themselves, in a self-destructive pattern. Different format, different business model, but the same outcome for an IP. No-one will want to touch a Dungeon Keeper game now, just like no-one wants to touch Syndicate. EA could argue that there was no market for the original types of games (or the original type of business model) but fans have proven that wrong, with War For The Overworld and Satellite Reign. And the number of snarky comments I've seen asking if it's possible to buy the "full game" for $9.99... Ah, hilarious. In a not funny way.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th February 2014 9:04am

Posted:8 months ago

#2

Anthony Gowland Lead Designer, Outplay Entertainment

198 660 3.3
PvZ2 does the exact same ratings thing. Yet no outraged gamer news articles about that.

Posted:8 months ago

#3

David Thomson Founder, Ludometrics

9 2 0.2
It's not the first app/game I've seen doing this 1-4 star/5 star thing, but I've spent the last few days trying to remember/rediscover which it was to no avail!

Edit: It wasn't PvZ2 that I saw the trick in, so I'm assuming there are a bunch of them out there already. I suppose when you're already outraged, anything you've never seen before will outrage you even more.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Thomson on 7th February 2014 9:20am

Posted:8 months ago

#4

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

182 202 1.1
"Good F2P design is about making people really love your game and then giving them opportunities to spend money on it" <- I'm afraid that's just an opinion, and one that is apparently not shared by EA. As evidenced by PvZ2 as well, where subsequent patches pushed it further and further away from the "generous" side, to the point of asking in-game currency if you want to restart a level or lose a lawnmower.
I'm starting to think that "good" and "fair" F2P is actually the exception, rather than the norm.
These types of games may not be learning experiences that will eventually culminate in a good and fair design, but rather seem to aim to find the sweet spot to get away with stuff like this without pissing too many people off.

Posted:8 months ago

#5

James Boulton Tools & Tech Coder, Slightly Mad Studios

133 171 1.3
Popular Comment
Here's a radical idea, maybe we should put out "demos" of games, so people can see if they like them. If they do, they could perhaps purchase a "full version". I know it's a bit radical, but it might just work...

But seriously, I wish people would consider other ways to monetise than F2P. The old demo + pay for game concept works for me 100%, and I'll quite happily pay a good wedge of cash for a good game. I will never partake in this F2P lunacy and I still dont know why people are running after this "goldmine" of cash, when the majority of people barely break even. The whole mobile game / app economy has gone to cack.

Posted:8 months ago

#6

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments

302 383 1.3
@rolf - the title is misleading, as the article actually points out - the data just shows that games with demos sell less, but that may be because more popular games don't need demos. Correlation != causation.

Would also be interesting to see more breakdown for different types of games - maybe demos are of more use to some genres than others.

Posted:8 months ago

#8

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
the data just shows that games with demos sell less, but that may be because more popular games don't need demos.
It might also be that the exact reason consumers want demos is the exact reason publishers don't: because the consumer tries the demo and realises the game is poor quality (in their opinion), or good quality but not their cup-of-tea.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th February 2014 10:34am

Posted:8 months ago

#9

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
Popular Comment
Interestingly, this isn't the first time EA have done something incredibly strange with a well-loved, older IP, and it raises the question of whether they. as a company, can learn from their mistakes.
Pigs will have evolved flight by the time that happens.

As a massive fan and hours without end player of Bullfrogs' original 2 I just can't see why EA would go this way with such a massive IP. I tried, I tried really hard for 2 or 3 hours, than I had to give up. I'm sorry if it's a harsh opinion, but EA is doing what it does best, killing franchises and being stupid, not necessarily in that order.

If only Bullfrog and Westwood never got into their hands... Oh well, first world problems isn't it.

