Predictably, EA has ruined yet another franchise.
This screenshot (Thanks, Blitsie) is a timely reminder (as if we needed one), that EA’s track record of buying IPs and then milking them for every last cent is alive and kicking.
Need more proof?
The Dungeon Keeper of old was brought to us by none other than Peter Molyneux (Black and White, Fable) way back in 1997. It was his last game with the company before leaving to form Lionhead, the company we know for Fable and B&W. In the 17 years between DK 1 and today, there have been some shifts in the gaming scene. We can ignore most of them, but critically, it’s now out on mobile devices (specifically Android and iOS, rather than PC). With this new platform comes a completely new way of making money, which EA has grabbed with both hands.
Now, we have this. It’s a free to play time sink on par with Candy Crush Saga. With a slight difference. When you run out of action points, you can either wait a while doing other stuff (breaking game flow), or pay up real, actual money to EA in order to progress. I would dearly like to meet the executive who came up with the idea to entertain people, draw them in, and then ransom the rest of the entertainment. And then hit him over the head with an iPad.
Sure, some people will think, “What’s the harm, people should be allowed to spend their money however they like, no matter if it encourages detrimental practices that are bad for gaming as a whole”. First of all, no. That’s a horrendous idea. The nature of the mobile industry means that this horrible business practice isn’t something that EA has developed, but something that has been deployed time and time again, by many developers.
It has to stop if gamers want more great titles to come out on mobile platforms. Many popular games (not just the offer a sort of “energy bar”, that when depleted can be replenished by either not playing the game or by paying money, the galling thing is, they make a whole lot of cash doing it, and therefore aren’t under any pressure to stop putting this mechanic in.
Some game developers however, have come up with ways to get money out of their customers without turning the mobile gaming scene into an arcade. Because that’s what in-app purchasing is. It’s the terrible “lives” system of arcade gaming back in another form.
Triple Town by Spry Fox in particular did have a free version of the game that was cursed with this, the most irritating of mechanics. In the game, you swipe the screen to create combinations of icons. (Each swipe costs an action point, once your action points are gone, you have to wait for them to regenerate).
To alleviate this, they did something very sensible. For a nominal sum (less than the prices that EA is charging for most of its gem bundles in the screenshot above), you unlock access to the full game. In eons past, we referred to this as “the demo version”. However, in this modern era of mobile gaming, it’s still the only real choice for developers that don’t want to be seen as parasitic money-factories, taking once loved franchises and turning them into nothing more than ruined husks of their former selves. So to Spry Fox, well done, well done indeed.
Another mobile developer who I love, Kairosoft, does something similar. Its games are far more in-depth than Triple Town or what Dungeon Keeper. They are, with one exception, time management sims themed around various facets of life. There’s the well known Game Dev Sim, a simulation where you manage a fledgling game studio, or Cafeteria Nipponica (my favourite), where you manage a small cafe. Kairosoft’s approach to all of its games is “here is a free demo, if you like it, there is a full version of the game, ad free, available for a price”.
Now remember, the only reason that developers wouldn’t run a system this way is if they were convinced that they’d make more money in, not providing a better game experience for their customers, but by designing and implementing a system that forced gamers to pay money to keep going.
So who lies at fault here, where developers are going back to the days of the arcade, and consumers are playing along? Unfortunately this problem lies not with the EA’s of the world, but with the consumers. If there wasn’t such a huge and proven demand for pay to win, pay to play and similar game mechanics, a company like EA wouldn’t be implementing them in this latest game.
Gamers! We can’t keep endorsing these practices and expect anything decent to come out of the AAA mobile industry. Corporations will always take the route that offers the biggest return on their investment, so it’s up to us to reward developers and publishers who offer demos and ethical ways of making money on titles (Spry Fox, Kairosoft) and punish those who peddle “free” games that come with more in-app purchases than you can shake a stick at.
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