Please Stop It: Dragon Age Legends

By Alec Meer on March 16th, 2011 at 4:28 pm.

Also, the combat's rubbish

I’d heard decent things about EA’s Facebook-based Dragon Age side-project, Legends. I am scarcely free from cyncism about Facebook gaming in its current form – so uncomfortably dependent on building compulsive play then charging to continue immediately -but I by no means believe it won’t improve. I am always willing to look and see where it’s going.

A big license and the promise of deeper mechanics sounded like it might be taking the genre/platform somewhere newer. In a way, it does – but it’s also a large and frightening backwards step for roleplaying games.

Essentially, it’s turn-based roleplaying in the Final Fantasy style. Two opposing squads of fighters line up against each other and take turns to stab/shoot/magick their enemies, with a spot of potion-glugging in between. There’s an inventory, there’s a skill tree, there’s a store, there’s even a surprising element of base-building – essentially a means of generating potions and the like. All well, all good, all a whole lot more than Facebook games generally offer.

Except you can’t achieve a god-damned thing without spending some sort of virtual currency. It’s the sheer levels of dependence built in, from all directions the tightening noose of prevented play: Crowns for potions, Crowns for energy to move to the next fight, Crowns to buy new loot, gold to upgrade your castle… And worst, worst of all, Crowns to buy a single-use horn that summons fighting companions.

You play as one character, but you cannot solo the game. You need allies. Allies will only ally with you once, then they bog off for a few real-time hours. Within 20 minutes of play, I’d run out of guys to summon, and had to dip into my very meagre assignment of free Crowns to summon a couple back. That lasted about 10 more minutes. Then I was stuck, either by running out of the Energy required to move or by butting into a fight that required strong companions and strong potions to survive. Stuck. Unless I’d spend.

I appreciate the free to play games need to make money, and I’m not averse to the concept of in-game spending (though I’m far too tight to do much of it). I am, however, averse to the game having no meaning or purpose without it. For a game about simply building a farm, maybe it’s a little more defensible to spend money on construction materials and crops. It’s a game about commerce in the first place, more or less. For a game documenting an epic roleplaying quest to help save humanity from a demonic legion, it’s ludicrous to break the fourth wall by asking that you give real-world money to an out-of-game source. What is this entity I’m buying Crowns from, and how does it bear any relation to bettering my enemies?

Legends is a modern reworking of the old coin-op side-scrolling beat ‘em/shoot ‘em ups. It’s just there to take money off you, and the question of whether compulsion is the same as legitimately being entertained is an undying one. You will face insurmountable odds at some point, and shovelling more money into this machine is the only way to keep going. Yes, there is always the option to come back in a few hours, as energy and follower-summoning recharges, but if you don’t pay you’ll only squeeze about ten minutes more out of every new session. Who’s really going to play it that way? They’ll get so little out of it.

Again – the option to pay doesn’t trouble me. Games finding new revenue streams in an increasingly digital age only makes sense. It’s that the game conspires against you in such a way that it’s essentially unavoidable which is the problem – all sense of skill and challenge is completely removed, because the game knows full well that you’re going to need a crapload of potions and mates to survive battles against stuff like wolves that can attack three times per turn. If levelling up wasn’t so glacially slow maybe I’d be bothered less too, but the trouble is there’s so little meaningful sense of progression. Excitements seem few and far between. It’s a straight grind, a horribly futile timesink with tedious, repetitive combat, and it expects you to pay for the privilege. ‘Microtransactions’, we’re told. Does this look like micro to you?

For reference, summoning a colleague back to the fight before his 2 hour recharge time is up costs 19 crowns (and will result in the next wait becoming 5 hours). So, for three times as much as buying a copy of Dragon Age II, I can buy enough crowns to respawn party members 315 times. That sounds like a big number. It isn’t. Factoring in the Energy required to play (29 crowns for 5 units of it, which is enough for one more battle, or very occasional two) as well, I suspect that wouldn’t get me much more than a week or two of not particularly intensive Facebook gaming. That is a guess, but I’m pretty convinced the sum total is nowhere near what you’d get for buying three traditional games (and especially RPGs).

The alternative to buying respawns, by the way, is to invite your friends to play. Each one who accepts becomes a usable party member, subject to the same one-shot and recharge/pay system as the standard characters. Invite enough people and perhaps you’d have enough fighters slowly recharging in the background to avoid having to pay for respawns. It is a social game, after all, although there’s no real element of playing together. It was fun to watch a little cartoon dude called Dan Griliopoulos get killed by a werewolf thing, but he had nothing to do with it. Do I want to spam all my friends into joining and then start suckling on the money-teat themselves in the name of my grinding onwards? I really don’t.

Free to play is going to play an ever more important part in PC gaming, and it’s something we’re going to have to get used to to some extent. Surely, though, there are better ways of achieving it than this money-grubbing slap in the face for any Dragon Age fan. Paying for content (i.e. DLC) will grow and grow, and there are ways to do that quite neatly, but paying to keep accessing the basic mechanics of a roleplaying game makes me feel a little ill. How can I possibly invest in my character, my motivations, even in my next piece of uber-loot when I know it’s defined by how many times I’m prepared to take out my bank card? Or even about how often I’m prepared to log back in and squeeze out ten more minutes. It’s not that simple: this is a game built around constantly and immediately wanting more.

Worst of all: the entire game is essentially a walking advertisement for Dragon Age II. An advertisement you need to pay to keep watching. For those who already own the game, it bears the difficult to resist promise of unlocking extra in-game DA2 loot, but you’ll end up either paying an awful lot or spend a lot of time fiddling about and logging in and out to get hold of it. It’s a promotional game at heart, of the sort that would have been free on an official game site a few years ago. But no, even that must come with a price attached now.

Social games and free to play games are, if not the future, a future. We can’t dismiss or ignore them. In fact, we should celebrate those of them, and those elements of them, that do approach things smartly, and in doing so bring worthy gaming to a gigantic audience. But we can make it quite clear that we expect to be treated better than this slovenly, cheating, cynical wolf in in RPG’s clothing. Especially when it’s clothing hundreds of thousands of us were very fond of.

Dragon Age has had better weeks.

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132 Comments »

  1. SquareWheel says:

    I despise Facebook gaming. It’s right in there between DLC and DRM.

    DRM < FBG < DLC

    • Pantsman says:

      Wait, is “<" in terms of how much you hate them, or how much you like them?

    • Calneon says:

      DRM is less than FBG is less than DLC

      I assume less than would mean he likes them less.

    • RodeoClown says:

      I just don’t want my facebook profile spammed with DA2 ads.

      I just started playing this and have already run into the 2.5 hour wait time (that’s why I came to RPS to check it out).

      I think they’ve made the prices initially high, so that if it is determined to be too expensive, then they can drop the price and people will be happy, and if not, they will be happy. It’s much easier to drop prices than to raise them. Although I’m the cheap type who won’t buy their fake money at all… I’ll see how much waiting I Can take before I stop bothering at all.

  2. MiniTrue says:

    What is this I don’t even?

    • Goomich says:

      It’s free DLC-items generator for my Dragon Age II Complete, I’ll buy for 10 euro on next SSS.

  3. Jannakar says:

    Yawn.

    Let the market decide.

    If they have no players, then they will be forced to lower prices for the items, or change the structure of the game. If they have lots of players, then its is probably something that people either enjoy playing or are too stupid to stop. Fools and their money etc.

    • Pijama says:

      Missing the point much?

    • Jannakar says:

      I did not see a point, just a long long whinge and sense of entitlement.

    • RQH says:

      The market will, in all likelihood decide. It will not necessarily make a decision that is for the better. That’s the point. To add a personal human element of debate to the course of events, and indeed to motivate the many individuals who comprise those market forces to exert market pressure for the better.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Can we just automatically discount the opinion of anyone who uses the words ‘whine’ or ‘whinge’ on the internet since they don’t understand the dictionary definition and really mean to say ‘something I don’t agree with or personally find important’?

    • Vague-rant says:

      Yeh, lets just use market forces to decide everything. I’m sure that always works well, in every single scenario.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Can we just automatically discount the opinion of anyone who uses the words ‘whine’ or ‘whinge’ on the internet

      Ooh, can we do that for the phrase “sense of entitlement”, too?

      Wait, wait, I already do

    • Pahalial says:

      This is a game review site. Its entire purpose is to provide commentary on games, the state of gaming, etc.

      Why are you here if only to mock the commentary in favour of market forces?

    • Jannakar says:

      The article’s drift seems to be ‘don’t make games like this’ which is I feel is well-intention but misguided attitude, market system rely on signals from consumers about what is wanted or not (which is one reason why piracy is bad, since is does not say anything about whether anything is demanded or not).

      Whereas I think these models have to be tried and adapted to something that both the consumer and producer feel is acceptable.

      Alec Meer is just doing his job I guess, but I think he is preaching to the converted and giving a game more exposure than he intends.

    • Alec Meer says:

      To hilariously and entirely knowingly overstate this with ludicrous and entirely unfair comparisons:

      Market forces also define the heroin, sex slavery, and animal-testing of cosmetics trades. It doesn’t matter if you think those things are bad, eh? Why bother objecting? If the demand’s there the demand’s there!

    • Resin says:

      This is a game review site. Its entire purpose is to provide commentary on games, the state of gaming, etc
      -

      I would contend that this facebook drivel does not meet the qualifications to be treated as games. They have more in common with loadscreens or perhaps “heroin, sex slavery, and animal-testing of cosmetics trades”.

    • dysphemism says:

      Isn’t that what a review is about? Letting the market decide… but to make an informed decision?

      Besides which, games journalism isn’t read only by consumers. Developers pay attention, as well. If the market reacts poorly to their game, that could be due to any number of factors. But if the journos are all ranting about the pay structure, hey, that may be the first thing they look at.

    • Premium User Badge

      Johnny Law says:

      I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to realize that this very article is part of those “market forces”.

    • AdamK117 says:

      I see your point on letting the market decide but I guess this article was trying to put a gamers perspective on a game. Markets always decide these things ultimately (EA wouldnt be trying it if they didnt think the cow had any milk) but as a PC gamer I always find these immediate DLC ideas bewildering. I guess I take The Social Network stance on these sorts of thing: “People wont come to the party unless it’s cool”, monetising it hard and fast seems a little shortsighted.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Ooh, can we do that for the phrase “sense of entitlement”, too?

      Was just about to say this. The amount of people throwing the “sense of entitlement” buzzword around these days is increasing exponentially. Half the time (like in this here case) it doesn’t even make any sense in the context of what we’re talking about. Just what is Alec “feeling entitled to” that is so disagreeable? A game that’s remotely playable without spending real money for fictional currency that has no purpose in the game other than to suck away said money?

      And what’s most enraging about it is that it’s a CONSUMER who is throwing around this “sense of entitlement” bullcrap excuse to defend the developers. Now, ain’t that every developers’ dream? To see consumers not only lap up their crap, but also to turn around and DEFEND it as well.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      The amount of people throwing the “sense of entitlement” buzzword around these days is increasing exponentially.

      It seems to be a genuine internet meme, unlike shitty image macros and the like. I promise you there weren’t this many people sneering about “entitlement” 12 months ago. Bizarrely, it’s everywhere now.

      It’s a cute way to demean someone you disagree without really saying anything of substance.

    • Wulf says:

      @Alec

      I actually think that part of that has more to do with humanity being largely comprised of inexcusably apathetic monsters for the most part, with only small sects of people who’re capable of giving a damn. :p

      Though I suppose when twisted, it could be said that John cares about the future of PC gaming, and worries that things are going to come down to instant gratification through money grabbing and that the actual art of developing a game that’s worth playing will become a lost art. Since gaming matters to him (and it does to me), I can understand that.

      Still, I am glad that you acknowledge the ‘ludicrous and entirely unfair’ element, since it sort of reminds me of when people bring Hitler into conversations, which evokes images of genocide.

      I think it actually comes down to this, at the end of the day – things that matter to me don’t matter to the masses, and that worries me. That I can understand when it’s put that way, and I certainly fear that marketing will decide our future, at least until portions of humanity come to their senses. (But I think that’s already happening with independent developers.) One example of this from a purely personal standpoint is that I’m terrified of xenophobia.

      This is a mild segue, but I want to explain why I can relate to this.

