Dungeon Keeper and Gamification

Last told, I installed Dungeon Keeper on my tablet to give it to the man.  The man being EA.  DK is in the same vein as all the other Clash of Clans clones – though I’m not sure anymore which came first.

Anyhow, the premise is simple.  You have a base, you can build things on the base to increase your offense and your defense.   You can summon a squad of monsters to attack other players (offline PvP).  Everything is managed through 2 main resources.  Gold and some alternate.  In DK, this is stone.  All items can be upgraded, which takes time and a minion of sorts.  You buy more minions with real cash.  Most games start with 2, then give you a 3rd one after a few weeks of play through alternate means.

Upgrades are the meat and potatoes of this game and where the real world cash impact occurs.  An upgrade can take 5 minutes or 2 days, and you can speed it up.  You should be spending money for time not for anything else.  At least, that’s the defacto model for these types of games.

The other resources work on a balance approach.  You can harvest them on the base, typically at a decent enough rate to pay for a low level upgrade in an hour or so.  The start of the game is usually pretty quick, to get you into the meat of it all.  You can attack other players, but that’s usually not forced for the first 2 days.  Raiding others typically returns enough materials to equate to 10 or so harvesting hours.  You just have to be strategic of your targets and your minions.

EA being EA, they went a different route.  There’s a tutorial (in all of these games) that lays out the basics and sends you on your way.  Typically after the tutorial, you can play for a solid hour tinkering around and then come back every 30 minutes to tweak some upgrades.  It keeps you interested.  EA decided to end the tutorial against a money wall.  You harvest ~100 resources per hour and the first upgrade is 5,000.  The second is 15,000 and the third is 50,000.  My harvesting spots are at their current maximum level without upgrading the “heart” of the base.  They take 10 hours to make 1,500 resource each and the upgrade in the middle is 50,000.  That works out to 60 hours of waiting.


Raiding other bases doesn’t work much either, since they are in the same boat.  A solid 90% of the bases are under 1,500 resources each.  It costs me about 1,000 resource to get those.  At best I make 500.  Out of 50,000.

And I won’t get into base redesign, where the largest and most important part of your base cannot be moved.

I think it’s pretty funny that they could have taken a direct copy of any of the dozens of Clash of Clans clones, used the exact same mechanics and provided a better game.  I mean literally, cut and paste the system but change the art.  Zynga would not have messed this up.

Way to keep up the good work EA.

Driven to Fail

It should be no secret that I have a rather large dislike towards EA.  I think that their business practices are predatory and abusive, that they are supremely out of touch with their user base and that their games are, by and large, a massive waste of 1s and 0s.

FYI – did you know that Lucy Bradshaw, the person responsible for Sim City and probably the largest launch failure in gaming history, was promoted to Senior VP? I think that speaks volumes on the executive atmosphere running shop.

Back to point!  I have not paid for an EA game since SWTOR (and that was somewhat free, given online work paid for it).  I read about them.  I enjoy watching the company stumble. I do not like the human impact (job losses) from clearly un-accountable management.  I think F2P gamess can help here.

So, I can play an EA F2P game since there’s no money going their way from my pocket.  This gives the devs some positive feedback on their game (if there is any to give) and doesn’t give the executive their pay bonus for hitting an ARPU milestone.

Dungeon Keeper launched a few days ago.  I really loved that series and the re-incarnations.  Overlord and Evil Genius are still two of my favorite games.  Maybe I just like being bad?  Anyhow, DK is a F2P game in the same vein as Clash of Clans.  Build a fort, upgrade it, defend it and raid others.  It is extremely poorly paced compared to its competition, and therefore really pushes for their cash-only gems to be spent to move through faster.  Still, I’m driven here to play to see EA fail.  It’s a really refreshing motivator, very meta.

May’s Fool

EA acquires the sole game publishing rights to the Star Wars license for multiple years.

Please, someone tell me they EA is pulling a joke a month late.  I refuse to believe that a single person on this planet with any understanding of EA or Star Wars thinks this is a good idea.

Has the browser dark war and monopoly of IE not taught people that this type of agreement is bad for everyone?  Competition is good.  Madden’s been phoned in for 4 years.

Differing Opinions

I read Tobold’s blog not because I agree with him but rather because I don’t.  He often starts with complicated ideas, boils them down to a black and white question and picks a side.  It’s hard to think of a personal gaming blog that elicits more comments, both for and against, so something must be working.

A recent case in point is the defense of EA argument.  In it, he postulates that disagreeing with an artist’s intended ending isn’t grounds to dismiss the game or the artist completely.  Perfectly reasonable.  Applying this logic to Mass Effect 3 however, the argument loses ground.

Rohan has a solid critique of the ending and the idea here is that a story’s ending, a twist though it might be, is dependent on the preceding elements in order to be accepted.  Casablanca might not have a happy ending but it’s acceptable and memorable due to the characters remaining true to the entire story to that point.  Bioshock Infinite might not please everyone but you can’t deny that each and every character gives additional weight to the ending through their actions in-game.

Some might have read the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind.  The first half of that series was pretty solid, the second half, so-so.  The ending was a massive Deus Ex Machina – magic saves everything.  It completely nullifies the rest of the story up until that point because the entire series could have been wrapped up in book 1.  Mass Effect 3’s ending was so poor, so full of plot holes, that they needed to retcon a few things and clarify some leaps in logic for people to accept the ending.  Even then, barely a decision you made up until that point had any impact whatsoever on the options presented to cap the series.  Starchild?  Really?

