Discover more from Hit Points by Nathan Brown
#192: Doom mongers
(Working title: Shitey Doom.)
My eldest wants to make games when he grows up. Naturally, I fully support this endeavour — someone is going to have to keep me in craft beer and cardigans in my old age, after all — though I am less supportive of his pledge to employ me as a consultant on every one of his projects. Our relationship is fraught enough, I think; I am not sure it will survive too much of Hit Points’ famously stern consulto-gaze, which only grows more withering the further I slip into middle age.
That conversation is years away, thankfully, though in the short term there are plenty of roadblocks for us to navigate on his path to gamedev superstardom. The main one, understandably given he is all of nine years old, is a lack of originality. He will play Slay The Spire (his father’s son!) then proudly tell me he’s had an idea for a new game that is just like Slay The Spire but with, like, robots, or zombies. It’s Super Mario Odyssey, but there’s a jetpack. It’s Pokémon except he doesn’t spend every waking hour talking about it. Okay, so the first two are games I would absolutely play, and I made up the third one in the faint hope of him shutting up about Pokémon at some point. But, as I have repeatedly told him with my trademark infinite patience, the best games are original. They have ideas all their own, and if the kid wants to be the next Miyamoto he’s going to need to be a bit more creative.
Or, I suppose, he could just go and make mobile games.
Last month heralded the launch of Mighty Doom, a Bethesda-published smartphone spin-off that reimagines the lightning-paced FPS as a snappy, autofiring thirdperson dungeon crawler. I looked at the screenshots on the App Store page and thought, huh, this looks familiar. Have I played this before? I downloaded it and within seconds realised that, yes, I have absolutely played this before, though this has different graphics and a different name and is made by a completely different company. Mighty Doom, dear reader, is a clone — and a particularly brazen one at that.
This is Mighty Doom, a 2023 mobile dungeon-crawler published by Bethesda:
And this is Archero, a 2019 mobile dungeon-crawler published by Habby:
I have played quite a bit of Archero. It was one of my favourite lockdown-era mobile distractions, and like most free-to-play success stories it is very generous and accommodating in its early hours before the grind sets in. I dropped off once it became apparent that progressing any further would either mean playing it around the clock, or getting my wallet out; such tends to be the way of these things. The more of them I play — and I do play quite a few — the better I get at feeling out that balance, and knowing when it’s time to stop playing.
So I feel pretty confident in saying that Mighty Doom is a clone of Archero. Mechnically it is the same game, a dungeon crawler where you move manually and shoot automatically. Enemies drop XP when they die, you hoover it all up when you clear a room, and you’re given a choice of three abilities when you get enough XP for a level up. Mighty Doom offers a handful of tweaks and additions to the template that, for my money, make for a worse game. Doomguy can shoot while moving; the player-character in Archero can only fire when standing still, which adds a pleasant risk/reward element to the action. Mighty Doom also adds a couple of cooldown-managed special attacks that turn a one-thumb game into a two-thumb one; there’s also a glory-kill healing system that procs at random, and suspiciously rarely when you actually need it.
So, sure, there’s perhaps just about enough that’s distinct in Mighty Doom for Bethesda to claim that it has not simply looked at Archero and gone, yep, let’s do that. When we step outside of the dungeons, however, that argument falls flat on its backside. The two games’ loot systems are effectively identical. Character progression too. In fact I cannot find a single extrinsic monetisation, progression or retention system in Mighty Doom that has not been brought over from Archero wholesale. Even the menus are the same. Look! I took screenshots!
I should probably note at this point that Mighty Doom was in soft-launch beta for almost two years. It takes a long time, I guess, to copy something so accurately as this.
I should wring my hands at this. I should clutch my pearls, proclaim the sky to be falling, lament the death of this and that. Honestly, though, I think it’s bloody hilarious. If you’ve been reading Hit Points for a while, the names Habby and Archero may be familiar to you, because both have featured in these pages before. Habby is the publisher of Survivor.io, a mobile game on which Hit Points poured a fair bit of scorn last September because it was a shockingly cynical fast-follow clone of Vampire Survivors. So to see Habby’s success appropriated in this way is, while obviously a depressing symbol of the state of etc and so on, really quite perfect. The cloner has become the clonee! This is the mobile-gaming food chain in action, baby!
It is even funnier given the mobile-gaming spin Microsoft has belatedly sought to put on its purchase of Activision Blizzard. The deal is not about COD, the Xbox maker has repeatedly told regulators; it’s about building an Xbox app store for mobile, challenging the hegemony of Apple and Google. Why, gang? So you can clone all the big App Store hits and keep 100% of the revenue, rather than just 70% of it? Is that what we’re fighting for here?
