Dungeon Keeper mobile remake deemed 'unplayable' due to in-app purchases

Fans of the original title have been angered by EA's heavy-handed use of micro-transactions to generate revenue

Electronic Arts is facing a backlash from gamers after its remake of the classic 1997 PC title Dungeon Keeper was deemed “unplayable” for its use of in-app payments.

The game, which has been re-released for mobile devices, tasks players with looking after an underground dungeon full of demons and imps while repelling human heroes. Defences are paid for with ‘gems’ which players can mine for free, or buy using real money.

It’s this mechanism that is angering players. Although using in-app purchases to speed progress has become a common way to monetize mobile titles, reviewers say that EA has pushed the template too far, constantly creating road-block and then encouraging players to pay to bypass them.

Dan Whitehead, who reviewed the title for Eurogamer, described it as a “the shell of Bullfrog's pioneering strategy game, hollowed out and filled up with what is essentially a beat-for-beat clone of Clash of Clans.”

A screen gives gamers the options of purchasing gems with real money. Credit: EA

“Every function, every mechanism, every online feature has been tried and tested already by Supercell's money machine and EA is following behind, drooling like a Pavlovian dog,” said Whitehead, referring to the popular mobile title Clash of Clans that earns an estimated $1 million dollars daily from micro-transactions.

The game’s original creator Peter Molyneux has even joined in with the criticism, telling the BBC  that he was shocked that the game kept players waiting for as long as 24 hours to complete tasks.

"I felt myself turning round saying, 'What? 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,'" said Molyneux, who co-founded Bullfrog Productions, the production studio also responsible for popular titles Theme Park and Theme Hospital.

Molyneux said that some of the criticism came from fans that were simply nostalgic for the original game, adding that EA had failed to get the balance right between keeping the title familiar to fans while making it work for the “bigger mobile audience.”

Dungeon Keerp (1997) and its 1999 sequel (pictured) were popular titles that introduced many gamers to strategy titles.

An EA spokesperson responded by saying the game was simply built around “mobile play patterns - that is, checking in a few minutes here and there throughout the day. This way of playing, we've found, allows fans to naturally progress through the game as a free player.”

"We believe we've designed an experience wherein players don't have to spend money if they don't want to," they said.

Unfortunately, EA has landed in further hot water after it was revealed that they had tweaked their app-feedback system to encourage only positive reviews.

When gamers are asked to rate the title on Android devices they are offered two buttons – for either 5 stars or between 1 and 4. Selecting the 5 star option takes players directly to the Android app store but players who choose between 1 and 4 are redirected towards EA’s own feedback system, essentially making negative reviews invisible.

Although players can change their star rating once they’ve clicked the ‘5 stars’ button this is not self-evident from the in-game screen. EA say that the system was only trying to help the company “collect valuable feedback from players who don't feel the game is worth a top rating.”

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