Posted:8 months ago

#10

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
It might also be that the exact reason consumers want demos is the exact reason publishers don't: because the consumer tries the demo and realizes the game is either poor quality (in their opinion), or good quality but not their cup-of-tea.
Beat me to it Morville :)

Of course they sell less, by not having a demo a big slice of consumers are just giving a leap of faith, relying on sometimes nothing but the cover and word of mouth from the sometimes not so knowledgeable till guy. Others look into previews and reviews, buy it anyway just to find out Morville's conclusion, but hei, money's in the bank right.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andreia Quinta on 7th February 2014 10:43am

Posted:8 months ago

#11

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments

302 383 1.3
It might also be that the exact reason consumers want demos is the exact reason publishers don't: because the consumer tries the demo and realises the game is poor quality (in their opinion), or good quality but not their cup-of-tea.
Of course. I was just saying it can't be deduced either way just on the basis on that single stat.

It's also not a binary choice - a bad demo will almost certainly put people off, but presumably an overly generous demo may leave people deciding they don't need to buy the full game. So you'd need to factor in the quality and scale of the demo.

Posted:8 months ago

#12

James Boulton Tools & Tech Coder, Slightly Mad Studios

133 171 1.3
Popular Comment
Eurgh, this stuff makes me sick --

"Game demos halve sales, new data suggests"
"Trailers without hands-on opportunities may lead to the biggest commercial success"

So, people don't buy the game because they played the demo and it's actually crap... so just show them some pretty pictures to make them believe its good? As a consumer I couldn't revile this sentiment more.

For me demos are still the best thing ever. Show the world what you've got, if they like it, they put their money down. Complete disclosure. If your game is good you have nothing to worry about...

Posted:8 months ago

#13

Gareth Donaghey Customer Support Agent, Blizzard Entertainment

34 46 1.4
Been 'playing' DK the last two days, mainly for the group self schadenfreude.
Won't spend gems on it, won't buy any either.
And I have dug out FOUR blocks so far. FOUR. And upgraded one building, the Heart.
IN TWO DAYS

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Donaghey on 7th February 2014 11:14am

Posted:8 months ago

#14
The game itself seems to be doing good revenue, at least so far. Haven't played it myself yet, planning to play it this weekend and write a review for next week.

I agree that older generation of gamers that are now in their 30's and 40's would be willing to pay considerable sums up front and for additional content too. Panzer Corps, the remake of Panzer General, is ridiculously expensive: 20 bucks for the game and then 80 bucks more if you want to play all the new campaigns too. I paid, gladly, because I knew that the game is excellent and because paying 100 dollars for something that you are going to play hundreds of hours is not that expensive after all. Then again, Panzer Corp seems to be quickly falling into oblivion in the charts.

Posted:8 months ago

#15

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
A lot of F2P games have been balanced so you use in game purchases to speed up the gameplay a bit. But this really takes the cake as it practically stops gameplay, waiting over a day for 1 single building block is just terrible and greedy. There's also a lot of controversy surrounding the way reviews are handled too. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-02-06-dungeon-keeper-androids-rating-system-filters-out-1-4-star-reviews

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kingman Cheng on 7th February 2014 11:36am

Posted:8 months ago

#16

Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve

340 292 0.9
I really can't understand the reasoning behind this games existence. It really just feels like EA dumped a load of modern gaming buzz words along with all their IP into a machine that churned away with some random number generators and it then threw up 'Dungeon Keeper-Mobile-ClashOfClansesque-FTP'. Someone looked upon this duct taped abomination of a design and said "brilliant!".

Posted:8 months ago

#17

Tamir Ibrahim Programmer, Rodeo Games

76 56 0.7
Nobody seems to be terribly happy about the new Dungeon Keeper game.
Except for the 90,000+ 5 star reviews it has on Google Play and the 5,000 odd 5 star reviews on iOS. Plus there are a few non game reviews that have rated it positively.

I haven't played it so I can't comment on the quality, I would probably also think it is not very good; but I do find it strange how (almost) every gaming media outlet seems to be quietly ignoring these people and assuming that everyone feels as they do because that is what the internet voice says... I mean who cares what the actual average F2P user thinks right?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tamir Ibrahim on 7th February 2014 3:08pm

Posted:8 months ago

#18

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
Tamir you really should look at the link I posted and the actual reviews in the app store. EA are filtering 1-4 star reviews from the game so anything less than 5 goes through to their email system. So it's either 5 star or nothing now.