      I try not to let myself get too old – but every once in a while I find myself thinking that I really miss the ’80s, because in the ’80s we had some really interesting things going on. This became less in the ’90s, and then even less in the ’00 years. What I’m getting at is xenophobia. I feel things are getting worryingly more xenophobic across all forms of entertainment.

      In the past we weren’t afraid of portraying alien landscapes or non-human creatures. Films, animated series, games, and so on did it all the time. It happened across all age brackets, and this was great because it sent the message that if something or someone looks or acts differently to you, they’re still a person and generally an interesting one.

      This is something that lead to a generation of people who, now grown up, are a little more open-minded than the generation that preceded them.

      Yet entertainment has gone downhill again. And a lot of the time I find entertainment saying that if something is visually different, be it a living being or a locale, from what we’re used to, then it automatically becomes bad, evil even. And that scares me. It really does. It scares me because people are going to lap this stuff up, buy it, and convince the entertainment industry that more of it needs to be made – very xenophobic stuff, even.

      And that actually makes me a little worried for future generations, because if our entertainment is only exposing people to humans in very human scenarios, it’s not teaching younger people to open their minds at all. And eventually those younger people are likely going to grow up to be racist, homophobic, and so on. That… bothers me.

      It’s a strange way of looking at things, yes, but xenophobia bothers me.

      It’s the way the entertainment industry is going though. Marketing trends show that it’s popular and that it’s what people want. Though personally, by my standards of ethics and morality, I don’t have to believe that it’s right. Nor should I. Nor should Alec according to what he believes in.

      …I hope all of that sounded as intelligent and understandable as it seemed to in my mind.

      Regardless – I get Alec in this. We all have our personal beliefs on things, and if we all believed that the majority opinion was right, then we’d never move forward. This is why Alec used such extremes to make a point. The majority was for slavery, the majority has been for so many bad things. The majority loved the Titanic (guh). And often, the majority will do/think/believe things that they will look back on with regret.

      Tell me that there’s no shame in the history of your ethnicity and I might believe that your majority is able to consider their actions before actually acting upon them. However, I know that’s not true of mine.

    • bascule42 says:

      “Market forces also define the heroin, sex slavery, and animal-testing of cosmetics trades. It doesn’t matter if you think those things are bad, eh? Why bother objecting? If the demand’s there the demand’s there!”

      Don’t forget Channel 5 and Phil Collins.

    • Lowbrow says:

      @Wulf The world has issues that worry me, but the decline of the popularity of science fiction isn’t one of them.

    • Baboonanza says:

      Besides, science-fiction in popular entertainment is cyclycal and seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance. Personally I found the 80s moralising rather simplistic and obvious myself. See District 9 for a more modern, nuanced approach.

      As the poster before me said there are many trends in the world that concern me (damn kids!), but not having entertainment filled with badly made-up actors and over-rought morality isn’t one of them.

    • Mutak says:

      Many naive Rand-ians forget that in order to function correctly and efficiently, the market depends on informed consumers. This article informs consumers.

    • FataMorganaPseudonym says:

      “‘Market forces also define the heroin, sex slavery, and animal-testing of cosmetics trades. It doesn’t matter if you think those things are bad, eh? Why bother objecting? If the demand’s there the demand’s there!’

      Don’t forget Channel 5 and Phil Collins.”

      Or Fox News and Glenn Beck.

  4. Premium User Badge

    RaveTurned says:

    So, standard Facebook gaming then.

  5. SuperNashwanPower says:

    So hang on. You have to put money in it for it to let you continue playing. Social Gaming is the new arcade machine

    • Curvespace says:

      With the socialising aspect removed.

    • Jesse L says:

      Ha!

    • Nick says:

      and the fun.

    • Curvespace says:

      Incidentally, you have my utmost respect for being called SuperNashwanPower.

    • Witrim says:

      No… with enough “friends” or fake accounts you can probably play this completely free like all other facebook games. Just require more effort like all those f2p mmos too. Don’t wanna pay? Work harder.

    • Curvespace says:

      The inherent mechanic in the majority of social network gaming is not that you play alongside your friends, but merely that you benefit from their playing the game at all. The emphasis is that you are rewarded for spreading the game rather than encouraged to share gaming moments with your mates. It’s like a disease where the doctor only gives you the best medicine if you manage to infect other people.

      Or something.

    • Premium User Badge

      SMiD says:

      … or the newest pyramid scheme…

      “The alternative to buying respawns, by the way, is to invite your friends to play. Each one who accepts becomes a usable party member, subject to the same one-shot and recharge/pay system as the standard characters”

  6. Freud says:

    That knight has a scary looking mace-penis.

  7. trjp says:

    I have to chuckle at the idea of a game which makes money a bar to playing with your friends.

    Look at what happened to Allods when they decided to make money a factor in resurrection (nowhere near as bad as this – mainly a problem for PvPers and surmountable with skill/effort).

    I went from a circle of 20-30 friends/guildmates/regulars who were loving every minute of it (Allods is really a LOT better than Rift – for example) to standing around in a game where tumbleweed was my only remaining companion, all in a matter of 2-3 days…

    Imagine Farmville threatening to kill all your animals unless you dropped a coin… :)

  8. Gundato says:

    Honestly, I think you might be approaching this from the wrong angle (and so did EA).

    This is a casual game. It is meant to be played during coffee breaks and the like. So the ten minutes every few hours really isn’t that big of a deal (plus, by the time you start really getting near the unlocking of the later DLC, the game is painfully long).

    Of course, the problem is the target demographic. The target demographic are people who play games for hours on end, so the casual angle just doesn’t work all that well.

    • Alec Meer says:

      The very blatant, oft-promoted money option, and the high number and frequency of ways in which you hit a wall that requires money to pass, kinda puts paid to that theory I’m afraid.

    • Gundato says:

      Well, I can say from having played this since the beta: It really isn’t that bad (from a marketing standpoint. Game itself is rather dated).

      If I am waiting for something to compile or download, I play an encounter or two. Hell, in the past week, I haven’t even had to use a team that didn’t consist of My Guy, Hawke, and one of the mages (by the time I get a chance to play again, Hawke and the mage guy are respawned).

      Same with potions and junk. I used the gold from the quests to buy three slaves. So now, I have, at pretty much all times, an elven slave making health potions, another elf making injury kits, and a third making bombs or lyrium. No need to spend money on that front.

