Hello, whales!

Counterpoint: The new Command & Conquer and Star Trek mobile games are shit

After hearing several positive takes (including one from a site that, at least in the past, was always wary of F2P junk) for the new mobile Command & Conquer title, Command & Conquer: Rivals, I decided to take a look for myself. Within seconds after finishing the tutorial, I clicked on a unit to upgrade and was sent to the screen you see at the top of the post. Deleted. I had ignored C&C: Rivals completely, assuming it was nothing more than the usual cash grab wrapped inside a pretty Skinner box. I’m here to tell you that my initial assumptions were correct. It’s shit.

“But you only played for five minutes!” I can hear you screaming. True. Still, when you can tell a “game” was developed with monetization methods first and only then figuring out how much frosting is needed to make it palatable [note that the base of that word is palate and not palette. Just thought I’d put that here for no reason at all -ed.] it’s pretty easy to make grand, sweeping assumptions. Those assumptions turn out to be true regardless of the ability to control units and different maps and all the other talking points meant to raise this above the other Clash Royale clones: the purpose of C&C: Rivals isn’t to entertain or even be a good game, it’s to hook whales and make EA scads of money. The problem is that the F2P model doesn’t just screw over the whales, but can have a negative effect on those who’ve never spent a cent.

My youngest son is eight years-old and this kind of stuff is like cocaine for his little brain. He lives in a world where, at his age, the F2P model is the only thing he knows. Waiting for a timer, grinding for in-game currency, and paying to unlock loot boxes mean nothing to him. It’s just the way the world works. When I offer other, non-F2P games to play, he doesn’t “get it”. Where’s the instant gratification? There’s no consistent positive feedback loop generated solely so he’ll keep playing and, hopefully, spend money. He’s never spent a dime, but his eyes get glassy and trying to get the iPad out of his hands when he’s in the middle of a Fortnite run is about as easy as getting a drunk out of the pub. I know, I was the latter, once. Now I’m the parent of the former and it sucks. It’s gotten to the point where he’s seeing a therapist weekly and, let me tell you, taking your eight year-old to a shrink for something you facilitated is about the shittiest feeling a parent can have.

May the person who invented loot boxes rot in hell

There was a time, before mobile, when games were made to test your skill, to tell stories, or just to use your noodle, not to hook the unwary. Those games are still out there and, yes, the people/companies that make them want to make scads of money, too. I’m sure everyone at Firaxis wants to retire early and hopes to do so via us buying every last, damn cosmetic add-on or leader pack they can code. There’s a way to do it ethically, however, and it begins with monetization not being the first storyboard slide when planning your Next Big Thing. Playing either XCOM or Civ it becomes obvious their goal is to provide the player with a deep, thoughtful experience; one that’s so much fun that buying a few extra leaders or new soldier uniforms or a full-blown expansion seems worth it. Unsurprisingly, it usually is. That happens when people care about the product and not just the revenue. You’ll notice that nowhere in XCOM or Civ are you hit over the head with needing the latest, coolest thing. Nowhere do they shove random loot in your face tempting you to keep playing to unlock some other random bullshit in the hopes of finding “the one”. In fact, you can blow off every damn expansion or add-on and still have a great time. What a concept.

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that there are indie devs out there not just making games, but goddamned art. We live in a world where Return of the Obra Dinn and Command & Conquer: Rivals both exist and, because we suck as a species, C&C: Rivals is the one getting the press. Do yourself a favor and go play Obra Dinn and see what video games are capable of being. Go play Card Crawl or Through the Ages or Civ VI or Hearts of Iron IV or Slay the Spire or Factorio or Meteorfall or Twilight Struggle or TIS-100 or Race for the Galaxy or One Deck Dungeon or Stardew Valley (and all the other great non-F2P gems out there) and have fun knowing that your wallet isn’t the only thing those developers are interested in.

We’re raising an entire generation of gamers who think this is how video games are supposed to be. I see it with my own kids and their friends. They play the shittiest games you can imagine, putting up with ads, timers, loot boxes, and every other F2P trick out there. It’s even trickled into the premium games they play on the consoles, with microtransactions ruining nearly every game from a major publisher. They deserve better than having to deal with these charlatans that are nothing less than digital versions of Phillip-Morris, and all because their parents don’t want to spend money on a game that’s actually worth playing. Even if these F2P games were actually fun to play, we’re doing a disservice to all gamers, now and future, by giving these money-grubbing thieves what they want. In other words, let’s stop playing F2P crap so we can bury its rotting corpse in a shallow grave.

