Dungeon Keeper

Heard about that Dungeon Keeper controversy? You’d be forgiven for thinking that EA must have cooked up some particularly nefarious innovation in the mobile wallet extraction app market, but the reality is that this game is merely another straw on a camel-back-breaking pile. From the article:

Whenever you write about this phenomenon, the common complaint from people making the games in question is that not all of them are bad. As Thomas Baekdal realised though, the problem is definition. When your free-to-play game is all economy mechanics rather than game mechanics, when your game is all business design rather than game design, you’re not actually making a game – you’re constructing a scam, whether you realise it or not. If you’re doing it knowingly, you’re just a high-tech gangster.

If we get right down to it, I almost agree with him.

Yeah, no thanks.

Yeah, no thanks.

It is not a particularly robust defense to say that Dungeon Keeper isn’t doing anything worse than what other games have done before. Tobold compared it to Clash of Clans, which I haven’t played, but I have played Castle Clash which I assume to be similar. And between Dungeon Keeper and Castle Clash, there are a lot similarities, mechanics-wise: building troops (which takes time), harvesting resources (which takes time), removing obstacles on the game map (which takes time), attacking other players’ maps and stealing their resources (which is kinda fun). Indeed, about the only real difference between the flavors is how quickly you can reach the sticker-shock of needing to waiting 24+ hours for an action to complete; Dungeon Keeper immediately requires a day to dig a particular type of dirt block along the edges of the map (but there’s plenty of inner-map space), whereas Castle Clash took a while before revealing building upgrades would eventually start taking 7-10+ days.

In fact, as I type this, I have 5 days to go to upgrade my Gold Mine to level 16, 2 days and 10 hours for my Barracks to hit level 14, and it’d take 15 days, 7 hours, and 24 minutes if I queued up the level 3 training to improve my Ornithopter troops. As near as I can tell, it’d cost roughly $1 in gems to knock off one full day of one timer.

This design is more effective than you'd think.

This design is more effective than you’d think.

The trick about these games is sort of the trick about Hearthstone: as long as it isn’t your primary source of entertainment, the restrictions are mostly irrelevant. I “play” Castle Clash maybe 3-5 times a day, for about five minutes at a time. Under this schedule, there really is no difference between an action that takes 10 minutes and one that takes 3 hours, as I’m either done with my break at work or whatever loading screen I was waiting on for my PC game has finished. If you only play Hearthstone every 2-3 days, then you will have enough gold to pretty much do whatever you want in each play session. You generally only really get into trouble with F2P games when you feel compelled to play them every day for hours.

Of course, that’s kind of the rub. Tobold is challenging people to think up a better alternative to the wait mechanic that doesn’t result in finishing the game in an hour, but it does sort of strike me as profoundly cynical to engineer a game where not playing is a game mechanic, especially when you offer money to bypass it. I don’t think it’s “entitlement” to ask for a game I can reasonably play for more than 10 minutes at a time, if I have need to. I have zero complaints for having spent a few bucks apiece for Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, Dungeon Raid, 10000000, Where’s My Water, and so on, so the admonition of “game devs need to eat” rings hollow. Especially when it’s suggested that dropping $20 on Dungeon Keeper for more imps – which will allow you to run twice as many 24+ hour queues at a time, but still otherwise constrict you to 10-minute play sessions – is considered “reasonable.”

Not optimized by any means, but you get the idea.

Not optimized by any means, but you get the idea.

All that being said though, I have officially added Dungeon Keeper to my game app rotation. I’m not a fan of it’s constant up-selling in terms of ringtones/wallpapers and such, or the badgering for me to log onto my Google+ account (which I silenced by creating a fake profile), but it’s otherwise a perfectly serviceable Progress Quest-style game for those who derive pleasure from time-management multitasking. Between Dungeon Keeper, Castle Clash, and Candy Crush Saga, I can have an almost uninterrupted 30 minutes (!) of gameplay.

Which is a pretty sad thing to get excited about, don’t get me wrong. But there’s only so much you can do when you’ve beaten all the other mobile games you’ve paid for.

Posted on February 10, 2014, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I wrote something about this same issue on another blog and someone commented on it who had the same reaction to the issue as Tobold seems to. They seem to think that there’s something “entitled” about the attitude that perhaps mobile games should be playable for more than 10 minutes at a time. What’s so outrageous about that? If we’re going to consider that entitled, I suppose expecting my local grocery store to stock milk is also entitled.

    Where’s the rulebook that says mobile games must provide a certain type of (non-) game experience? Why can’t I save my progress and resume where I left off, instead of the game forcing me to NOT play? (Unless, of course, I want to spend a bunch of money.)


    • Exactly. It’s ridiculous to presume that a game’s payment model is somehow beyond reproach. And it is even further wrong to presume that not wanting “nuisance-based payment model” is the same thing as stating a game should be free. Go ahead and sell Dungeon Keeper and games like it for $1.99! I’d buy it at that price. The price I’m not going to buy it at is “infinite.”

      I still can’t get over the suggestion from Tobold that $20 is reasonable for Dungeon Keeper. Square Enix just released FF6 for $14.99, but two more imps is worth $5 more than that? Good grief.


  2. Az,

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Marvel Heroes: Puzzle Quest. (quick summary- match3 game, each match does damage and generates points for the use of abilities; you have the Marvel heroes that you can swap in and out with different abilities/HP totals.) I like their time-gate system, as they give you 5 “health packs” that can bring a character back to full HP immediately. The packs regenerate once every ~30 min, so you can play a decently long session (or a short one if you get your ass kicked a few times, as you have 3 heroes per team).

    I’ve thrown $5 at the game for in-game currency (to unlock additional hero slots), haven’t spent anything since, and am still feeling entertained enough to play 30min a night for the past month.


    • I’ve actually had that on my phone for the last few weeks.

      It might ruffle some feathers, but I personally couldn’t really get over how… unpolished the actual matching gameplay ends up feeling. Like, conceptually the game is fine; I enjoy the sort of depth in character selection, power combos, and the like. I just look at Candy Crush and think “the bar for how matching 3 symbols feels has been raised.” Might sound like a silly problem in the scheme of things, but that’s why I put it at the back of my Daily Rotation (which has a tendency to stop halfway).


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