I've spent a little while scrolling down this morning and everything I see is 1* with a few 2* littered in there. I'm not exaggerating so go take a look for yourself if you don't believe me.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kingman Cheng on 7th February 2014 3:50pm

Posted:8 months ago

#19

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

820 653 0.8
Popular Comment
I know this is not GameSpot and stuff. Bu I really needed to share this here: http://www.jonathancresswell.co.uk/dungeonkeeper/

Posted:8 months ago

#20

Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer

124 34 0.3
This article seems like one written to excuse a politician from his/her in-excusable mistake.

Posted:8 months ago

#21

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

202 1,107 5.5
I want to put my two cents to the "demo" sub-conversation here.

We have tested the whole "demos halve your game's sales" thing with our games and it is truth. I am not sure about halving, but it is definitely a big impact. And it has NOTHING to do with quality.

Most of the current gamers do not play games to the end, they do not plan to spend countless hours with them. Sometimes, they play a game for two hours and never return to it. Especially with smaller, downloadable games. If you give them demo, you'll satisfy them enough. It could be really good game, they may really like it, but they don't feel like playing it anymore after the demo has ended. So, unless they really LOVE the game, or there is some incentive to keep playing (multiplayer), they won't convert the demo to the full version. Regardless of the quality of the game.

That is who our customers are today.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jakub Mikyska on 7th February 2014 4:06pm

Posted:8 months ago

#22

Dan Whitehead Managing Director, Word Play Narrative Consulting Ltd

51 198 3.9
I wish people would consider other ways to monetise than F2P.
Exactly. As Rob says, the concept is absolutely sound. It's just that a few games have shown that with the right volume of players, you can make big money from a small number of converted customers and that's sparked a gold rush mentality. It's Tulip Fever all over again.

My metric has always been that I'm absolutely happy to pay for additional content, provided it enhances or sustains a game I'm enjoying. The problem with the Clash of Clans model that EA has "borrowed" here - and, really, it's virtually a clone - is that by asking the player to buy expendable currency, there's no ceiling on what can be spent, and therefore the gameplay design must constantly escalate its prices to work. You're paying in order to keep paying even more. When you look at it that way, it's madness.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Whitehead on 7th February 2014 4:13pm

Posted:8 months ago

#23

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Jakub

Posted:8 months ago

#24

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
Really interested in Jakub and Morville's point of view here and I agree with both sides, to some degree.

So jumping onto the demo bandwagon, sure some gamers won't convert to the full game. But if I spent tonnes of money on a game, and I didn't like it, then chances are I'm not going to be a returning customer. The 'halved' audience you get who are basically the people who converted from the demo obviously enjoyed your game.

I'd much rather have reviews like 'played the demo, loved it and paid for it' rather than 'Paid loads of money for it but wasn't worth it'.

Not saying there's a perfect solution of course, it's swings and roundabouts really and there are pros and cons to everything. I mean who could have imagined DayZ would be doing so well for something that is currently so buggy? ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kingman Cheng on 7th February 2014 4:40pm

Posted:8 months ago

#25

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

202 1,107 5.5
@ Morville and Kingman:
This is definitely not an argument :-) It is a matter of a point of view. I agree that hyping a game which is actually pretty bad and not offering a demo is a bad thing that damages the industry about as much as abusive F2P.

I also think that a large $50+ game should have a demo. The investment is too high and the demo probably won't satisfy the players completely. But with small, $10 games, which is what we are making, the situation is like I described. We definitely loose some customers who want to play the demo first, or the ones who weren't interested but tried the demo anyway and liked it. But it does not compensate for the people who try a demo, enjoy it and then return to the [insert an AAA game of your choosing].

