Stateside: Believe it or not, Dungeon Keeper isn't the end of gaming as we know it

There's nothing to fear from F2P

Stateside: Believe it or not, Dungeon Keeper isn't the end of gaming as we know it

Okay, the criticism of free-to-play has officially gotten ridiculous.

With the release of Dungeon Keeper for mobile as a free-to-play game - one that takes the standard formula and mixes in Clash of Clans-style PvP combat - now not only can the peanut gallery call on its traditional fallbacks such as "there's $99.99 IAP in this game", but its line of assault also has an emotive angle.

A classic game, a beloved IP, has been desecrated, and now all gamers will suffer.

Enough. Free-to-play Dungeon Keeper is not the beginning of the end of mobile gaming as we know it – it's not even, dare I say it, that bad a game.

Perhaps, however, the problem is one of perspective. In my view, free-to-play is a response to a new breed of gamer that consumes and spends in different ways. It is one tool in the developer's arsenal – one part of the gaming pie – and not a corruptive virus intent of consuming everything.

But is anyone willing to listen?

Don't fight the change

Predictably, social media has been alight with both criticism and rebukes towards the EA game, sparked by a blog post by Thomas Baekdal – the epicenter of the storm, if you like.

One punch the argument against the franchise's revival does make, however, is that the original games can be picked up for $6 on, whereas the new free mobile version is packed with in-app purchases in excess of that price.

Of course, good luck playing that original Dungeon Keeper on mobile unless you boast a tablet running Windows x86. As such, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison that's far less potent than, say, comparing Where's My Water 2's terrible timer system at launch to the fact that its energy refill system cost more than the price of other games in the series.

Also of note: EA's latest Dungeon Keeper isn't really Dungeon Keeper as we know it. Similarities between the latest game and the franchise of old start and end with the fact that it involves dungeon keeping.

In reality, gameplay is far more focused on its Clash of Clans-like approach to invading and defending bases.

It's little surprise, then, that Dungeon Keeper looks bad through a traditional eye. Problem is, it's utter folly to look at any mobile game – especially a free-to-play one – from a traditional viewpoint. Are you listening, Eurogamer?

Gaming isn't dead

Mainstream mobile is a very different arena to that of PC or console gaming because it's full of casual gamers, both in terms of experience and circumstance.

From inexperienced non-gamers to core gamers who want games they can enjoy in short bursts, the most successful free-to-play games have served as a reaction to that.

These are games that players can take on for a few minutes at a time, trying them out at their leisure before they eventually commit. In short, there are so many mobile games out there, players have the entire marketplace at their disposal, and coming on too heavy will scare the majority of mainstream gamers off.

Games have to be constructed to support that experience, of course, but players get the benefit of knowing that they enjoy a game before spending money on it, even if they end up spending more money in play than they would if they paid upfront.

There's also crossover between non-gamers and the hardest of the hardcore: many of them are farming, building towers, and amassing armies in the vast array of games available because many of them are actually fun, not just psychological tricks.

And core gaming, especially paid-for gaming, is hardly dead because of Dungeon Keeper and its ilk. Sony and Microsoft aren't having much trouble selling systems in the early go, fuelled by core games with upfront entry costs.

Even the PC gaming market – yes, that supposedly 'dying' platform - is expected to grow in 2014.

Not-so-scary dungeon

Even though free-to-play games have a large role on PC, paid-for games are still big business there thanks to a combination of the power of Steam and developers who prefer paid-for games.

What's more, there are so many quality games coming out on a weekly basis – even on mobile – that anyone who dislikes free-to-play can easily ignore it if they so wish.

All that side, I do agree that there are plenty of F2P games that are bad offenders when it comes to competent game design, but a large chunk of these games aren't aimed at 'core' gamers like you and me – they're for less-involved players who want lighter experiences, can't tolerate a greater level of depth.

Yes, critics should pillory the particularly abhorrent games, but that's not what is happening with Dungeon Keeper. This is all about emotion.