      Beyond that, it is just the usual facebook/microtransactions thing of “Buy more crap, you know you want to!”. If I actually cared about this game beyond “Yay, more unlocked content that is already on my hard drive!”, maybe I would be tempted. But as it stands, I haven’t used a single crown, and I have no real desire to do so.

      And when I have time to play for more than a few minutes, I play a real game (or something from Kongregate).

      Like I said, I think the problem is that this is the kind of casual game marketed toward the kids who can text faster than I can type. Unfortunately, the subject matter/theme is targeted toward people who play 30 hour RPGs in marathon sessions so that they can import decisions into a somewhat disappointing game.

    • Kadayi says:

      I’ve been in the beta for this. It is actually entirely possible to game it without buying crowns. Buying crowns just speeds things up, and is best used as a means to upgrade your Keep/potion/bomb production line . I certainly wouldn’t waste crowns on resurrecting people (that’s just a sign of huge impatience). You just have to view it as a game akin to a Tamagotchi. To keep on top you need to give it a poke every few hours, but you don’t need to do more than that (what’s the rush after all?) The other thing to bear in mind, is that you aren’t limited to just the 6 npcs you start with to be able to draw upon. Essentially if you’ve friends playing it, their characters become available in your NPC pool and vise versa. When you win a battle with their characters they get awarded a small amount of victory gold (20GP) as a result.

      Same dudes who did Dragon Age Journeys (which was bloody good fun tbh). They seem to be adding and refining it more every few days. Whether it’s a great Facebook game or not, I honestly couldn’t say however I don’t find it grossly offensive. The little combats are quite fun, esp as you have limited access to potions and bombs (shock bombs are the best btw), and you have to think through your use of the various special attacks, without exhausting your supplies through the successive waves.

      Seriously being way to OT on DAL in this article. I guess all part of bash EA/Bioware week though.

    • vagabond says:

      I played this over 5 or 6 days, when I got up in the morning, when I got home from work, and maybe again before I went to bed. Each time I’d have the three fights that run you out of companions, collect the manufactured items, and then set new ones to build. It’s doable this way without spending cash, but I wasn’t playing for fun, just to unlock the bonus DA2 items. I wouldn’t've played at all without that incentive because it would just be too annoying.

    • Haxim says:

      I’m with Kadayi and vagabond. It’s entirely playable without spending a dime as a casual coffee-break style of game, which is what I want out of a Facebook game. I don’t want to sit down and play this for 2-3 hours, I have “real” games to play if I have that much time available. Every 2 or so hours your companions are rested up and you can go fight 3 or more encounters. The only time you ever see a ‘nag’ screen for crowns is if you’re trying to do something you don’t have the resources for or trying to hurry something along, and if you’re playing casually it’s rare you’re ever in that position.

  9. Dominic White says:

    While most stuff on Facebook is unutterable shite, there’s a slow upswing of not-terrible things worth looking at. TBS-CCG hybrid Poxnora has recently launched a facebook version, and while you can pay money, it’s an acceptable enough £2~ for a booster pack, or you can actually earn enough in-game money to get a booster for free in 8-10 rounds of play.

    As far as a business model goes, that’s infinitely less dickish than ‘Want to respawn? INSERT CREDIT NOW’.

    • Nick says:

      CCGs and the like are perfect for this model, being well tested real world examples of microtransactions. Actually, I wish gamesworkshop would get in on this idea and make computer versions of their warhammer, 40k, necromunda et al games.. pay for a starter army of your choice, buy units you want and go. P2P online play, I bet they could make a lot of money that way and not really impinge on their existing stuff as people love the physical aspect of the games too.

      Thats what I want anyway.

  10. Hoaxfish says:

    I’ve played some fun Facebook games (D&D’s Tiny Adventures before it was dropped. Crazy Boat before its server went down)… but I’ve never spent money on them (which I guess is the thing most people attribute to “facebook games”)

  11. Jockie says:

    Well, the alternative is to play for about 10-15 minutes every few hours, dipping in and out of the game casually. Legends is quite a satisfying little diversion when played that way. Even if I enjoyed burning money as a past-time, I’m not sure it’s the kind of game that stands up to intense periods of play anyway.

  12. smi1ey says:

    I hate the free-to-play model. Sadly, TONS of consumers apparently love it. Everyone wouldn’t be switching to it if consumers weren’t dumping billions of dollars into “freemium” games. For those that think it sucks, all you can do is stay away as long as possible. Who knows? Maybe someday the only option for playing games will be “free-to-play”. Ugh.

    • Premium User Badge

      Makariel says:

      For me it depends how exactly the “free-to-play” is implemented. In DDO it works quite well in my opinion, since you get a good playing experience without paying anything. If you like what you see and want extra content you can pay for it. Works for me.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, I play a handfull of F2P online games on and off, but they’re all ones with quite player-friendly business models. You can usually get a bit more content and/or specialization if you put some money down, but there’s still a ton of fairly well-balanced game there for people who haven’t invested a pile of cash.

      A lot of them are shameless money-grabs, but they’re of no interest to me anyway.

      My favourite ones are the ones that offer almost nothing but prestige/dress-up items for paying players, so they can stand out but not really affect gameplay beyond looking fancier in the field.

    • Westcreek says:

      It really depends on the implementation of the “f2p” system, some are way better than others.
      I was totally against it when i first heard of it, but lately i tried lotro just for kicks and i have played it many hours so far, reaching lvl 38, and i still havn’t payed anything. I keep getting a stream of those points from the deeds i do (a system like achievements.)

      I havn’t played that much these past few days, but that’s only because i’m getting a bit tired of the simplified quest system that the game seems to share with many other MMO’s lately. A quest isn’t what it used to be. =/

  13. Premium User Badge

    Makariel says:

    Why would anyone pay 100$ for virtual coin in a marketing device for a game that costs 60$?

    The mind it boggles.

    • Ricc says:

      There was a great Gamasutra article about the machinations of Facebook and CityVille in one of the Sunday Papers. Basically the $99 option is there to make the lower prices look more insignificant and to make some money out of the really hardcore people.

    • ANeM says:

      Ricc, I somewhat doubt there are people that are “really hardcore” for games like this.. More likely its a trap aimed at kids/teenagers who found/stole their parents credit card and have no understanding of the value of money.