You might have noticed I mentioned the new Star Trek mobile game, Star Trek Fleet Command, in the title and, yet, didn’t mention it in this entire rant. Well, I played it for about 2 minutes and…I’ll just leave this here:

The Tenth Rule of Acquisition: Greed is eternal

 

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Notable Replies

  1. Applause, applause, my man.

  2. rinelk says:

    If we published nothing but this piece this year, I’d be proud of Stately Play.

  3. Thanks guys, I was a little hesitant to hit the publish button.

  4. This piece is a work of art!

    One of the biggest shames of this is (aside from the tarnished IP) that C&C had a decent tug-of-war idea buried under a metric ton of crap.

  5. js619 says:

    eta: I’m a moron and still can’t figure out how to embed a GIF…

  6. Kolbex says:

    I blame television.

  7. For…everything?

  8. Kolbex says:

    Yes. Timers and other F2P lead on garbage are bad. They’re also the logical consequence of DLC. Why should we stop selling you a game just because you already bought it? This in turn was preceded and no doubt prompted by the existence of MMOs. Look at that, they just keep on charging you month after month, holy shit, genius, how can we get in on that? MMOs, meanwhile, were prefigured by episodic television. Even novels and movies have begun to cleave closer to the format of episodic television over time, even as so-called “prestige” TV began to take the themes of more compact forms of storytelling for its own. In the end, though, Hollywood (to be understood something like the Babylon of the rastafari movement) as the handmaiden of Moloch-Capital has tended to subsume everything under the rubric of episodic television: it never comes to an end, just drags on drearirly year after year, with no real development and no denoument, just a slow fade into irrelevance. In short: television is the form of the destructor, the ultimate fate and ruination of all art in this benighted age.

    I’m honestly not sure how serious any of the above is.

  9. A perfect Euclidean proof.

  10. Wait, what other site are you talking ab-

    Oh. Yeah.

  11. univac says:

    Anytime I see in-game gems (or other obnoxius in game currency) that offers a $99.99 option for a mobile game, I immediately uninstall. Of course I would install for lesser denominations as well but they all undoubtly have the $99.99 option. And can I also rant about the little psychological trick that every retailer uses, the practice of dropping a penny from the nice round price to make you think you’re getting a deal. It seems like all the game designers these days have behavioral psychologists on staff to hit that positive reinforcement reward loop to keep you playing the game and spending money or watching ads. End rant.

  12. Wow Dave. Thanks for sharing that about your son. As a father of 5 and 1.5 year old boys that couldn’t have been easy. I have been a lurker for awhile but that comment spurred me to join the forums. I just started playing Lego Star Wars with my son last week. I know this may be difficult, but do you have any tips or what to do/what not to do regarding raising a kid in today’s gaming environment? I really hadn’t given it much thought before your post. Thank you, Joe

  13. Welcome! This doesn’t answer your question directly, but we have a “Gaming with Kids” thread that may be of interest to you as well.

  14. Awesome article. Thank you for being brave enough to hit Post. Please don’t ever hesitate again.

    And as a parent, I’m with @joe7870 on any tips about raising a child in today’s gaming environs. So far, so good, but we’ve been very strict about not allowing devices or any screens (including TV) ever. And that strategy will only last so long, I fear (and not until he’s 25, sadly).

  15. As a parent Of 2 (10 year old girl and 4 years old boy) I’m a little circumspect at the sentence “We’re raising an entire generation of gamers”.
    Let’s hope we 're not.
    As Biffpow we are rather strict on screen Time here: the older have 40 minutes per day and the younger 20. The rest Of the Time they read or play (with actual Lego for example)
    No youtube no internet surfing, mainly cartoons or kid tv series .
    I’m a gamer, even if not as much as I use to be, but I deeply think that, as it’s gonna be an enormous part of their lives In the near future, we should try to keep kids away from screens as long as possible.
    And if we already play cardboard games, I hope I’ll play a little strategy games with my kids in a few years
    (Sorry for any mistakes In spelling, I’m from France and my IPad isn’t very friendly regarding english auto-correct).

