Dragons of Atlantis is one of a number of successful free-to-play, hardcore, browser-based social games that have made Kabam a big player in the social gaming world. It has generated more than $100 million in revenue and is one of the core properties that helped Kabam reach a valuation of $700 million in a recent secondary offering.
The revolt shows one of the consequences of running an always-connected free-to-play game. Players join the game and spend money in it based on the pitch the company makes at the outset. But sometimes the company makes changes to the game in order to optimize it for both fairness and monetization. In this case, the result was a revolt among a relatively small but vocal group of players. Kabam says it was trying to curtail the use of unfair advantages by some players.
Dragons of Atlantis is a strategy game in which players can build a city, train armies, join clans, and then wage war against rival clans. Players can upgrade one building, which can take a few seconds early on and days later on. Players collect resources such as metal and wood to purchase upgrades or build troops. The game also has a resource known as Blue Energy, which can be earned or purchased in the game. It can be used to revive troops, summon dragons, and train elite troops. Players can farm the resource through the use of Reaping Stones, but Blue Energy can’t be obtained from attacking other players.
Player can buy a virtual currency, or rubies, with real money to reduce build times. But Kabam made several changes to the 4-year-old game that stirred the player revolt.
“Kabam has switched around their operational mode to promote power gains and not battle, taking away the incentive to actually battle and providing incentive to gain power through competitions,” said a letter distributed by the group to Kabam followers such as investors. “While we can see from a business standpoint why they would do this, as consumers, we are fed up. Kabam is no longer promoting free-to-play games. In fact, they are now making it next to impossible for any player who does not purchase online currency to grow at all.”
Andrea Richards, a protester and an administrator of the player’s group Facebook page, said she was banned for inciting a player boycott. Andrew Veen, lead advocate for the group, said it has more than 3,300 Dragons of Atlantis players. He has played the game for more than 18 months and has more than 400 million power in it. (Kabam says it has not made significant changes to Blue Energy).
“The problem with Blue Energy is not its rarity, but that ‘free-to-play’ gamers rapidly run out of it or have insufficient stockpiles of it such that they are barred and prohibited from advancing in the game,” Veen said. “On the other hand, ‘pay-to-play’ gamers have access to unlimited supplies of it in the shop and can never run out of it. ”
The changes affect Blue Energy and Enchanted Energy. Kabam placed a cap on in-game Blue Energy, and the players say that was done to push sales of rubies, enabling better monetization in the game. The players say that effectively changes the game into a pay-to-play title. They want the game’s focus on skill to come to the fore again.
Steve Swasey, a spokesman for Kabam, said in a statement, “In Kabam’s Dragons of Atlantis Web game, we discovered a number of players were using a third-party tool to gain unfair advantages over other competing players. This is against our terms of service. To continue to ensure a fair balanced game, we had to address the issue in a way that would prohibit these players from doing this. Dragons of Atlantis continues to be a free-to-play Web game where players can advance in the game over time or through in-app purchases. Since its launch four years ago, Dragons of Atlantis has consistently been one of Kabam’s most popular titles and is one of four Kabam games that has grossed $100 million.”
The players created their own group to “remind Kabam management of their obligations to what they are representing in advertising and promotion of their free-to-play Dragons of Atlantis game.” They’re alleging false advertising.
Players also the game has bugs, support staff isn’t doing its job, and many support requests are being closed without addressing the problems. The Players Counsel of upset gamers has given Kabam until today to show signs that it is attempting to address the issues or face a blackout.
Some players have spoken out against the blackout, saying the Players Counsel has the support of only a small percentage of players. Some say that some players were using third-party software to farm and transport resources like Blue Energy in a way that was not meant to happen in the game.