To the original topic.  EA didn’t win the golden poop because of the ME3 ending.  They won it for micro-transactions in every game, poor quality games, draconian DRM practices that inhibit gaming and for generally being so out of touch with what they are delivering that they want to blame everyone but themselves.  EA hires great companies with great ideas and somehow manages to burn out every original idea and spit out a husk of a former team.  There has to be a balance somewhere between the game experience and the bottom line – hopefully EA can find that again.

Riccitiello is Gone

So the web is aflutter with news that John Riccitiello, the CEO of EA, has left the company after 6 years in the big chair.  Since that time, EA’s stock started at 52$, rose to a high of 62$ in 2007, took a massive nosedive at the end of 2008 to 17$(due in large part to the economy), and has fluctuated since then between 17-20$.

EA and I have had a falling out.  That isn’t to say that I don’t respect and appreciate what they’ve done in the past.  They were the first company where I could be sure all their games were quality (back in the 90s). EA has had ups and downs over the years.  They are responsible for Rock Band, Crysis, Mass Effect and Dragon Age.  They’ve produced innovative games from time to time (Mirror’s Edge) and bled franchises dry (the Sims).  They’ve treated their employees poorly and yet stood up for equal rights in the political sphere.  They’ve implemented some of the worst DRM on the planet (Ubisoft comes first) which has led to some of the most prolific pirating ever seen (Spore is the #1 pirated game apparently).  Dante’s Inferno marketing had fake protesters and one of the most insane ploys ever created (remember the naughty pictures they wanted?).

While this certainly isn’t the end of EA, make no mistake, this is a massive change in management.  Like the doctors before him, John was shown the door after a very disappointing release.  I have no worries that he’ll find somewhere else to work and at the same time, I’m really hoping the next CEO of EA manages to remember that in order to make a profit for shareholders, you need to make games people actually can and want to play.

The Wonders

So we’re about into week 2 of SimCity, a game I haven’t played but feel like I have.  The stories coming out are pointing more and more towards Accident-Lawyer on the truthiness scale.

Recently we learned that “offline mode” is more than feasible from the same guy that was able to mod away regional boundaries (make the map bigger essentially).  The servers apparently are only used for resource relay from nearby regions and to save your game.  Given that resources in regions only update if there’s an ACTIVE player in those regions, when you’re playing  private region, it never updates.  This means that the “cloud” does one thing and one thing only for single-player online games, it saves.  And does a poor job at it too, since you can’t access your saves from a different server.  Not too cloud-like to me!

Today we find out that the game has a line of code to disconnect you after 20 minutes of no-interweb.  Code it out, and you can play offline as much as you want, you just can’t save.  Seems rather DRM-ish to me.

All this while, the Maxis boss has been claiming the cloud off-loads computation.  Mind you, they’ve now opened the can of worms by alluding to the game as an MMO.  You know, an MMO where you actively play with other people and don’t have any single player options?

It just seems unfortunate that a series with as much history as SimCity would want to go down this path.  Are there still pirates?  Yes, and I would bet dollars to donuts there are more pirates that don’t want to play your game than do.  I also bet that online stores without DRM would have sold you more copies.  There are simply too many DRM alternatives out there to go down this ridiculous route.  It’s 2013, we can do better.

Dinosaurs on the Dancefloor

Dancing Dinosaurs

A must-read if I do say so, Wired interviews Peter Moore.

When you take an industry vet and put them in the task of predicting the future, you’re never sure what you’re going to get.  Moore is an interesting gent though, seemingly always on the cusp of pushing something new forward.  He’s the primary reason for EA opting out of Steam and setting up Origin (a profit generator, if not the most efficient path) and has quite the interesting view of the market as whole.  Of note.

It’s going to be a while before we can say, alright, here’s a 15-gig client for free. Although we’re getting there with Star Wars, which is the first change, although that’s an MMO world in which we can micro-transact.
I still think we still have 18 million people who are very willing to buy our FIFA game each iteration, and then I don’t even know what the pass through rate of that game is from used game sales. Ultimately, we don’t get to play in any of that revenue. But I could ultimately put my hand out and say 25 million people right now have experienced FIFA 12. Without a shadow of a doubt.

No disrespect to Zynga, but you don’t want to be so focused on Facebook that you don’t see mobile coming. All of a sudden you’re one platform, you’re so reliant on one company.

“I just didn’t want to pay $15 a month. I felt kind of locked in. I love the game, but I’m locked in,” and for a lot of people 15 bucks a month is a lot of money. So when we looked at the data that was streaming out of it…. It was very clear to us that if we could knock down that initial barrier to entry that is price, that we could blow out the funnel and instead of dealing with several hundred thousand people on a regular basis we could get into millions.

If I said to you for $15 a month you have access to most of that which EA has created over its history and everything that’s new coming in, like a Netflix model coming in, I believe a lot of people would pay for that for 15 bucks.

Quite a few nuggets in that interview.  F2P isn’t a simple switch.  TOR folks left because they didn’t think it was worth 15$ a month (not that 15$ was too much, but that it didn’t justify the cost), an EA streaming service is an option and of course, taking a massive dig at Zynga’s inability to play the big game.

It’s a rare thing to get an honest interview from EA about anything.  Moore somehow manages to hold the corporate line while giving a solid opinion.