People who liked the original games are complaining that a new entry in the series isn't what they wanted it to be, and it being a free-to-play game hits a nerve that causes the vitriol to spill out.

All the while, Baekdal was decrying a business model that affords people a free taste before offering open-ended payment – all on a site where that critic gives away some opinions for free before offering an open-ended subscription service for more of his opinions. Irony is dead and Thomas Baekdal killed it.

Truly, he should be thrown in prison for deceptive business practices, offering free content to ultimately make money from a fraction of his customers.

And that's the logical trap free-to-play critics fall into time and again when they argue it's destroying gaming: ultimately, anyone wanting to be a make a business out of games has to find a way to make money somehow.

Certain ways are often 'acceptable' because they were the old way, but to toss out a new business model solely because it's not the method of capitalism one prefers is flat-out wrong.

The games industry is not being destroyed by free-to-play: it's just changing. Change isn't always for the good and it can be rocky – there will undoubtedly be terrible F2P games that hit the market in the months and years ahead, but chances are there will be fair pack of terrible paid games too.

Embrace the change, criticise what is worth criticising, celebrate what is worth celebrating, and look past pure emotion when thinking about the wildly-varying gaming industry and how its participants spend and make money.

Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at, which was acquired by publisher Steel Media in 2012.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!


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Darren Williams
This episode, to my mind at least, highlights the perils of Line Extension.
Line Extension is the idea that successful product A can be made into variants and deliver products B, C, D and so on (apologies for the patronizing explanation but I'm a marketing guy and thus am required to patronize ;-)
Line Extension is a beautiful theory but a flawed one. And is demonstrated by not only this, but also The Drowning.
It's perhaps a little lofty to criticize people for displaying emotion when talking about Dungeon Keeper. These are afterall games and thus are entertainment, which is rooted in emotion.
The advantage for Dungeon Keeper is that it is a known and cherished IP and thus has both a fan base and recognition that is alluring to EA. The "problem" isn't that the game is F2p or attempts to monetize - it's that the promise of Dungeon Keeper (the brand if you will) is so far removed from the reality of the game that it's failing to match the fans expectation and thus is subject to emotion.
Comparables? Classic Coke and the extinction (and rebirth) of Twinkies show how, for all the strength of known brands, when you mess with them people respond powerfully. And perhaps you can contemplate the failure of things such as the BMW Scooter and Zune - or Halo Wars or perhaps the whole idea of RTS on console - to further cement the idea that taking one "brand" into areas that don't necessarily fit is perhaps based upon some form of truth.
As for the Drowning - we can debate the data, the loops and delve ever deeper into metrics but the biggest issue for The Drowning is that the "brand" (FPS games) is so well known and the gameplay so entrenched that attempts to mess with it i.e. extend the FPS brand into F2P mobile games is met with vitriol as the experience is not matching the expectation.
Ultimately the mechanical game of Dungeon Keeper is fine. Its problem is the brand and thus the expectation people carry into it. I'd wager that the game would be doing far better if the Dungeon Keeper brand wasn't attached to it and instead the game was being approached, reviewed and enjoyed on it's own merits.
Graeme Evans
they keep saying they want people to experience what dungeon keeper is. The game they created is a completely different game with a thin veneer of dungeon keep laid over it because DK has a history and so would need to be marketed less.
There is no reason why phones and tablets now couldn't handle exactly what dungeon keeper 1 & 2 were. But there is more money in scamming people so they made this load of crap.
I'm not even that bothered that it exists, it's their property and they can do with it as they wish, it just upsets me that it means EA is too dumb do make a good DK game ever again.

Looks like i'll have to give my money to the people making a game i actually would play.
David Liu
Awesome post Carter. F2P isn't necessarily bad, it's just a different way of doing business.
You sir, need more Mountain Dew. In fact I think you shou[INSERT MONEY TO CONTINUE OR WAIT 24 HOURS]