Another interesting thing we found - demos tend to have much lower user score than full "non-demo" versions of the same game. Probably because some people try the demo, don't really enjoy it (because it is an adventure game and they are FIFA guys) and give it one star. So, if you have a free demo that converts to full version, you'll get overall lower user rating... which is also very important factor.

Posted:8 months ago

#26

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
@Jakub

Absolutely, it's the spirit of discussion. :)

Yeah I see what you're saying a demo for a small indie game isn't going to be the same as a demo for a full priced AAA title. I guess also with things like mobile games installing and uninstalling a game is just a little too easy as well, the convenience of that doesn't help.

If I were to generalise the enjoyment of games to: Didn't Enjoy, Moderately Enjoyed, Enjoyed Lots.

If you bought a game for as you say $50+ and you moderately enjoyed it, you're probably more likely to finish it than say a mobile game you bought for a few dollars that you moderately enjoyed. In which case the average mobile gamer is probably more likely to just have a go at a game and uninstall it.

Your research on the demo score is interesting though. Personally it really grinds me when people rate games down because it isn't their taste and it has no reflecting on how well made a game actually is.

Posted:8 months ago

#27

Gareth Martin Senior Programmer, Epic Games

6 8 1.3
Regarding demos meaning people don't by the full game: The same applies to FTP games pretty much, few people will ever spend money on them. Does charging $1-$5 for the game and giving some-$-worth of in-game currency result in more income than not charging for the game at all? Probably.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Martin on 7th February 2014 5:13pm

Posted:8 months ago

#28
@Morville: All good points. And I'd like to add that Syndicate FPS should have been oldskool syndicate on tablets - that platform is so ready for it.

Posted:8 months ago

#29

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
42 years of playing games tells me this. Demos are a 50/50 affair at best and less if the user knows nothing about how games are made.

There have been great games with crappy demos and great demos that ended up as not so hot final product. I've seen people shit on otherwise fine demos that have bugs despite disclaimers at the beginning that state clearly that the demo isn't representative of the full product. Of course, those who don't know any better (or simply choose to ignore those disclaimers) don't care because they've found a "glitch" and have an open mike to babble about something that ends up polished out of the final build.

I love demos as long as they're in-progress builds that get better as I see/play them.

I also like the idea of a completed game (or one that can be fixed based on feedback) getting a limited play demo and allowing users to pay to unlock the rest of the content if they like what they've played. To me, this is a more honest approach as it allows the developer to tweak stuff after people play and submit commentary as opposed to foisting a busted product out on the world as completed and acting surprised that there's negativity because more work needed to be done.

On that note, I tend to avoid many of the "playable Alpha" projects that seem to be floating around everywhere as well as the "buy into our upcoming beta!' funders because I'm just weary of too many games with so many problems that I run out of notes to take after half an hour (Yeah, Day Z is on that list. Tried it a t a friends and it turned me off completely). I guess it's a patience thing for me these days, particularly if there are a ton of grammatical errors in addition to buggy game code...

Posted:8 months ago

#30

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Charles

definitely agree with you on oldskool Syndicate on tablets. For some reason, I think tablets are very much suited to isometric gaming (so, anytime Baldur's Gate Enhanced wants to get to Android...). :D

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th February 2014 5:23pm

Posted:8 months ago

#31

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
And hey, I LIKED that Syndicate game. It's one of the few MP shooters I liked because with a bunch of like minded players online, it made sense with the viewpoint that you WERE playing in that universe. Just a thought.