      I’d certainly hope no adult would ever drop $100 on this kind of game :/

  14. Jorum says:

    Facebook-style “Social games” are not really social games at all.
    They are largely solo games that encourage you to basically exploit your already existing social network.

    My wife invites her friends and colleagues on to cityville not because she has any interest in gaming with or alongside them, or interacting via the game at all, but because it gives her material benefit in the game.

    From what I have seem their whole design is to leverage players to co-opt as many other people as possible, in order that the game developer builds a bigger customer base for micro-transactions and (I suspect) gain a huge network of people to harvest personal and marketing information from and direct adverts to.

    Obviously almost all games have the aim to make money and be commercial. But Relic try to make money by making games they think will be good, fun, popular and thus profitable.
    Zynga try to make money by making games that will be as addictive as possible (by using psychological principles) and encourage people to commodities their friends into gaming perks.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I used to think that social network games were merely failing to fulfill their potential, but now I think there are reasons specific to the medium why they’ll systematically tend towards shallowness.

      When I play games with my friends, they’re usually not persistent games. At the end of each game the score is reset. This is kind of vital–it frees us to totally screw each other over within the context of the game. It would be a strange hobby where your objective was to push back the persistent progress that your friend had made. That would be like intentionally damaging his backyard garden, or stealing her stamp collection.

      When I play persistent games, they’re either single player games or mmorpgs–most of the time we play persistent games against AIs or strangers, not our friends. Because if I set back my friends’ permanent progress, that’s not so much playing a game as being a vandal.

      Admittedly, not everyone thinks this way. Poker and other games where you gamble with real money are a big deal! But they’re also illegal, and I’m not sure that betting real money on a game (real money being at least as persistent as any online game’s state) is the same as gaining or losing game objects. You might lose a lot of money in a hand of poker, but you don’t lose the capacity to play certain types of hands. There are CCGs, of course, but I’m not sure that more than a minority of players are interested in that sort of play. (At least, I’m not.)

      Anyway, what this means is that if you want to make a casual game that I play with my friends and build up persistent state, which seems to describe most Facebook games, then I’m not going to feel all that comfortable detrimenting my friends’ game state. Combine that with the fact that we aren’t all playing the game at the same time, and what you’re left with is co-op gameplay without real-time interaction.

      In theory, that could still be interesting. In practice, the internet already offers so many ways for people to cooperate on shared creative projects (go edit some Wikipedia entries, post some blogs, share some drawings, make some game mods, write some programs, etc) that game play will tend to be simple and non-creative. It’s for people looking for a mindless distraction. Which is okay–I look for mindless distractions all the time. But combine that with the existing tendencies of social gaming, you end up with co-operative labor on a non-interesting task without real-time interaction.

      Psychological Skinner Box tricks are pretty much the only way to distinguish yourself from all the other games in a domain like that. And once you’ve taken that road, the free-to-play business model is the most sensible way to extract dollars from your subjects.

  15. Ian says:

    Is this a follow up to…. whatever the pre-DA:O flash/RPG thing was? I seem to remember that being Not Bad.

    • Gundato says:

      Yeah. I think this is from the same team that did DA:Journeys.

      They got rid of the more tactical nature of Journeys so that it was more focused on just the leveling aspect of it. People feel conflicted on that front, for obvious reasons.

    • Coldblade says:

      Yeah. It’s a shame that they didn’t release it as they did with Dragon Age Journeys.
      That was a neat free game without this absurd payment method.

    • Adekan says:

      As I recall, the original was made by a fellow named Garin who actually posts here semi-regularly. He’d made a few great free flash games prior to being hired to do these promo/hype building projects.

      On the matter of this game, I find it a shame it has to be so blatantly greedy. I’ve never bought into the ” social gaming ” Facebook deal and as such will never play this.

      At any rate, glad to see he’s getting work ( if he is involved in this one as well ) he’s quite a talented person.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Yes, and that flash game was meant to have two more chapters (possibly as paid-for content) to finish up the story. Depressing that we get this instead.

    • Wizardry says:

      Dragon Age: Journeys was way better than both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2. It really is a pity that turn-based RPGs, having ruled the genre previously, are now limited to browsers and hand-held consoles.

  16. Hardtarget says:

    I don’t even get this post, what we’re you expecting. I want to unlock 5 free items in Dragon Age 2. I leave this up in the background running in a tab while I do some work. Every couple hours when my free energy and free companions respawn I’ll do a couple battles.

    The game is horrendous but after a day of this I’d unlocked 3 items and not spent a dime. As long as you are willing to wait you don’t have to spend money. Also of course this is a DA2 advertisement, that’s literally the entire point of the game, it’s a tie in. (I don’t get why you’d play it without already owning DA2 though)

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      I think the cynicism and blatant cash thievery involved is Alec’s issue, rather than anything else.

      It doesn’t really work as a marketing device, because I can’t imagine it has any appeal to people who don’t already own DA2. So it’s basically the lure of five shiny new items, then once you bite, the choice between a long, tiresome grind, or spending yet more money to access abilities to shorten your time to your five items.

      You may personally find that you’re happy to do the grind, but EA are betting that they’ll make enough money from people who aren’t that they’ll cover the development costs and make a nice whack of profit on top. And I think that sort of blatantly cynical business model is worth commenting on, worth reading about.

    • Jeremy says:

      Yeah, I think we would have a right to be cynical about paying $100 for a few potions and bombs. I actually thought this was going to be a joke post at first, and that those images were edited or something!

      It doesn’t really matter if it’s meant for a casual crowd, or that you can just wait and not pay money to continue playing, but the fact that those options are there and so incredibly overpriced is insulting. Many games have been built around waiting as a mechanic (Neptune’s Pride, Blight of the Immortals are two good examples) , not as an incentive to spend $100 to be able to continue playing it. That’s where the issue lies in my mind, as a practice, gamers are being punished for not paying to play a free game.

      Imagine watching a movie but only being able to watch 30 minutes of it every 2 hours, unless you paid $5 to watch the next 30 minutes early. Only, if you did that, now you have to wait 4 hours to watch the next 30 minutes, or spend another $5. So, if you wanted to watch a 2 hour movie straight through, you’re adding 20 dollars to the price. Except, this game is charging way more than that.

