I’d originally planned to sit on the side lines with my popcorn and watch the train wreck that is the new mobile version of Dungeon Keeper unfold. From the announcement I knew it wouldn’t be the game I’d wanted it to be and that was fine, however I now feel compelled to put down my own views after seeing some quite misguided comments online.
EA apologists are in for a rocky ride this post; I’d been somewhat kind to the Evil Empire last time but today I’ve nothing nice to say about them.
Dungeon Keeper is a franchise that I cherish pretty highly as a child of the 1990s. A witty, deep strategy game laced in black humour and with a pretty original premise summed up in the game’s tagline – “it’s good to be bad”
However, it would seem EA have taken this motto to heart in its entirety with the mobile reboot/re-imagining that exists for some reason, and this makes me sad and angry.
Dungeon Keeper Mobile exists purely as a facet for EA to siphon money from “casual” gamers. Mechanically the game is structured around real-world, time-based “progress gates”. This isn’t unique; EA makes a similar game in The Simpsons Tapped Out which is actually quite enjoyable. Dungeon Keeper is different in that the progress gates are deliberately designed to make menial or trivial in-game tasks take so long in real time that it is far more satisfying to “rush” them through the use of gems. You get a few gems to start with, and gain a trickle through gameplay but the by-far easiest method to gain them (in order to progress) is to part with real-world money. It is this blatant profiteering that makes Dungeon Keeper so reprehensible.
Underneath the game is a pretty standard tower defence that has passing references to the original games, sans any of the atmosphere; the graphics are bright and cartoony, lacking the atmosphere of even being underground in a lair of evil monsters, monsters no longer spawn by themselves and present the player with a unique workforce; the player selects which creatures to yank through the portal. However, any remotely-enjoyable gameplay is forever hidden from the player behind more and more progress gates. Pithy, self-referential allusions to “there being no paying to win” and “who says money can’t buy time” rather seem to rub salt into the wounds of an already-exploited player.
“It’s free to wait, but not to play anything. There’s nothing to actually play. “Playing,” in Dungeon Keeper consists of opening it up when you remember once a day, poking a few things on the screen, then closing it down and finding something else to do for anywhere between four and twenty-four hours.” – Jim Sterling, The Escapist
Worse still, EA has cynically designed the feedback prompts to heavily bias the user to rate the game 5 stars on the Google app store – giving a glowing review is made extremely easy but anything less requires jumping through hoops on the part of the user, something I’m certain EA is counting on to be too much hassle to be worthwhile.
Dungeon Keeper has upset a lot of gamers, for good reason – it’s yet another cherished franchise of the 1990s that has been dragged through the mud in the name of being “re-imagined”, and that stinks. It shows nothing but contempt for customers as it treats them as resources to be milked. There’s nothing “fun” about this game, and it’s EA playing up to its very worst anti-consumer urges. Dungeon Keeper is the epitome of the worst aspects of free-to-play mobile gaming and is a prime example of why this platform, which could be very innovative, is still regarded as an inferior laughing stock.
I’m deeply disappointed with what’s become of Dungeon Keeper but not surprised in the slightest. This really is EA’s culture to the core – for a company originally founded on the premise of video games being “electronic arts” there’s precious little in the way of art on display here. More and more their games are merely tools with which to extort money from gullible consumers, rehashing the same technology and content year after year to cut down on cost and maximise profit. SimCity‘s treatment last year hurt me a lot, as did the slow-burning but undeniable desecration of Command & Conquer. The Sims was a ground-breaking game too, but again the relentless march of rehashed expansions and “stuff packs” turned that franchise into such a cash-cow it was indefensible (though one could suppose it really does simulate American life in that regard). But with Dungeon Keeper, a home-grown franchise that I derived a lot of pleasure from in my formative years, such abject horrific treatment of a franchise that saw greatness and could do again is the end of the line. EA’s shown themselves to be a soulless, contemptible excuse for a games company, and I can only promise one thing, and I hope others do to: to never buy one of their games again.
Then, perhaps, us gamers will be talking a language these empty suits understand.