Posted:8 months ago

#32

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
And hey, I LIKED that Syndicate game.
Oh, I was agreeing with everything you said up to that point... You had to spoil it, didn't you? :p

By all accounts, the Syndicate game isn't a bad game, it's just not a Syndicate game. Rob's point that
EA could have avoided this by making essentially the same game... without the Dungeon Keeper brand
is true for Syndicate, and in both cases I think it shows a lack of faith in the core gameplay. Both IP have a certain amount of brand-recognition in them (even, I think, from younger gamers), and perhaps EA felt they needed that brand-recognition to get the PR machine started. (Dammit, we're all talking about it, aren't we? Curse you, EA. :D ) What makes the decision stupid (to my eyes) is that the changes in genre and business model turn-away the fans of the IP; EA figuratively shoot themselves in the foot.
I also like the idea of a completed game (or one that can be fixed based on feedback) getting a limited play demo and allowing users to pay to unlock the rest of the content if they like what they've played.
I really like this idea. I think it could easily sway potential-buyers into instantly buying your game, if the time-limit is cunningly judged. Playtest a little before hand to find a good cliff-hanger point a little way in, and time the demo to end at that point. Even if not well-judged all the time, I think it would catch people in the same way arcades caught people into spending more: "Just a little more... Oh, hey, I can buy it now and keep playing! Done!"

We've actually seen almost this-exact-thing, in an EA game. Dragon Age: Origins, I think it was, had a character who none-too-subtlely pointed to a quest that was paid DLC. Once purchased (which wasn't too hard to do), you could carry out the DLC quest then-and-there.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 7th February 2014 6:08pm

Posted:8 months ago

#33

Kevin Patterson musician

187 103 0.6
The game should have never used the Dungeon Keeper IP. The review mechanism is an insult.
I wish EA would actually take a good look at the old IP that they have have amassed and use it well, rather than the small title cash grabs. It's like what they did with that XBLA Wing Commander, that was also a travesty.

EA owns such great older IP, Wing Commander, Crusader, System Shock, Ultima, etc, and they do absolutely nothing with it. EA should be taking notice how great Star Citizen is doing on funding, people have been wanting a real space sim like Wing Commander, and there is a market there. Crusader would be an excellent game series to reboot/revisit, I'd love that.

Activision isnt much better, They have the Heretic series and they need to let Raven do another one, a reboot of the original title.

Posted:8 months ago

#34
The reasons why people often give lower scores to demos is because they haven't "invested" anything in it. If you "invest" in something then you're going to want it to be good. Basic psychology.

Posted:8 months ago

#35

Craig Page Programmer

384 220 0.6
They all sound like Crippleware to me. What's the difference between waiting a day to dig out four blocks in this game, or waiting two days to upgrade your gold mine in Clash of Clans?

There's nothing really original about Clash of Clans either, they've just taken the Warcraft RTS formula, then made it work on a phone. And then butchered it completely so people would actually download it, because for some reason people who spend $200 to $900 on a phone have trouble spending another $5 on a game.

Posted:8 months ago

#36

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,193 1,170 0.5
@Morville: Well, At least I had you in my corner before I tagged myself out with that suplex, heh. *DINGDINGDING!*

Amusingly enough, I sat in on solo and MP sessions with Starbreeze before the game was released and one guy who worked on the original Syndicate was there and seemed more than pleased that I noted a few things from the original while not minding the viewpoint change. I also recall saying that they'd have a hard time with the core fans of the original because it was a shooter and some folks wouldn't appreciate it at all (even though viewpoint and gameplay aside... Syndicate IS a shooter at the end of the day no matter how you slice it. It doesn't matter HOW you kill the enemies in the game to me - if they're in the way, they're going down and I'm getting that new tech).

Anyway, you had ME until Dragon Age: Origins. That DLC content should have been IN the game, as the game itself was kind of... lacking in content. I liked the story, but seeing those "random" maps over and over had me hitting myself on the head with the game case after a few hours. As someone who's NOT around an active connection all the time, I felt it was annoying to run into that creature who was all happy that he wanted me to get my free stuff... but I couldn't! Full game and "free" bonuses: ON the disc even if I have to work harder to get them. Pay wall content should be OPTIONAL always and not important to the story or have stuff that's out of reach for anyone who can't connect.

