2014 columns, Pop Culture

The mobile gaming hierarchy

by Julia Tulloh , April 30, 2014Leave a comment

Dungeon Keeper Screenshot


It’s common, these days, to look over someone’s shoulder on the train and see their fingers swiping lollies or jewels or farm animals around their phone screen. And with no initial cost to download games like Candy Crush, Bejeweled Blitz and Farmville, why wouldn’t you fill your spare time with them? Catching the bus (or going to the loo, or sitting at work with your phone hidden surreptitiously beneath your desk) has never been so all consuming.

There is a downside, though, to the apparently cost-free goodness (you know, apart from the shame of no longer being able focus on actual work). Most of these game apps rake in profits by charging users real money to speed up game progression. In Bejeweled Blitz and its variants, the in-app purchase takes the form of coins, which allow the player to access booster gems more quickly. Game developer King Digital Entertainment is renowned for the huge profits made from the phenomenally popular Candy Crush Saga (and its sister sagas – Pet Rescue Saga, Farm Heroes Saga, Papa Pear Saga, etc.) in which extra boosts and lives can be purchased in lieu of waiting for new lives to replenish.

Gaming purists tend to dislike these sorts of ‘Freemium’ games that are loaded with purchase prompts for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the integrity of a game is compromised because players depend on money, rather than skill, to advance the game. Anyone can get ahead if they’re willing to pay, which undermines the strategic skills that serious gamers have spent time (perhaps several years) working to perfect. But this is only half the problem. If games companies focus too much on integrating money-making mechanisms into their games, the nature of the game itself suffers – unless you pay, it becomes almost impossible to progress in the game within a reasonable time frame.

While the first part of the above argument is a little black and white (it assumes that ‘serious’ gamers never get caught in pay-to-win scenarios, and that casual gamers are more easily manipulable), it’s certainly true that some games resemble online stores rather than actual games. I had this experience recently trying to play the mobile release of Dungeon Keeper, a challenging PC strategy game originally released in the late 1990s. The original version garnered a cult following (including myself), so the mobile version was widely anticipated: it was also met with almost universal outrage. Actions that took a few seconds in the original game (such as building a library for your warlocks) took literally hours in the mobile app, and speech bubbles kept appearing with messages like ‘Who says money can’t buy time?’ blatantly encouraging players to spend money to speed up the game. I deleted the app the day after I downloaded it, simply because it was so boring and I refused to pay for it.

Games writer Simon Sage argues that core gamers should get over their snobbery and accept Dungeon Keeper Mobile for what it is – a pay-to-win game for casual gamers who, on average, spend less than three minutes on each individual gaming session. However, not all Freemium games are as shamelessly mercenary as Dungeon Keeper Mobile: the two big games from Supercell, Clash of Clans and Hay Day, do contain in-app purchases, but can also be played for hours on end without spending anything.

There seems to be a hierarchy of game quality, even in the Freemium genre – and so despite core gamers’ occasional disdain for casual gamers, they’re perhaps right in defending the integrity of gaming in order to protect both the medium (and people’s wallets) from being exploited.

Julia Tulloh is a freelance writer in Melbourne and is working on a PhD about Cormac McCarthy’s fiction. She tweets at @jtul and blogs at juliatulloh.com.

ACO logo


Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their September picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »


Chris Somerville

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Chris Somerville defends Heat and Light

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Author Chris Somerville spoke in praise of Ellen van Neerven’s debut work of fiction, Heat and Light. Read more »


Elizabeth Flux

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Elizabeth Flux defends In the Quiet

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Writer and Voiceworks editor Elizabeth Flux spoke in praise of Eliza Henry-Jones’ debut novel, In the Quiet. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Girl Gang: The value of female friendship

For two years I was the only girl in my class, along with four boys. Perhaps this would have been some kind of fantastic Lynx-filled utopia for a boy-crazy pre-teen girl, but for someone who was just beginning to figure out that she didn’t like boys in the same way other girls seemed to, it wasn’t what you could call ideal. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Written On the Body: Fat women and public shaming

The policing and subsequent shaming of women’s bodies is not unique to famous women. It happens to all women. Feeling entitled to denigrate fat bodies, and fat women’s bodies in particular, is one of the last bastions of socially acceptable discrimination. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »


Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Straight White Men - Public Theatre - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Jane Howard

Unbearable Whiteness: Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men

Though I am delighted to see Young Jean Lee gain traction in Australia, a work by playwright who is a woman of colour should not be such a rare occurrence; nor should this only come in the form of a play that blends effortlessly into the fabric of the work that is programmed around it. Read more »


Jane Howard

Putting Words In People’s Mouths: Performing the unseen, speaking the unknown

‘Do you ever get the feeling someone is putting words in your mouth?’ A performer asks an audience member in the front row. ‘Say yes.’
‘Yes,’ comes the reply.
This theme ran through multiple shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year, where occasionally audience members, but more often performers, were asked to perform scripts sight unseen. Read more »


Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »