There’s a really fun mobile game I’ve been playing recently: AdVenture Capitalist.
A shameless Cookie Clicker ripoff (sorry in advance if that’s the first time you’ve seen that – there goes all your free time), the premise is simple: buy things that make you money so you can buy more things. It’s good fun, and it runs even when you’re not playing, so you can dip into it whenever.
The really clever bit is that you can do certain things in-game to accelerate your profits. There’s the obligatory in-app purchases of course. But you can also choose to speed things up by watching an ad in the app. This is the first example I’d seen of this, though it’s becoming more commonplace. It’s advertising, but it’s non-intrusive and totally opt-in. So it’s ok.
The ads themselves are mostly for other mobile apps you might be interested in; Candy Crush Saga and that kind of thing. And of course there’s the omnipresent Game of War.
Yes, it’s kind of a mashup of lots of things you’ve probably heard of:
- Game of Thrones
- Total War
- Dragon Age
- Fire Emblem
It feels like every element of the name itself is meant to trigger some glimmer of recognition in a gamer’s mind. It’s not something you’ve seen before, but it sounds like things you like – and so you’re intrigued.
What a shame then, that the game is utterly terrible and awful.
Check out this ad for it:
Yes, that is Kate Upton for some reason. Anyway, it looks like a load of fun right? Action! Adventure! Dragons! Game of Thrones-style gratuitous body shots!
This is what it actually looks like in-game:
Wow, it’s a horrible mess! What happened to the great CGI and action? Is that meant to be Kate Upton in the top left? Why am I suddenly playing a bog standard isometric city builder?
Now don’t get me wrong. I love isometric city builders. I have put countless hours into Zeus: Master of Olympus (what a game!). And it’s my love for them that drives me to hate Game of War so.
I mean, the very idea of shoving a city builder into a mobile device is pretty horrible. As with all city builders, Game of War has lots of things you can tinker around with. Managing resources, assigning workers, forging alliances – all those lovely things. They’re just not meant for a mobile screen.
In the above screenshot for instance you’ve got about 20 things to press. It’s just horribly claustrophobic. And far too much screen real estate is taken up by something called GOLD. What could that be?
Of course, it’s the horrible in-game currency isn’t it? I mean, Kate Upton doesn’t just appear in mobile gaming ads for the fun of it. It’s a free game, but you’ve gotta pay up somehow.
Again, I’ve got nothing against in-game payments per se. There’s a great game out right now called Alphabear – a cutsie word game with bears – that features HONEY as the in-game currency. Playing puzzles costs honey, and as a free user you only get a certain amount of honey at once. But, for a one-off fee you can purchase INFINITE HONEY and play as much as you like. That’s cool, I like it. The game is great fun, and I’m more than happy to pay the £2.50 or whatever just to support the developers. Would I have paid the £2.50 up-front without trying the game out first? Probably not. There you go then, the model works and can be used for good.
But Game of War isn’t good.
Game of War is a competitive game. It features MMO-type gameplay elements, most notably the fact that you’re playing alongside other players. And, as the name suggests, you’re free to ally with them – or start a war. Now here’s the rub: in a game where you can pay money for more resources, and wars are fought with resources, guess what the end result is.
The worst three words in gaming: Pay to win.
As the recent Payday 2 controversy demonstrated: gamers hate Pay to win. Either your game is Free To Play (Team Fortress 2), or Pay to Play from the outset (Battlefront, Call of Duty). Pay to win is neither of these, and creates two tiers of players: the free players, and the paid players. And if you’re not paying, you’re at a disadvantage.
As one Forbes writer put it, “Game of War is the most over-the-top cash grab I’ve ever seen.”
So it’s not fun. I can’t even imagine it’s fun for the folks who are paying. What are they getting out of it? The thrill of ruining some poor sap’s fun? There’s no real appeal to getting involved whatsoever. So don’t even start.
So to recap:
- Terrible game design and gameplay (I uninstalled after about 5 minutes of trying to figure out the mind-boggling user interface).
- Trite, sexist advertising.
- The least original name for anything ever.
- Cynical, greed-fuelled pay to win mechanics that suck any joy out of anything whatsoever.
This all leads me to my conclusion that Game of War is the worst game on the app store. Which is weird, as it has four stars currently on Google Play. I don’t know why. I think this review (from the dead Irish novelist James Joyce???) puts it perfectly:
I’m sure there’s worse games out there. But I’m going for an attention-grabbing headline obviously.