I was thinking more along the lines of indie stuff like Winged Pixel's wonderful throwback Heroes of a Broken Land that allows you to download the entire game as a demo, but your characters can only get up to level six. You can't survive the game is you play past a certain point, but if you like what you've played, you can unlock the rest by buying in. Other games also give you a brief version and ask you to buy a key if you like what you play. I prefer that confidence in what I try these days as opposed to someone whipping out a card reader at some point and telling me I need to go spend some money so I can see what the better stuff is like.

g.

Posted:8 months ago

#37
EA did great with plant vs Zombies 2. Maybe slow cook the whale in scented bath salts rather than try te dip in scalded water approach?

Posted:8 months ago

#38

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

224 590 2.6
EA should be taking notice how great Star Citizen is doing on funding, people have been wanting a real space sim like Wing Commander
Absolutely agree. I would also add that I'm extremely happy something like Star Citizen isn't in their hands because they would absolutely destroy it beyond any recognition.

Posted:8 months ago

#39

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
@ Greg
Syndicate IS a shooter at the end of the day no matter how you slice it. It doesn't matter HOW you kill the enemies in the game to me - if they're in the way, they're going down and I'm getting that new tech).
Mmm, true... But then, that's like saying Mass Effect 3 and Planescape: Torment are both RPGs. Whilst true, they're at polar opposites of the genre, and attract different players. Again, drawing parallels with what Rob says for Dungeon Keeper, it would've made a lot of sense to have done one FPS and one isometric strategy-shooter with the Syndicate IP. And 2K did just that with the XCOM franchise.
Other games also give you a brief version and ask you to buy a key if you like what you play. I prefer that confidence in what I try these days as opposed to someone whipping out a card reader at some point and telling me I need to go spend some money so I can see what the better stuff is like.
Yeah, I see where you're coming from. I think, honestly, the issue of demos and sampling games is something that the industry needs to examine properly - without hysteria or bad data - and realise that one size doesn't fit all. Just like shoe-horning micro-transactions and multiplayer into every game doesn't work, a certain type of demo for a certain genre doesn't work. Some games *cough* FPSs *cough* are just the same thing over and and over for 6 hours. Whereas, like with your example of Heroes, RPGs would greatly benefit from the timed demo/unlock-at-level-X.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 8th February 2014 11:03pm

Posted:8 months ago

#40

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,135 1,171 1.0
EA games having a coercive f2p model. Don't waste your time playing them, head straight for the feedback section of communities and online shops for the real entertainment value.

Posted:8 months ago

#41

James Boulton Tools & Tech Coder, Slightly Mad Studios

133 171 1.3
Reading the comments comments about demos damaging sales for smaller indie games is interesting, and I can see, quite valid. With todays "casual" gamers, who's attention span is that of a goldfish with dementia, perhaps demos are enough of a kick to see them through and move on to the next app. But equally the whole argument of gaining customers who actually really enjoy your product, rather than just a mass of of people with mixed opinions is compelling also. And here's another thought to add to this -- you may find you can sell the game at a higher price point with a demo than without. The number of sales may be less, but the value of sales perhaps the same or greater due to people buying the game on its strengths, rather than hype and impulse. I'm no sales person, though, so this is based on wishful thinking and nothing more... :o)

With the whole sell low, sell loads attitude of the appstore, something has got to give eventually. I cant see how (from experience sadly) the majority of people can survive in this environment. Sure it breeds competition and creativeness, which is awesome, but there's a lot of good stuff which just gets lost in the dross.

Posted:8 months ago

#42

Tom Keresztes Programmer

683 335 0.5
You mean this article is not about the EAs new Dungeon Keeper Andrew Wilson ?

Posted:8 months ago

#43

Tom Keresztes Programmer

683 335 0.5
It's like what they did with that XBLA Wing Commander, that was also a travesty.
The Wing Commander travesty actually started with Wing Commander : Prophecy. The XBLA one was just another insult to the franchise.

Posted:8 months ago

#44

Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

111 198 1.8
EA did great with plant vs Zombies 2. Maybe slow cook the whale in scented bath salts rather than try te dip in scalded water approach?
@Chee - PVZ2 started out very generously as a genuine F2P game that really soft-pedalled it's IAP presence, but subsequent updates have gradually transitioned the IAP into being more necessary more often, and now it's no longer the poster child for generous F2P that it once was (sadly). A slow cook indeed - the front-and-centre reviews are the ones that quote the original day 1 great taste, even though punters have no idea that's no longer what's being served up. EA are trying all sorts of approaches to see what sticks.

Posted:8 months ago

#45
Maybe we need a new way to do commerce without actually using fiat currency, gold or digital credits. Then the end of horrendous IAPs :)

Posted:8 months ago

#46

Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive

34 56 1.6
Under the circumstances, carefully considered and ethically implemented F2P is probably the best, and fairest, system possible.
Maybe someday, we'll see some examples of ethically implemented F2P. Until then, the old fashioned "purchase a game" system is still pretty good. I installed Candy Crush on my phone, right next to Bejeweled 2. Basically the same game. One constantly tells me no and uses jerky psych tricks to try to needle dollars out of me here and there. The other cost me a few bucks at the start and plays whenever I launch it. Guess which one got uninstalled.

All game sales were up 25% last year, even without next gen consoles. Digital downloads were the big winners at +41%. F2P was off the previous peak by -17%. With any luck, that will be a trend.

Posted:8 months ago

#47
I recently repurchased the Final Fantasy VI on ios in all its full priced glory.
Imagine IAP in the game, it would be totally fatal

Posted:8 months ago

#48

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
Chee please don't plant the idea in my head and make me imagine that!

Looking back at the reviews on Dungeon Keeper the 1 star reviews have been catching up.

I'm with Al on this one I prefer buying my game outright and knowing I'm not going to be lumped with ads but more importantly these IAPs. Waiting for these 1 star reviews to catch up with the phoney 5 star reviews.

Posted:8 months ago

#49

Axel Cushing Writer / Blogger

104 130 1.3
Bearing in mind the maxim "never attribute to malice what can be better explained by stupidity," I've come to the conclusion that EA managed to somehow use both when they thought this game would fly. It's like they had a checklist of each and every possible move that only an idiot would make because it would get people worked up, and then proceeded to do them all. It doesn't do any justice to the source materials, not in terms of IP, not in terms of the gameplay it's *ahem* borrowing from Clash of Clans.

This isn't enough to argue that "all F2p is bad, mmm'kay," but it's enough to demonstrate how not to do F2P. Which, of course, EA will completely ignore, and what it can't ignore will be denied, and what it can't deny will be blamed on the consumers. I can just see the headline now...
And, for the third year running, The Consumerist is proud to present Electronic Arts with the 'Worst Company In America' Award!

Posted:8 months ago

#50
but you have to imagine there must be some really really smart people at EA, who would advocate how not to do XYZ, but maybe somewhere in the chain of command, someone has the final say so/veto

Posted:8 months ago

#51

Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts

199 56 0.3
At the risk of getting totally and utterly shot down I'm going to stick my head over the parapet.

Firstly this is very much my opinion not EA's I just happen to work for them. Also I wasn't someone who played the original Dungeon Keeper games so that may well have something to do with my opinion. I am also not a huge F2P fan and like a lot of people on here am a bit old fashioned and prefer to pay upfront.

However sales from numerous companies cannot deny that there is a market for this business and model so its no surprise to me that companies, EA included are making games in this way. I tend to give them a go and if I am not hooked in a week move onto the next thing. So far I have been playing DK a week and have upgraded my Dragon Heart 4 times have taken part in lots of campaigns and raids and have upgraded my minions, hatcheries and quarries all without spending a penny. I have also added about 400 gems through achievement without spending a penny and have just added another imp. Its by no means perfect and personally I would prefer to buy upfront but I am still enjoying it and playing it. No doubt spending could speed things up a lot but I play sporadically when I have 5 mins spare throughout the day and that's what mobile gaming is to me anyway. If I want an immersive extended experience I have my PC and Xbox for that.

