Players of Kabam’s Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon mobile strategy game have organized a boycott to protest a recent change to the free-to-play game that they feel forces them to pay more money.
Dragons of Atlantis is one of a number of successful free-to-play, hardcore, strategy game franchises that have made Kabam a big player in digital games. It has generated more than $100 million in revenue and is one of the core properties that helped Kabam reach a valuation above $1 billion in a recent funding round that included China’s Alibaba. Kabam says more than 15 million people have played the game.
The revolt echoes a similar protest that took place in the web-based Facebook sister game, Dragons of Atlantis, last September. Both player rebellions show some of the consequences of running an always-connected free-to-play game — and changing the rules during the life cycle of the game. Such games drove Kabam to $360 million last year, and the company expects to hit $500 million this year.
In these games, 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 once again a revolt among a relatively small but vocal group of players.
VentureBeat is studying mobile app analytics.
Fill out our survey, and you’ll get access to all the data.
The delicate balancing act for the company is that it has to make sure that it makes a profit from the game. That’s not easy in a free-to-play title, where perhaps 10 percent of all players spend money. Kabam can’t cater to the whims of every paying player at the expense of serving the majority of players. But since the profits are so concentrated among the hardcore players, Kabam has to listen whenever they have a complaint. As games get older, companies have to decide whether the cost of serving a diminishing number of players is worth it or if a game should be shut down.
By staging a revolt, players may show their clout, particularly if they are big paying customers or “whales, in the parlance of free-to-play games. On the other hand, if the players are too ornery, a company could respond by shutting down a game prematurely.
Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon 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 in the beginning and days later on. Players collect resources such as metal and wood to purchase upgrades or build troops.
Player can buy a virtual currency, or rubies, with real money to reduce build times. But Kabam made changes to the currency in version 4 of the game, which was released on Aug. 21. That stirred the player revolt.
Brad Mullins, who goes by the name ” ɹoɹɹǝ⊥” in the realm of Merrimack in the game, said, players “are in awe and utter disgust after Kabam digs even deeper into gamer’s pockets with their v4.0 update. Players from across all realms have joined a massive organizational effort and have agreed to spend no money for at least 60 days or longer if their demands are not met.”
“On Thursday Kabam released its fourth major update with new content for Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon since the game was launched in August 2013,” said Steve Swasey, a Kabam spokesman, in a statement. “Some players have voiced concerns over some of the costs associated with the new content but a vast majority of the millions of players who have downloaded the game have no concerns. Kabam respects the views of all of its players, and we will continue to engage with players and review their feedback on our forums.”
The Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon game is ranked No. 34 in U.S. strategy games on the Apple iTunes App Store, but it is No. 16 in the rankings of top-grossing strategy games. That sort of pattern is typical for Kabam games.
As summarized in a post on Friday on the Dragons of Atlantis University site, which is not affiliated with Kabam, the players appreciated an improvement in visuals with the last update in version 4. A player who goes by the name Che Cortez wrote, “The biggest outrage is Kabam making the newest feature another one of their infamous money sink holes.”
Che Cortez added, “The Armory was first, a place were players could upgrade their units using stones to give an advantage on the battlefield. But with such a large amount of stones required at the higher levels and farming stones capped at 15 a day, players who didn’t spend money couldn’t compete. The players with the biggest wallet has the advantage. Kabam needed to further their profits and so increased the max amount of levels, however the amount of stones required are enormous, and after a month of release I am yet to see anyone with maxed leveled troops, as the costs to level up are getting close to $1,000 plus.”
And Che Cortez continued, “Generals was the next money grab, 200 rubies for a roll of the die. The generals added a bit of variety and complemented the arena and quickly becoming another way to assert your dominance in the realm . However leveling the Generals was beyond a pain, with only 8 General tokens given out each day, with a maxed Officer Quarters, if you had managed to have some devils luck and obtained a epic or legendary General it would still take months of logging in each day to level it up, without using rubies it would take over a year to max one this way.”
The post went on to explain how leveling up a Dragon by spending money on Mutton has become four times more expensive, forcing players to spend real money on the virtual currency “rubies” in order to stay competitive. There isn’t an option to effectively obtain Mutton in another way.
Che Cortez called for a boycott, saying, “The player base endured all this. But Kabam has finally gone to far. And the players are tolerating it no longer!”
The post called for the formation of a group dubbed DoA (short for Dragons of Atlantis) Gamers. The group had 150 players from 22 realms within 24 hours of the update, and players say the group is spreading. The post claimed that more than 300 people have joined the boycott, which calls for spending no money on Rubies for the next 60 days, through Oct. 22.
“The intention is to unite the player base and become the voice of the DoA players who have been repeatedly back-handed in the face with Kabam’s, dirty, evil, scheming tactics to alleviate players of their hard-earned cash,” the post said.
In the past, player groups have accused Kabam of creating “beta players” in player-versus-player Dragon battle arenas. These are nearly invincible players who can beat other players, and so motivate real human players to spend money in the game. Kabam has denied doing this kind of thing in the past. But the allegations have resurfaced in the latest Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon boycott.
“They make it impossible to play the game for free to actually be competitive,” said player Jack Stevenson, who goes by “Jack Bauer” in the realm of Merrimack (and four other realms). “They are making players spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars to upgrade troops, and now the new Dragons update has changes the cost of upgrading.”
In the past, Stevenson said it took resources and time to achieve upgrades, but now the cost of upgrading requires money, or “pay to play.” Stevenson said he has already paid thousands of dollars for Rubies in the game and has done so happily.
He said, “I was an avid console gamer until I found this game, and have spent more in this year playing then I have ever spent on any console games or systems in my 20-plus years of gaming.”
“The entire realm of Merrimack is going on a 60-day no-Ruby-purchase strike,” Stevenson said. “And it is currently spreading like wild fire to other realms. They refuse to listen to the players that make the game possible and profitable, and this could be the finally straw with us as loyal players and customers.”
Isaac Blunck, another player and an Oregon resident, said he has spent about $1,500 in the game.
I really love the game, but these recent updates are just plain B.S.,” he wrote in an email. “It is just outright outrageous.”
Meanwhile, Joshua Ryan Bass, a private military security soldier in real life in Monroe, La., said he has been playing for almost a year as “Kaeros” in Merrimack and four other realms. In that time, he has spent hundreds of dollars on Rubies in the game. But even as he grows his city, he feels like Kabam continuously introduces new things that force players to spend money on the game in order to compete.
“There are people in my realm with almost 200 million power and I know of another player in a different realm with over 1 billion power because they can afford to buy thousands of dollars worth of Rubies,” Bass said. “This makes the game uncompetitive for the average player. Realms are dominated by those with more money, but with the latest 4.0 update, they have introduced a system that forces you to spend so much money that even those players are angry.”