King, Supercell and EA are destroying gaming

I started my gaming career on Soviet personal computers such as БК-0010 and Радуга. The hardware was rubbish, games were pretty bad and almost non-existent so I spent most of the time playing with the BASIC interpreter. Welcome to the 80s in the USSR!

Then after years of crappy Soviet computers and Z80 clones, I played Dragon’s Lair and Street Fighter on Amiga 500 for the first time. It was magical! It made such an impact on my impressionable mind that I knew then that I was hooked for life.

Eventually the USSR collapsed and I finally had a computer of my own. It was a 386 with a 30Mb HD. I was very lucky as that was the golden age of gaming and every game studio was releasing pure gold: Monkey Island, Warcraft II, X-COM, The Dig, The Horde, The Settlers, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Lemmings, Syndicate, Civilization, SimCity, Wolfenstein 3D, Dune … amazing games that set the standard and established their respective genres. Playing those games was a fun and a memorable experience that is still with me 20 years later.

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Even 20 years later Monkey Island’s 3D graphics remain “eye-gouging”, reggae background music “ear-piercing” and jokes hilarious.

This is why first impressions matter. They shape our opinions and perceptions for the rest of our lives. My first impression of gaming was literally mind blowing. Which is probably why I still enjoy playing video games to this day. Perhaps, as a way to recreate those positive childhood memories.

For the last three decades, for most people, the first exposure to gaming was positive. In the 80s it was something on Amiga or Atari. In the 90s it was either on a PC, a Game Boy or a Nintendo console. In 00s it was a PC or, more likely, a PS2 game. All of these platforms had remarkable games and account for millions of great first introductions to the world of gaming. It doesn’t surprise me that these are the people who are complaining about lack of innovation and gameplay in modern games.

Now that gaming has gone mainstream over the course of the last decade games seem to progressively get worse and worse. Gameplay has taken a back seat to graphics and/or marketing as studios have almost completely stopped innovating. Gaming has become more about the bottom line and less about the product. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of great indie games but they are a niche of a niche. PC gaming has been marginalized by consoles that completely took over the industry years ago. However, even consoles can not compete with the smartphone.

The smartphone is now the first gaming device for millions of people and the most popular gaming device in the world.

Millions of people are playing absolute garbage.

What is the most popular game today?

Forget about Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare or some other triple-A title that sold million of units. The most popular games in the world is Candy Crush Saga or some other piece of garbage from from King Games or Supercell.

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Candy Crush Saga is probably the most profitable game in the world which would explain why every other developer is trying to copy their business model. The game has more than 15 million daily users and 700 million game plays per day. The game is bringing in $700’000 a day from in-app purchases.

Supercell is taking in $2.5 million per day from a tower defence and a Farmville clone.

EA mobile division is bringing in around $300’000 a day.

Mobile is the money making platform in the gaming industry.

It is amazing how people are spending 10s, 100s and even thousands on a gamified clone of a 1994 Soviet DOS puzzle game called Шарики (Shariki) by a Russian programmer Eugene Alemzhin.

The kind of money that people are spending on in-app purchases in these “free”-to-play is more than one would spend on a typical triple-A title, MMORPG subscription or a drug habit.

While Candry Crush Saga is nicken and diming customers EA just took in-app purchases to a whole new level.

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89.99 EUR on in-app item in a mobile game with less depth than Tic Tac Toe? Are you kidding me?

The worst part is that people are paying money to get around broken game mechanics. Game mechanics that were broken on purpose to extort money out of people foolish enough to pay. This is textbook racketeering.

I honestly can’t tell if people paying to play these games are that stupid or whether these games are gamified and broken in such intricate ways.

Nobody should ever have to pay to get around purposely broken mechanics.

How are these companies able to justify extorting customers in such a blatant way? Are development costs so prohibitively high? Original idea, complex 3D models, engine development or voice acting? Nope. High distribution costs? Nope. It has never been easier or cheaper to reach a millions of potential customers. It seems they are just taking a piss and trying to see just how much they can get away with.

On top of everything these assholes are actually trying to trademark the words “candy” and “saga” to prevent them from being used by other developers. Are you kidding me? This is coming from people who didn’t even create the basic concept that is powering their best selling game.

With the smartphone as the first and most mainstream gaming device this state of mobile gaming is simply horrendous for everyone involved.

  • New gamers who are introduced to gaming through these games are left with an unfavourable first impression.
  • New gamers are conditioned to accept this twisted free-to-play model and broken game mechanics as normal.
  • It is becoming ok to break game mechanics for profit.
  • Indie and smaller developers can not compete with King, Supercell and EA marketing spend.
  • As the bar is lowered game quality will continue to deteriorate.
  • Soon enough one would need to pay for a DCL to fix purposely broken mechanics and missing features from games on other platforms.
  • Games are no longer art or a way to stimulate the mind and imagination.
  • Developers are essentially encouraged to produce garbage.
  • Millions of people end up playing garbage.

Modern smartphones and tablets are magnitudes more powerful and accessible than my childhood computers or even consoles from a few years ago. Despite that, the most popular games have purposely broken mechanics and the depth of Tic Tac Toe. Yet, the companies producing that garbage are making millions a day.

Note 1: Free-To-Play model is not inherently bad or broken. Some developers (Path of Exile, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2 etc.) have managed to make it work.