Although PVZ is still my favourite. As an EA employee its very much your right to ignore my statements but I'm a recruiter not in PR and I have nothing to do with the development of this title. I'm just a gamer in this instance and ill play anything I enjoy.

Posted:8 months ago

#52

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
Lewis that's a very respectable opinion and you're not going to get shot down here just for working for EA. That's not how people roll around here. :)

It's great that you have managed to get a lot of enjoyment out of it on a personal level but for a lot of people who spend time on mobile games waiting a day for something very basic to happen just isn't enjoyable. Yeah there are some games where you have to wait even a few days for something to build, but more often or not they're usually special buildings or items that are quite far down the line in game progression. I've seen a lot of reviews moaning about taking at least a whole day to dig out a square of dirt. A lot of mobile gamers who spend ages playing at home, or even a lot of gamers on the go won't find that acceptable.

Posted:8 months ago

#53

Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts

199 56 0.3
Thanks Kingman that's fair. I think having not played the original might be a big part of why the slower gameplay doesn't bother me.

Posted:8 months ago

#54

Julian Cram Project Manager, Appster

50 28 0.6
One thing missing from the discussions of Dungeon Keeper all over is the fact EA could change the pacing of the paywalls tomorrow.

I used to play Candy Crush but then got to a point where I got sick of asking for friends to unlock it and simply stopped playing.

I recently started it anew as I started a new job in Mobile development, so for reference purposes I needed to play it again, and this time I've noticed the amount of times it asked me to ask for this and that seemed to be very sparse.

What happens when this happens to Dungeon Keeper. It's not like it used to be - games can and do change really quickly based on customer behaviour and feedback.

What happens to these articles and us commentators when EA goes back and gets the monetisation right? Can we argue it is a bad game? Are EA still evil and money grabbing for fucking up our beloved childhood memories?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Julian Cram on 12th February 2014 3:35am

Posted:8 months ago

#55

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic

1,584 1,438 0.9
Are EA still evil and money grabbing for fucking up our beloved childhood memories?
They're eeeeeeeeeeeeeevillllllll *ghoulish noises*

*ahem*

I would argue that they will have learnt, but only in a basely manipulative way, and that they were still somewhat unprofessional and foolish. Even if DK-Mobile improves 5 seconds after my posting this message, they could and should have used a different IP for this, or branched out in a more experimental way, such as the "one mobile, one desktop/console game" idea. To use such a nostalgic purely gameplay-oriented IP for something like this is - still - just a waste, I feel. Moreover, a company like Valve does as much metrics and economics testing as possible behind closed doors - if EA change DK-Mobile to a different model, or eases the IAP restrictions, it'll be great that they listened to feedback, but also an acknowledgement that they didn't playtest it enough, and determine what the consumer would think, before release.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 12th February 2014 6:56am

Posted:8 months ago

#56

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
I wish EA would actually take a good look at the old IP that they have have amassed and use it well, rather than the small title cash grabs....
EA owns such great older IP, Wing Commander, Crusader, System Shock, Ultima, etc, and they do absolutely nothing with it. EA should be taking notice how great Star Citizen is doing on funding, people have been wanting a real space sim like Wing Commander...
My guess is that EA would consider Start Citizen to be doing just awful. They have perhaps fifty to a hundred thousand pre-orders (35k from the Kickstarter, and I seem to recall about that many again from their own site), and my guess would be that their total audience is only two or three times that.

EA appears to be about games with mass appeal, and they're quite accepting that they'll also piss off a substantial number (many tens of thousands, perhaps even a hundred thousand or more) of potential customers. EA probably alienated more potential customers with SimCity alone than Star Citizen will ever have.

This is really just the way EA rolls, and much as I hate it, I've given up on complaining about it and simply don't buy any EA product any more unless I can get it through Steam, and get it cheap.

Posted:8 months ago

#57

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