      It’s wrong.

  17. abhishek says:

    Well I played the game. I don’t play Facebook games at all, but for some reason I wanted the Dragon Age 2 unlocks that this one gives. It held my attention for about a day and a half which was the amount of time it took me to unlock all the items. No real money spent, just a bookmark clicked whenever I see it. Not too bad.

  18. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    i was just complaining to myself about this pile of crap, it’s basically the first and last facebook game i will ever play.

    It confirms every inch of snobbery i have against browser games, as a “real programmer” i struggle at the best of times to have any respect for the people who make these things, asking me to applaud them is like watching Gorden Ramseys Kitchen Nightmares & now even more so than ever, it’s all a huge shame because the last EA2D dragon age game almost made me change my mind about web games.

    • Julius says:

      Not all social games are crap. Fantasy University is pretty funny. Ravenwood Fair, John Romero’s game, is arguably more fun than Daikatana. Echo Bazaar is spooky and really well written. It’s the Zynga clones that make everything else look bad.

    • Ateius says:

      “Arguably more fun than Daikatana” isn’t very high praise. XD

  19. Darthus says:

    Alec… I’m sure you’re a very avid gamer and so I respect your opinion, but it seems like your general distate for most things Dragon Age 2 is largely personal. I’m going to leave aside your first post and address this one. You say you’ve never really been into Facebook games. Well… welcome, this is a Facebook game. There as a relatively deep Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood game that followed a similar structure. Facebook games are designed to be played in small doses, bringing you back to Facebook and making you come to their game every time you visit. It means they get more ad hits and Facebook gets more visits. They don’t want you to sit there and play for 4 hours. So, they charge you if you want to do so. The core method of microtransactions is, play a little for free, then we charge you, or you can come back and play later. It doesn’t require a huge post to bemoan that point. That is the business model. This is an optional diversive adjunct to the game, though yes, deeper than most. I played for 5 minutes, thought it was cool that I got a couple unlocks in game and decided I would never give them cash for “crowns”, but don’t begrudge them asking.

    • Alec Meer says:

      John Walker wrote the other post, silly. I’ve not played/written about/formed any opinion of DA2 yet.

    • Darthus says:

      My bad, I should have checked that first. I guess I consider you all a hive mind. =) Well then, I rescind some of my commentary about your opinions about DA2 and just consider you ill informed about the standard business practices of Facebook gaming. I think it was your “this has been a bad week for DA2″ that threw me off.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Of course! Feeling that that business model goes awry in this particular context is exactly the same as being ill-informed about it!

      I do apologise.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      ^^ I think that was sarcasm…

    • Premium User Badge

      Flimgoblin says:

      Just because some practices are standard doesn’t mean they don’t suck.

      A good F2P game should be able to be experienced fully without spending a penny – just lets you skip ahead and buy your way to being prestigious.

      See League of Legends for example.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Flimgoblin
      And that’s exactly what you can do. There really is no necessity despite Alec’s claims to the contrary to buy crowns at all. Buying crowns merely speeds things up for you and allows you a few extra options (none of which are 100% essential in order to play the game).

  20. db1331 says:

    You shouldn’t even acknowledge that garbage like this exists, let alone actually contribute to its playtime.

  21. Julius says:

    My God, that’s ugly. Did Bioware have any input at all?

  22. Mr_Hands says:

    The previous incarnation of Dragon Age: Legends wasn’t, if I recall, microtransactioned up the yinyang. I think the upsetting part is that the unlockable items were pretty decent, which was a little upsetting when the random loot drops in DA:O were somewhat lacking. It’d be like if Diablo took most of the item rarities above uncommon, and sold them off to marketing departments.

    I’ve thankfully avoided the siren’s call of paying for crowns, but I’m awfully negligent towards this kind of thing. When I remember, I tell my workers to build potions/bombs/kits until I have enough to spam them nearly every turn.

    Ultimately, though, I’m only in it for Dragon Age II unlocks, which is only a going interest as long as I’m playing that game.

    • Mr_Hands says:

      Particularly crazy, though, is that there’s some creepy dialogue going on between Dragon Age II and Dragon Age Legends.

      The account realized I’d purchased/activated the game, and then gave me Hawke as an extra companion. Hawke actually tells you “Thanks for buying Dragon Age II” at one point.

      Also, a package of different armours showed up at my keep, with Mass Effect 2 references and a Jade Empire mask.

      So strange.

      Ultimately, agreed – the gameplay isn’t stupendously fun. The microtransactions are obnoxious and the whole thing has this cloying “proof-of-concept” feel more than an actual game.

    • Premium User Badge

      shoptroll says:

      I think the Jade Empire mask is a gift to anyone who participates in the beta? I seem to recall Bioware/EA2D mentioning this when they announced the closed beta signups.

  23. BobsLawnService says:

    I like to think that this sort of thing can peacefully co-exist with other forms of gaming so at this juncture I’m not too concerned about it. This sort of thing will appeal to certain types and I’m sure there is money to be made. At this point we all have the choice to either partake or not.

    We’re going through something of a golden age of PC gaming with indy, small, mid and large scale studios all releasing great games.

  24. Zepposlav says:

    Kill it with fire. I’m installing BG2 with Throne of Bhaal and user-made addons. Fuck so called “social” money-sucking gaming and fuck “adseverywhere”book.

  25. vimster says:

    There are people out there who only play Facebook games and think this is the norm. As long as these people are playing and paying it’ll never become fair, at least until someone comes up with a winning compromise. Not holding my breath though (damn I’m such a cynic).

  26. .backslash says:

    While being quite bad, Legends is not the horrendous money-grabbing scam Alek is making it out to be. It just follows the standard facebook game model that lets you play for a couple of minutes every 2 hours or so, with the option for paying real money for the MUST HAVE EVERYTHING NOW crowd. It’s a method proven to be quite profitable. And at least it has something resembling real graphics, not just blocks of bland text and slowly filling bars. Besides, it’s rather short. if you ration your time properly you can get all the unlocks in about two days, and that’s pretty much the whole point of playing it.

    That said, Journeys was infinitely better and I would have preferred for EA2D to have continued developing that. And as far as facebook tie-ins go, the Assassin’s Creed one is still probably the best. It’s still meant to be played over in chunks a long period of time, but at least it doesn’t ask for money for anything else and rewards players with some pretty interesting snippets of backstory, which is, at least in my opinion a much better incentive than a bunch of item unlocks.

