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29Dec/150

Dominion Online Relaunches

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Dominion Online has had a checkered history. First announced almost three years ago, the game went through delays, missed released dates, and a beta that can charitably described as troubled. Then a new publisher stepped in, and the game relaunched a few weeks ago in tablet and web version. So how is it looking now?

There's some good news to be had here. The game is more stable, which is a significant achievement that the previous team couldn't pull off. It plays smoothly, and I've had an easy time finding fun opponents through the online match-making system.

That said, there are a lot of flaws that seem to be typical to ports of complex board games. Dominion Online is almost incomprehensible to casual gamers, with a power-user interface and a perfunctory tutorial that never really explains the game. The message is clear: Dominion Online is for current Dominion fans only.

It's also clear that new publish Making Fun focused their work on behind the scenes improvements. Those improvements were badly needed, but it would have been nice to get a visual upgrade too. The content and art of Dominion Online is identical to Goko's version, and that art wasn't very good. The app lacks the style of the physical card game, which is really too bad. The Dominion cards have excellent art, and it would have been nice to see this look carried through to the app.

dominion online

This... is not good art.

Chasing the Dominion Online Whale

The monetization strategy is also a mystery to me. Making Fun has experience with free-to-play games, including an excellent hidden object game. So it's puzzling that there's no way to earn soft currency and build up card collections over time. The game seems to be trying to support itself on constant ads (which reduce engagement and are not a great source of revenue) and expensive expansion purchases.

I'm all for charging what the market will bear, and happily forked over $20+ for the Sentinels of the Multiverse season pass.  If Ascension is any evidence, Making Fun could reach a reasonable audience with $5 expansions, so it's hard to believe they're clearing a lot by asking for $20 to $90. It's not a pay-to-win scenario, since free players get to share the paying players' purchases instead of being beaten down by more powerful cards. But I have yet to see a game prosper in the long-term by chasing whales.

It's a puzzling approach, and normally I'd just shrug the game off as a failure in design and move on. However, the fact is that two-player matches in Dominion Online are a hell of a lot of fun. The game plays quickly and you can easily lose hours to the almost endless combinations of cards. As long as there are enough paying players in the pool to keep free players from getting bored with the basic set, Dominion Online is a relaunch that could keep going for years to come.

 

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Posted by Chris Aylott

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