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The Dungeon Bird Saga
Mobile gaming has been a bit of a disaster area, lately. Had you noticed? Lots of controversy- but of course, when isn’t there?
There’s a sad truth you realize when you start talking about game-related controversies to gaming enthusiasts. Rather than needing to be clear what the controversy is, you have to make sure you both know which controversy you’re talking about. Because there’s always one. Hell, there’s always several. This article’s going to focus on three, for clarity’s sake, and you can probably guess what they are from the title. Or header image. But here’s a summary of them anyway, because I want to, and I like you.
Let’s kick off with the whole King debacle- the ongoing story which can only be described as the ‘Candy Crush Saga “Candy” “Saga” Saga’. For the record, King, the developers of the bafflingly popular Candy Crush Saga, filed for copyright ownership of the words “Candy” and “Saga”, when used in the title of a videogame. They filed complaints against other games, such as The Banner Saga, for using the word that they apparently own. Because why not? My flesh crawls at the level of avarice and downright scummy behavior King has shown over the last month or so; the developers of games that are, after all, consummate clones themselves, doing everything they can to secure their position as top-dog. They stifle creativity, and smother smaller, less successful devleopers in an effort to protect their own name. Recently, news has surfaced about the ongoing legal battle between King and small-time developer, Runsome Apps, in which they have campaigned to remove rival game, Candy Swipe, from the AppStore (and existence)- despite the fact that Candy Swipe was released 2 years before the game it ‘infringes’ upon. The entire mess surrounding King at the moment is itself swept up in a greater storm of debate surrounding issues of copyright and intellectual property. The tension between Bethesda and Mojang over the latter’s game, Scrolls, springs to mind, though this was eventually settled peacefully. So too does the controversy surrounding the update to YouTube’s copyright policies last year. And, speaking of YouTube, the current battle between TotalBiscuit and FUN rages on– god that was an enjoyable sentence to write.
The second Big Deal I want to talk about is the release of the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper, a “game” which I had the “pleasure” to review for this site. Contrary to the opinion of many a reviewer out there, I genuinely enjoyed Dungeon Keeper– for the full 30 minutes during which it was playable. After that the game ceased to be- well, a game. Such descriptions are often applied inappropriately to games such as Gone Home, or even The Walking Dead, but Dungeon Keeper is the exception to which those labels are wholly appropriate. When you cannot play a game for a period of 24 hours without paying up front, it ceases to be playable; when everything is simply a convoluted system of taps designed to get you to pay more, it ceases to be a game. But worse than the quality of the product EA and Mythic distributed, is the shoddy, deceitful way they have dealt with complaints. When asked about the general backlash against the game, EA Mythic’s Jeff Skalsi played down criticism. He implied that haters were merely playing the game wrong, and stated that such outcries were from a vocal minority, bringing up the game’s App Store and Google Play ratings. Ratings, it turned out, that were horribly skewed by a ridiculous rating system implemented in the games. And of course, there’s the one caveat of which we’re all aware- this is nothing new. EA lies to its consumers all the time; it’s a company that is more than happy to put it’s own bank balance ahead of it’s customer’s enjoyment and even the integrity of its own games.
The final big deal, and the one thing in mobile gaming I’ve been putting off talking about, is Flappy Bird. God. Damn. Flappy. Bird. The reason I’ve been putting it off takes some explaining. You see, one of the greatest strengths of the mobile market is the size of it’s audience. Everybody has a phone. So when you make something that happens to catch the hearts and minds of even a fraction of that brobdignagian mob, you can easily become huge over night. Which happened with Angry Birds. And, to an extent, with Candy Crush. And now with God. Damn. Flappy. Bloody. Bird. You see, the mobile market’s strength is also it’s biggest weakness. The amount of developers making games for the platform because they believe the the system is the best way to express the game they want to create is minuscule compared to the amount of developers looking to pump out a piece of low-effort, low-risk garbage in the hope it will take off and make them rich. Flappy “insert expletive” Bird is not even that. Despite the fact the game actually did take off, despite rumors that it was making developer Dong Nguyen $50,000 a day, despite the outcry that the game is thieving poor Mario’s pipes away from him, I cannot bring myself to believe that this was a genuine effort to plunder the pockets of unsuspecting gamers- because it’s just that bad. If this was a genuine effort to squeeze cash out of the consumer for maximum profit, I’d like to think a little more effort would be put in- even Dungeon Keeper managed that. As far as I’m concerned, Flappy Bird is the result of a guy thinking “what the hell”, throwing a bunch of assets together, and putting the end result on the market. And when things started to happen, we see his reaction- shock and fear as his bank account increases almost as fast as the number of death threats, hate mail and mis-directed anger he received. It wasn’t good for the guys health. And so he took it down.