  16. Great article, hitting the proverbial nail in the head. Couldn’t have said it better, well done.

  17. You had me at the headline and then the article itself was a whole lotta delicious cake and icing with some healthy nutrition as well.

    I like how how most of your writing is about what’s good in the world of gaming, but a proper rant and railing about what’s evil every once in a while is fun too.

    My current rant is about Vengeance… it’s actually a pretty fun and well done tower defense game so far, imho, but wtf IAPs, I just paid $5 for the game and now it wants me to buy bags of gems to level up faster, or just grind until boredom sets in and I delete it.

  18. Vengeance, as in Kingdom Rush? I think all the older games were loaded with IAP, too, but they amounted to more heroes, or items that could be used to make a level easier. Neither was required, and I’ve never bought any Ironhide IAP, although sometimes heroes are a little tempting.

  19. Great article, thank you.

  20. Yep! I don’t think it’s required to buy IAPs but they are appearing in the game about as fast as new waves of enemies. Heroes, gems, etc. it’s probably like previous kingdom rush games, but maybe a little more monetizy.

    Super ironic too since the main plotline, such is there is, you play as the bad guy who is upset that his evil palace got turned into some sort of for-profit amusement park and is out for, well, vengeance. I don’t consider that a spoiler since it is literally the intro before you even play the first map.

  21. That was a great article, and needed to be said. Also, very brave to talk about the struggles with your kid. I am glad y’all recognized the problem, I imagine a lot of parents have not.

  22. Crow says:

    Awesome post! Thank you for such a great piece of writing on this subject. I can understand your hesitation as you were about to publish but we’re glad you hit the button.

    The advent of F2P was one of the factors that made me turn my back on making games. It wasn’t the only one (insane working hours and having less and less input are just a couple of the others, there are plenty) but it was certainly one of the nails in the coffin.

    I try to buy good premium titles whenever I can. In fact to my shame a lot of the games you cite as being worthy alternatives to F2P above I own and haven’t made the time to play but I guess an ever increasing backlog is the fate of many gamers.

    p.s. Silverfab, no need to apologise for your English. I wish I could write any foreign language 1/10 as well as you wrote above, with or without auto correct!

  23. Great article. It’s as if you looked into my (and judging by the comments here, not just mine) own thoughts and put them onto paper. Much respect for your real-life honesty too.; it’s rare to read an article on a game site (though not that rare on Stately Play, to be honest) that deserves a much wider audience, given the social strands of cause and effect it weaves together.
    Excellent stuff.

  24. Just … well done. Many more eloquent replies up the thread that I will not try (and fail) to augment in any meaningful manner.

    Just … well done :+1:

  25. Allow me to add my kudos!

    I wish I had that kind of courage.

  26. Apex says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for sharing about your son. I know that takes courage, and we need a periodic reminder about how F2P as a trend is not healthy for gaming as a hobby. Companies are putting game skins on casinos, and then heavily marketing them. As you note, it’s geared people prone to addiction, which makes funding continued development on the backs of whales exploitive and gross.

    Personal aside: have any other parents run into an educational game called Prodigy? It’s lite MMO where kids do math to accomplish attacks and such. My son’s elementary school has gone all-in on this thing. I’m all about making learning fun, but they put up roadblocks for items and pets unless kids become members at $9/month or $60/year. Ugh. I know they have to keep the servers on, but I feel blindsided by the school.

  27. My sons are into Prodigy. We ended up buying memberships for them and calling them an early Christmas gift, but I was also pretty irritated with the pricing.

  28. rinelk says:

    Yeah, my kids haven’t mentioned seeing it at school, but I was volunteering in another school last year and saw it there (it was available if they finished other work early). Seemed particularly harsh in a poorer neighborhood. It did seem pretty good for an edutainment game, but when the world contains Calculords and DragonBox, that didn’t strike me as quite enough to justify the price.

  29. As @Private_Prinny posted over in the GOTY thread, thought it more appropriate for my comment on his post over in this thread:

    Alas, I agree, which is one of the reasons I’m getting a Switch, for portable gaming, this Christmas.

