Mighty DOOMed: How DOOM's Mobile Spinoff Misstepped
Alpha Dog Games, a Nova Scotia-based game studio and subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, is the developer behind Mighty Doom, the only mobile-first rendition leveraging the famous DOOM IP, which turns 30 years old later this year. The title is Alpha Dog's first game within the Bethesda and ZeniMax family — and therefore also within Microsoft, which acquired ZeniMax in 2020 at a time when $7.5 billion was still an "eye-watering" amount of money.
The History of Doom
Let's start off this short history lesson of Doom on mobile with a fun fact. Believe it or not, the first mobile iteration of Doom (as discovered a year ago) was an RPG built for cell phones that "might be old enough to vote if it were a person". But as this game was never officially released, the first actual mobile Doom was a port of the original PC game, which has been available on iOS longer than data.ai exists, showing an interesting graph as the result:
The spike in 2019 can be attributed to Bethesda re-releasing a proper port as a 25th anniversary celebration with improved controls and framerate. It was also the first official Doom to be released on Android. With nearly 1 million downloads and a little north of $2 million in lifetime revenue (due to the premium price of €5.49), the Doom mobile port has shown that the franchise has remained at least a little bit alive. In the same vein, Doom II mobile was also released at the exact same time but shared only a quarter of its predecessor's success.
A few months after these two ports were released, ZeniMax/Bethesda acquired the Canadian game studio Alpha Dog, a developer with 27 current employees on LinkedIn and a short yet interesting history.
Alpha Dog's first indie title, Wraithborne, became one of the victims of Supercell turning the game industry upside down in 2012 with the release of Clash of Clans. After practically closing down the studio, Alpha Dog staged a miraculous revival by releasing their second game, Monstrocity Rampage, in early 2017. That game interestingly enough was adapted into a board game in 2019 and provided enough reason for Bethesda to acquire Alpha Dog for an undisclosed sum shortly after. Monstrosity Rampage has by now been removed from the app stores, but its core gameplay shows similarities with Clash of Clans.
After the acquisition, Alpha Dog finished their work on an Atari game called Ninja Golf, after which they started working on a new mobile game using the Doom IP. Fast-forward three years later to the release of Mighty Doom, in which downloads peaked at an impressive 4.5 million players on the game's first day available on both mobile platforms. But Alpha Dog then failed to capitalize on this initial influx of players.
Now, Alpha Dog is not the only party responsible for this turn of events. Neither Bethesda nor Microsoft have shown how to successfully scale mobile free-to-play games. When looking at Bethesda's mobile products, it's painfully obvious that the successful AAA publisher is far from adept at adopting a solid GaaS strategy.
Leveraging one of their most beloved franchises on PC and console, the company released The Elder Scrolls: Legends in 2017, with downloads and revenue graphs looking strikingly similar to Mighty Doom's, resulting in 5.5 million lifetime downloads and $10 million in revenue, while Mighty Doom's currently has accumulated 16.9 million downloads and $4.27 million in revenue. Another similar product with the same life cycle was The Elder Scrolls: Blades released in 2019.
Next to Doom and The Elder Scrolls, Bethesda's last (but not least) IP is Fallout, which two years ago brought the total valuation for these three franchises to $7 billion. Fallout has by far seen the biggest mobile success of the group.
Since Fallout Shelter was released in 2015, it has accrued over 80 million lifetime downloads and more than $100 million in revenue. But in theory, with the Sim Tower (1994)-inspired gameplay and the amount of hype it received after its surprise announcement at Bethesda's 2015 E3 press conference, the game could potentially have performed even more if Bethesda would have adopted a different free-to-play monetization strategy. Whether this would have been a smart move, given the average PC gamer's aversion to anything mobile & F2P, is a separate question.
Nowadays, it's common to see countless games released each month that ultimately end up sputtering and eventually shutting down. So why spend extra attention on Mighty Doom's specific case? There are three good reasons:
- It's a high-profile game, from a well-known publisher, with an incredibly strong IP.
- In terms of core gameplay, graphics, and sound effects, Mighty Doom had the potential to become the strongest commercially viable top-down arcade shooter on mobile, but Alpha Dog has clearly not capitalized on this potential.
- It's been a while since hybridcasual instigator Archero was released, and it's still one of the most successful games in its genre. Looking at Mighty Doom —regardless of its lack of success— is a great way to more broadly examine what's so difficult about replicating Archero's success and the broader hybridcasual formula.
In this deconstruction, next to Mighty Doom's deconstruction, I make an example of the game by answering the following questions: What exactly has gone wrong in the process of scaling this high-potential product, and is Mighty Doom suffering from a poor audience fit on mobile or is there more going on under the hood? In doing so, I'll shed light on the more general notion of porting notable non-mobile IPs to your "handy", as they say here in Germany. And lastly, as you, dear reader, are used to, I'll offer numerous game design takeaways throughout the piece to shed light on aspects of Mighty Doom that do happen to work well.
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