I don’t have an issue with Dong Nguyen, and as far as I’m concerned he’s done nothing wrong; stupid, perhaps, but not bad. The thing that angers me is the reaction of the online gaming community as a whole. The level of bile, anger and unnecessary threats of violence leveled against Dong Nguyen is morally reprehensible. It’s disgusting. And guess what- just like with the first two issues, it’s nothing new. This is the internet, where impotent hatred breeds and festers. But it’s only impotent to a point; the same kind of abuse and insults leveled at Nguyen forced developer Phil Fish to quit his space in the spotlight. But even that didn’t save him; the hate plows on.
Gaming culture is constantly plagued by controversy. New issues arise all the time, and each one seems to be the biggest, most important problem when it initially surfaces. But the truth is, these controversies aren’t different- they’re the same. The same problems appear time after time. They appear with slightly different topics and disguises, but they’re the same issues. The biggest problem that arises is how to fix this situation. Because that’s complicated. I don’t know what the answer is, and neither does any one else. It’s a complex problem and the solution will most likely be organic, and will take a long time to affect any changes. I can only suggest that everyone, as a part of gaming culture, needs to put actual thought into their actions. I know it sounds asinine, but we really do have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in a certain way- because if we don’t why should we expect anyone else to?
The gaming community has major trust issues, and it’s easy to see why. With big name developers, like EA, acting like they do, why should we trust them? When a company like King is putting on a sweet, cuddly face whilst it crushes and connives behind the scenes, why should we trust them? When gaming media outlets are so corrupt, because their reviews are ‘paid for’, because that’s what the guy on the forums told you, why should you trust them? And why should you trust any other gamer to act responsibly like you do, when you know most of them are just neck-beards and fanboys and console-kiddies and casuals and fake-nerd-girls?
Because trust breeds success. Kickstarter may have its flaws, but it’s a system that proves how faith can make a difference to the success of a game and enjoyment of its players. Games such as Knights of Pen and Paper or FTL have been fantastic launches, and are examples of a consumer base trusting a developer to create a game that sounds appealing to them- and having that trust validated. Other games such as Shovel Knight and Mighty No. 9, which have yet to release, see the return of vaunted developing veterans, and add further legitimacy to the projects they support.
Like it or not, the gaming community has its own fair share of prejudices to work through; issues that we need to deal with, instead of simply casting the stone at companies like EA and King that are clearly doing wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about the issues that arise as and when they appear, but there’s a difference between a reasonable response and a knee-jerk, vicious attack. When we resort to that latter, nobody takes us seriously, least of all the big name developers. Discussing controversy without direction is meaningless, but organizing your disagreement can have consequences. Guess what you should do if you don’t like what a game studio does? Don’t buy from them. It’s not the most original idea ever, but it remains the most meaningful way a consumer can express their opinion, especially when dealing with companies for whom money outweighs integrity. The mobile gaming market remains, and probably will continue to remain, a mess. But here you can express your opinion too- there are developers using the platform as an actual platform as opposed to a cash-extraction machine. Buy the games that are good, and don’t waste your time on the schlock. And yes, that includes Flappy Bird. If you’re having trouble deciding what’s good and whats not- do a Google search. Spend two minutes looking at a gameplay video. If worst comes to worst, check to see if I might have said something about it- or any other reviewer, for that matter. But for God’s sake, start thinking. The only way to beat controversies in gaming is with your wallet and your head. It’s time all of us learned how to use them.