EA’s Newest ‘Dungeon Keeper’ is an abominable free-to-play mobile game

Think of a beloved video game from your past that hasn’t seen a sequel in years — let’s just say 15 years for the sake of this conversation. Well, Electronic Arts has decided to remake one of its most beloved games, “Dungeon Keeper,” for iOS and Android devices. However, what the biggest player in the industry produced is something that only somewhat resembles the popular game of yesteryear. The newest “Dungeon Keeper” is, above all, a repulsive free-to-play game with pay gates to maximize EA’s profits.

“Dungeon Keeper’s” premise is pretty simple and actually works well within the confines of mobile gaming. The activities are straightforward: dig out space to build rooms in a dungeon, set traps for invaders, build demonic units to protect your dungeon and to assault other dungeons for treasure. Rinse and repeat. As the player progresses further into the game, new upgrades become available. It’s actually a classic recipe for a successful strategy-simulation game.

But then time and money came into the equation. Because EA is no stranger to mobile games, the company was smart enough to recognize how big mobile gaming was becoming and bought up quite a few developers over the last few years. As a result, EA has built up quite a portfolio of mobile games and many of them are free-to-play, but with required premiums for advanced features, also known as “freemium” games.

 

 

“The Simpsons: Tapped Out” was one of EA’s more popular 2013 games, and a good example of free-to-play balance. With every task set on timers ranging from a few minutes to an entire day, it’s a game specifically designed for a player to set tasks and walk away. There is literally nothing else to do. Instead of this, “Dungeon Keeper” shoehorns the “freemium” model into a game that was designed with more gameplay.

Sure, if you have time or patience, you can play “Dungeon Keeper” at its default tempo, but most gamers are used to instant gratification. While gems found in the game provides boosts to speed up the tempo, those gems can disappear quickly the more you invest in making your game move faster. This is where real-world money comes in. Buying gems in large quantities allows you to maintain the tempo to keep the game interesting, but gamers shouldn’t have to worry about money while playing a game.

With its Metacritic rating at 43 out of 100, “Dungeon Keeper” has been lambasted by critics — though you wouldn’t know it by the four out of five stars rating it has on Google Play. EA allegedly attempted to manipulate the rating system based on a report on Gamasutra, and if a player attempts to rate a game with one to four stars, they are taken to a private feedback submission. A five-star rating takes the player to Google Play where they do actually have the opportunity to leave a rating of one to five, but the subterfuge seems to have done enough to work out in EA’s favor.

EA Mythic Entertainment’s Jeff Skalski, told the Tab Times that, “It’s important to emphasize that we designed a game that is built around the typical mobile play patterns. This means “Dungeon Keeper” is meant to be played on the go multiple times a day with a few minutes here or there. This way of playing allows fans to naturally progress as a free player.” While the company succeeded in that, Skalski’s viewpoint is short-sighted, because that isn’t what fans wanted in a return to the series.

Peter Molyneux, creator of the original “Dungeon Keeper,” hinted at the new version’s ridiculousness in a BBC interview. He described his thoughts while playing: “This is ridiculous. I just want to make a dungeon. I don’t want to schedule it on my alarm clock for six days to come back for a block to be chipped.”

“Dungeon Keeper” is yet another example of Electronic Arts, two-time winner of Consumerists’ worst company in America, showing how out of touch it is with gamers. Perhaps the tagline for “Dungeon Keeper” should have been, “Dig. Devise. Dominate. Disburse.”

Reach the reporter at michael.jerome.martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NefariousMike