I mean, I agree it’s a bit rum that Apple and Google get to slice 30% off the top of every transaction that flows through their app stores. I agree that they don’t do anywhere near enough to actually earn that money, and that their take makes it even harder for innovation to flourish on a platform where success is already vanishingly hard to find. But I do not think a moneyed Microsoft subsidiary straight-up cloning an existing hit and slapping some respectable branding on it is a particularly convincing pitch for a disruptive thirdparty app store owned and operated by Microsoft. In this instance I think we should think of Apple and Google’s slice of Mighty Doom’s revenue as a sort of embarrassment tax.
Mobile gaming has a pretty bad rep among the cognoscenti, and sure, much of it is well earned. It has had a clear detrimental effect on how games are monetised and designed, and the sickness has spread from the confines of the mobile app stores to console and PC games, from free-to-play to premium, and even from games to other industries. But there’s some cracking stuff to be found out there if you’re willing to dig a bit, or are able to look past the craven monetisation tactics employed by so many of these things and look at the actual games beneath them. Most people, even people that think and say mobile is bad, have at least one game they will go to bat for. Oh I hate mobile games, they will say, but I love Pokémon Go, or Clash Royale, or whatever. There’s almost always one.
It is in my instinct to point this out to people from time to time, to mount a defence of mobile games while acknowledging their many sins. But god, stuff like Mighty Doom really doesn’t help the cause. It is about as pure an expression of the money-grubbing cynicism that permeates the app stores as you could ever hope to find. I sincerely hope it’s not the game Todd Howard was hyping up in interviews a few months back, but I rather fear it is. “We have a new mobile game that we’re working on that we haven’t announced yet that I’m in love with,” he said. New? Come off it. Todd, if you’re reading this, I’ve got a nine-year-old here with some game ideas that are going to absolutely knock your socks off.
It’s all gone a bit quiet in the Hit Points inbox of late, and I realise that’s my fault — the schedule’s been a bit flakey, hasn’t it. I will work on putting that right; in the meantime, a reminder that you can leave a comment, hop in the Discord, or reply to this here email to have your say on today’s edition, or indeed anything else. Thanking you kindly.
Players of dino-survival game Ark are up in arms after developer Studio Wildcard announced a delay to Ark 2, and simultaneously said it will be shutting down the official servers for the original Ark later this year. The game is being replaced by a remaster that players will have to buy separately; progress won’t transfer either, so they’ll have to start over from scratch. Absolute madness, this, and I give it two weeks tops before it is humbly walked back on.
There’s been some confusion this week about Quantum Break, after Remedy’s misfiring 2016 game/TV show hybrid appeared on a list of titles leaving Game Pass. Eyebrows were raised at an Xbox exclusive, published by Microsoft, departing the service; Remedy has explained that it’s only leaving temporarily while some expiring licences are renewed, and will be back in the line-up once new contracts are in place. That’s fine, then. As you were.
Activision Blizzard has settled a lawsuit brought by the US Justice Department over alleged antitrust violations in its Overwatch and Call Of Duty esports leagues. The lawsuit took issue with a “competitive balance tax” Activision threatened to levy on any team that exceeded a salary threshold, effectively capping players’ potential earnings across the league, and therefore across the entire esport.
Savvy Gaming Group, the gamewashing arm of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, says it has $38bn to invest around the global game industry. Please look forward to it.
Asus has unveiled a handheld PC, the ROG Ally. With a seven-inch, 1080p, 120Hz screen, Windows 11 support and some faintly embarrassing RGB nonsense on board, it’s clearly not going to compete with Steam Deck on price, though Asus has apparently said it will be “very competitive.” We’ll see.
The Super Mario Bros Movie has not reviewed well, but then it was never really going to and we’re all taking the kids to see it anyway, aren’t we. I am sure that, in the pantheon of absolute shite I have watched over the years in the name of fatherhood, it is not all that bad.
Fancy an unspeakably vile Death Stranding tracksuit? Yours for £245. Don’t even get me started on that blazer, sheesh.
There we go! I hope you enjoyed all that.
Before I go, a quick programming note. Last week I told paid subscribers that Hit Points would be taking a quick break next week; since then I have realised I could do with a slightly longer hiatus than that. To be perfectly honest I am exhausted, struggling for inspiration and increasingly worn down, and need to recharge these old batteries and focus on myself for a bit. Hit Points will be back in paid subscriber inboxes tomorrow, and will then be taking two weeks off, returning the week of April 24. See you then!