    • Chesterton says:

      Yeah, I agree with you. Really not as bad as the article above makes out. I log in, play for about 10 minutes a day, play it without paying for anything, and find it enjoyable. Mainly I’m just working towards the DA2 unlocks.

      Journeys was much better though, that is for sure.

  27. Zenicetus says:

    “For a game documenting an epic roleplaying quest to help save humanity from a demonic legion, it’s ludicrous to break the fourth wall by asking that you give real-world money to an out-of-game source.”

    Agreed, but Bioware has already been doing that with add-on weapon packs and armor varieties with Mass Effect. It looks like they’re doing it again with DA2, since there is an obvious hole in the game for changes of outfits for Hawke’s companions. This Facebook thing is atrocious, but the trend is creeping into the AAA titles too. It’s just not as deeply embedded in the main game mechanics (yet).

    I predict that in Dragon Age 3, Hawke (or whoever the protagonist is) will play through the whole game in his underwear, if you don’t cough up extra cash for fancy armor, or get it through cross-title unlocks like this.

  28. Tim James says:

    Why are you guessing at how much you’d spend playing a game like this over the normal course of a few weeks? You’re a games journalist. Take some spare cash from the pot and do a story on it. Grind through it so we don’t have to.

    (I’m assuming you can allocate $100 to stories here and there. If not, uh… sorry, carry on.)

  29. Premium User Badge

    shoptroll says:

    Huh. So they didn’t change the prices on everything after a bunch of beta testers alerted them to the fact that progress required a massive investment in what should be a casual game?

    Played the beta demo for maybe a week when I finished up with my Kingdom of Loathing turns each night. Was not impressed (and good lord was the beta really rough). Will be interesting to see if the DAII unlocks are a big enough carrot to keep this game alive.

    Also, the alt tags are right. The combat is highly uninteresting. Which is sad because DA: Journeys had a lot more going for it in the combat area. This is like a mere shadow of that game, to the point where it’s basically just a game of whichever side has the most HP. There’s not tactics at this game. Strut up to battle, pick your biggest attacks and just fight for attrition.

    EDIT: Will probably take a second look at this (mostly to see if the DA2 unlocks are remotely feasible) but I absolutely refuse to hand them money for it. I feel like this was an absolute waste of the talent at EA2D. Even though Journeys was a similar advert-game, it was at least enjoyable and expanded the lore. A real shame the team is basically 2-3 people who were told to put Journeys on hold and work on this instead.

    • ryth says:

      Don’t worry, at no point do you have to hand over any money.. it simply means you can’t progress as quickly as someone who is silly enough to pay… but you probably know that from the annoying closed beta :)

      Certainly a step down from Journeys (which I quite liked) but not worthy of the vitriol in this article though. I feel like maybe the author has more of a problem with DA2 and/or Facebook rather than this game itself.

    • Premium User Badge

      shoptroll says:

      I’m aware you can cruise through the game on the cheap if you’re patient. That’s what I was doing but it becomes very apparent that you’re not going to get very far fast without friends playing or without sinking some cash. Compare this with, oh say Kingdom of Loathing, where you can feel like you’re making significant progress each day without ever donating money.

      I think it’s more the in-your-face attitude towards money grubbing on display. Also, exorbitantly high prices. The game goes well out of its way to say “hey you can pay us money to overcome whatever ails you”. I don’t know if this is the norm for other Facebook games (admittedly DA:L does make me curious to see how other games handle microtransactions) but I also found this a lot more irritating than other F2P browser games I’ve played.

      It’s painful to know EA prioritized this over finishing Journeys, but unfortunately that’s how business works :(

  30. louche says:

    Since last September, when Facebook shut down on virals, pricing and growing Facebook games has arguably gotten a lot more complicated. It sounds from this like the problem with Dragon Age 2 is that Bioware was trying to use it both as marketing tool and revenue generator in its own right – maybe this is the source of the problem? I’d second the comments above that there are decent FB games out there, which on the time model FB is suited to (i.e., ten minutes every couple of hours) still manage a decent bit of gameplay. Perhaps it’s just not suited so much to combat games, where if fights are broken up by a couple of hours wait, the strategy is just less compelling? Extra Credits did a piece on non-combat gaming a while back and that was all about a Facebook game.
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/2633-Non-Combat-Gaming

  31. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Well said sir.

  32. Gaytard Fondue says:

    No mention of God aka Soren Johnson? Civfanatics will be all over you.

  33. angrycoder says:

    Kind of sad that Soren Johnson went from Civ4 to this.

  34. ryth says:

    Hey Alec, I don’t want to be a curmudgeon but did you really play the game? You can play the entire thing and level and do whatever without ever paying a cent. The crowns are only needed if you don’t want to wait through the cool-down period.
    Sure it’s not the greatest game in the world, but for 5 minutes on a coffee break it’s okay… I just don’t get why you’re so upset about it, to the point that you misrepresent it?

    • sendmark says:

      I think you need to try reading the article, ryth.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      But see, curmudgeons don’t read anything people say.

      Also, HOLY CRAP ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS?!

  35. Frye2k11 says:

    Haha i have millions at Facebook’s Zynga poker. I enjoy it a lot actually. Its the best online poker site I found. Plus my friends play it and not just the guys this time. How does its existence become something negative?

    I find it adds to the game if I take someone’s virtual money and I know he paid for it :D

    I never bought a virtual item in my life unless the monthly fee for a WoW account is considered paying for a virtual item. Just don’t be the guy that pays (in fact look down on him and mock him as much as possible while not getting yourself banned) and don’t play the games where paying extra gives an unfair advantage. Meaning almost all of them.

  36. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    Euh, I thought this was supposed to be a free game to get us warmed up to the real thing. I remember spending some time with a free flash game for the Stronghold games, that was fun.

    As usual, we can vote with our wallet. And mine will stay closed for both DA2 & this minigame.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gabbo says:

      That’s basically how I’m looking at this situation as well, though I never had any desire for spending more time on Facebook (let alone money) or acquiring DA2.

  37. Deano2099 says:

    Was actually going to try this, but it seems everyone is only playing it for the DA2 unlocks. Which I don’t even want as it’ll unbalance the game.

  38. bhlaab says:

    I remember the first Dragon Age browser game was actually a decent HoMM clone that ended up being far better than the actual DA:O

  39. Jad says:

    For a game documenting an epic roleplaying quest to help save humanity from a demonic legion, it’s ludicrous to break the fourth wall by asking that you give real-world money to an out-of-game source.

    Certainly true. However, this reminds me how it’s also often weird and off-putting in many cases when you’re required to spend in-game money to save humanity from ultimate evil.

    Some games give good excuses for this: you may be saving the world in secret, or people might not trust you, etc. But other times the story will make it very clear that your actions are all that is keeping a town from total destruction and everyone knows this, but the shopkeeper still gouges you on vital items.

    Fifty gold for a health potion for my companion at death’s door with 1 HP? What price do you expect the orcs to pay when they come sweeping into your village?

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      Run. But can he run from his family’s starvation caused by greedy heroes demanding unreasonable discounts on very expensive stock? NO HE CANNOT.

  40. Mitza says:

    I hope it fails. BUT not because Facebook games are an abomination and they shouldn’t exist. On the contrary. I believe Facebook is a great platform for gaming, one that can have a huge impact on our medium, if used the right way.

    No, I hope it fails because Facebook games can be (and actually are) better than this. I’m a little bit sad that a combination of a good IP + some big name developers (Soren Johnson) could produce a game that seems to understand so little of what makes a good social game.

    I know that Facebook games are seen only from the perspective of the huge amount of money they can squeeze from their players, but I truly believe that all the successful Facebook games also have a good gaming core.

    A good Facebook game offers the player a basic, correct and enjoyable core experience, while charging for faster advancement, more play time or some niche features. But they DON’T stop the player from actually enjoying the game. Unfortunately that’s what Legends does: it puts a stop to the player’s experience waaay too soon, and asks him money to keep accessing the core of the game. That’s stupid. They basically ask the player to pay without providing a compelling initial experience.
    Take a look at CityVille. It’s successful exactly because it allows the player to enjoy the core of the game for a long period of time, and allowing for a varied experience. If you want to play over that limit, you can pay, but you don’t feel blocked by the game itself. Legends doesn’t do that. It offers only 2 gameplay variations (fighting and castle “management”) and keeps repeating that for a few minutes after which, surprise, there’s nothing else to do, unless you pay.

    I hope it fails because it will show developers that they need to step up their game and it will help advance Facebook gaming in general. But if it succeeds, it will be a sign that you don’t need quality, just add a “give me your money and you can have you game back” ransom type of game mechanic.

  41. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    The free one which preceded DA:O was decent for what it was (although it wasn’t much).. but charging for it?

  42. Veracity says:

    Legends is a modern reworking of the old coin-op side-scrolling beat ‘em/shoot ‘em ups. It’s just there to take money off you

    Bah. I think Dragon Age: Origins is Bioware’s best product, and R-Type is provably (on an etch-a-sketch) 23.97 times the game Origins could dream of being. I’ll just assume you meant those other, bad coin-ops. Actually, this does make me think a bit of Gauntlet. Not sure why, but the way you directly bought ever-ticking-down hit points in that seemed offensive to me in a way plain old credits didn’t.

  43. Dominic White says:

    “Legends is a modern reworking of the old coin-op side-scrolling beat ‘em/shoot ‘em ups. It’s just there to take money off you”

    Nah, they were actually good games, at least once companies like Midway got forced out of the arcade industry. Every single one of Capcoms shooters and brawlers were entirely completable on a single credit if you knew what you were doing. Damn fine games.

  44. Freud says:

    At first it seemed like a standard fantasy fare, until I realized the knight was wielding a mace-penis in the first screenshot.

  45. DaFishes says:

    Someone doesn’t know how to play Facebook games without paying for them or even bothering to look at the cash shop. Tune it out like you tune out TV commercials.

  46. Pixelante says:

    “Yes, there is always the option to come back in a few hours, as energy and follower-summoning recharges, but if you don’t pay you’ll only squeeze about ten minutes more out of every new session. Who’s really going to play it that way? They’ll get so little out of it.”

    Um, pretty much everyone? Because that is the way it’s intended to be played?

    This whole article can be summed up as: “I hate games that only take a few minutes, so I hate this game that only takes a few minutes”. Hey it’s your opinion, that’s cool, but what was the point of the review again? To tell people who like brief now-and-then games that you hate the things they like?

    I’m pretty happy with Legends. After all, I’ve got Dragon Age 2 to play for hours at a time. Makes for a nice complement.

  47. Cosmo Dium says:

    shame on Soren Johnson

  48. vexis58 says:

    I had pretty much the same reaction when Oregon Trail came out for Facebook last month. It was designed in such a way that you couldn’t play for more than a few minutes every hour. If you’re having fun and want to keep playing for a few more minutes, you’re utterly prevented from doing so without spending real money.

    This is why I don’t play Facebook games. I have yet to find one that has any actual gameplay, one that isn’t saddled with some kind of limiting factor that punishes you for having fun. If I’m having fun, I want to keep playing. I don’t know why so many millions of people are obsessed with games that tell them “no, you can’t play any more right now.”

    I don’t mind free-to-play games as long as it’s actually *possible* to play them as much as I want to, when I want to, without spending money. As long as the cash shop keeps to things that are either just to dress up my character or can be obtained in-game through non-cash shop means, I’ll be happy. I’ll spend money on cool-looking fashion outfits or mounts, or for convenience items, as long as the game doesn’t drive me away with its utter dependency on its cash shop first.

    Someone needs to develop a facebook game that has actual gameplay. The current state of facebook gaming makes me more and more sad every time a new game is released.

  49. bascule42 says:

    I just had a little go at this. I died a little. Not on the game, part of my soul left me. I’d better be careful from now on. There isn’t much left.

  50. edit says:

    I have no trouble at all staying clear of this worthless donate-button disguised as a game. I don’t even have trouble avoiding the slightly less awful but still very disappointing DLC nonsense and DA2 itself. I just hope too many TV-hypnotized zombie facebookers don’t willingly feed this monster or else the future of our industry is going to be comprised of a significant amount of soulless, gag-inducing hyper-capitalist shite.