    It does appear that Nintendo has swerved hard into the mobile microtransactions for their phone games, they’ve abandoned the Super Mario Run premium game model, and “progressed” from monetized Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp to the polished, non-Nintendo character based, Dragalia Lost. And, Nintendo is leveraging the monetization expertise of Cygames with Dragalia Lost, it seems. :slightly_frowning_face:

    Similarly, Blizzard has released the premium Diablo III for Switch, but with phones it will be Diablo Immortal where they are using an outside studio, NetEase. Blizzard would not discuss their monetization plans for Diablo Immortal during their major BlizzCon announcement, but NetEase appears to have a poor reputation where monetization is concerned. And, Activision-Blizzard did not spend $5.9 billion for King, to transition their company away from Candy Crush monetization.

    For a premium Diablo portable experience, looks like Switch is the best option.

    Into the Breach being ported to Switch was good news, but last I heard it was not optimistic that it would make it to iOS or Android. Another data point that supports picking up a Switch for this Christmas, for premium portable gaming.

  30. Despite my article bemoaning the fact that my fat fingers struggle to make the Switch do what I want, I’ve been playing the hell out of Civ 6 on the Switch lately and it’s fantastic. It’s so awesome to sit on the couch and play Civ VI on a big screen TV. Playing on the go is good, too, but, wow, there’s something awesome about relaxing on the couch with a cup of tea and listening to Sean Bean spout off quotes about Naval Tradition and Ballistics.

    (The point of this was to agree with Falkenstein…I think the future of AAA mobile games is the Switch and less the iPad. There would need to be a sea change in the App Store for Apple to turn iOS into a serious gaming platform at this point. I still look forward to good games for the phone/tablet, but I’m not expecting big games to land there, where the Switch at least has a chance. XCOM 2 for iPad? I doubt it, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it on the Switch in 2019, for example)

  31. The Switch is awesome. That said, nothing will ever beat a phone for me simply for the fact that I always have it with me. At work, the grocery store, my kids’ various swim/piano/etc. lessons; no matter where I am, I can get a game in. Plus, with all the great board games with asynch, I’ve got something running at all times.

    I will say, though, that I am wishing I had brought my Switch and Smash Bros. to work today…

  32. js619 says:

    Excuse me a minute, my pants just got tight for some reason…

    eta: I’ll probably end up picking up a Switch at some point, but I’m waiting to see if they release new hardware next year…

  33. I felt the same way, I completely understand, but I’m taking the plunge this Christmas. Hopefully any software investments will translate to compatibility with new hardware, and my understanding of the rumor started by the Wall Street Journal is that it would be more of an enhanced version of the current Switch.

    Which I’m all for a “pro” version of the Switch. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is on my short list of planned initial Switch games, and I saw this interview with THQ Nordic about it and their Darksiders games, especially their recently released Darksiders III: THQ Nordic on Switch: “It’s a Bit Sad” that Nintendo Didn’t Release It With “More Beefy Hardware”

  34. Some of this is dependent on the devs, though. I don’t know what the difficulty trade-offs are for developing on the Switch vs. ipad, much less porting something from PC to one of those over the other. And there’s also the competition aspect; there are about 8 zillion apps released in any given week on ios, with only a handful every month on switch.

    I think if I were Nintendo, I would create a very UI-friendly set of kits or tools for devs to help them along in development or porting to the console, offer some live online assistance, maybe even host workshops during the year. Essentially, do all the things apple doesn’t do.

    Of course, @Mirefox has a good point about the ease of having games on your phone. That will never go away, I think. Coming in 2019? SwitchPhone! You’re welcome, Nintendo. Make checks payable to Stately Play.

  35. Now, here’s something I can get behind…

  36. I haven’t heard anything, but from the reception Civ VI is getting on mobile vs. Switch, I’m guessing Aspyr (I think they did the port) is wondering why they have to do the whole “download free, then buy via IAP” nonsense and still getting killed for asking $60 compared to Switch where it’s, here’s an AAA title that costs $60 and no one bats an eye.

  37. The question, though, revolves around sales. Is Civ VI doing well on Switch? ios? Comparatively?

  38. Good question. I’m probably overthinking it because I tend to react more negatively to entitled jags complaining on the internet about something not being free.

  39. Was the Switch version announced prior to the release of the iOS version? My hazy impression is that anyone who purchased the Switch version likely already picked it up on another platform, and was just a big fan who wanted to take advantage of what the Switch offers, with the possible exception of Android gamers? :thinking:

  40. Stop being so pragmatic, dammit.

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