Why is 2K being so quiet about Civilization: Eras & Allies on mobile?

  • 2K’s three-decade-old series is making a return to mobile, but it was soft launched under another name
  • With Civilization VI already on mobile, and Civilization Revolution a proven formula, what have they got in mind?
  • If they’re building a new mobile sub-brand, consideration is needed for a market that already features games like Polytopia

Civilization: Eras & Allies quietly dropped into soft launch this December. But developer 2K seems to be taking a relatively sedate approach to promoting this new take on Civilization for mobile despite this being one of their hottest franchises and a landmark in strategy gaming.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the Civilization series revolutionised strategy. The grand scope of the games, covering human history from the prehistoric past to the distant future, with all the conquering, technological breakthroughs and empire-building in between, has been a hit since the first entry hit store shelves in 1991.

Sid Meier and the team at MicroProse presented a whole new take on the genre that took what the team had accomplished before and pushed the scale to global levels.

Ever since, through dips in quality and often controversial entries, the Civilization series has remained a cornerstone, mainly of PC gaming. So why has Civilization: Eras & Allies, the first bespoke entry for mobile in a long time, gone under the radar? It was even listed under a different name previously, not necessarily a bad decision, but for such a big-name franchise, it’s an odd omission.

Bringing the Civilization formula to mobile should be a surefire hit and a major horn to toot, but it’s almost as if they’re nervous about showing that they’re bringing the franchise to mobile once more.

Will it work?

The most obvious factor is the way audiences perceive mobile. Even now with there being some truly stunning mobile games, a large portion of ‘hardcore gamers’ can’t shake the idea of them being wallet-draining timewasters. And, while it’s true that there are some unscrupulous practices, titles such as The Battle of Polytopia prove that a free-to-play version of the 4x genre can be both successful and very lucrative.

Similarly, Civilization’s main presence on mobile has been through Civilization: Revolutions and the port of Civilization VI. Both were received in a rather middling way and seemed to mainly be a way to bring the franchise to mobile in the quickest way possible. Not bad but not necessarily showing mobile gamers what PC players have luxuriated in for so many years.

At a glance we can see that Civilization: Eras & Allies differs greatly from previous entries, with the leaders looking far cleaner and almost more like supermodels than in titles like Civilization V. It could be that 2K is hoping to capture a wider audience, making civilization more familiar to the players of other mobile titles rather than trying to appeal to Civ’s core audience.

2K previously tried modifying another one of their flagship franchises – which gamers of a certain age will be boggled at even thinking of it being a flagship for 2K – with XCOM Legends. But as our Editor in Chief Dann pointed out, this was XCOM with all the edges sanded off, taking away what made it unique and making it into, dare we say, just another mobile game.

That’s not to say about the actual quality of course, but XCOM, and indeed Civilization, are both hugely unique titles. Compromising on what makes them unique, and what would make them stand out, smacks of nervousness and apprehension about mobile as a whole.

Bold and Brash? More like-

The core gameplay, especially in multiplayer, of pitting friends against each other as historical civilizations in the classic 4x formula of explore, expand, exploit and exterminate is evergreen. It plays to all the desires of gamers both hardcore and casual alike, as well as history buffs and culture enthusiasts. But naturally, you may ask why Civilization VI and Revolutions received muted receptions on mobile instead of being praised as classics.

What these ports differ in is obviously that they’re not aimed at a wide audience, but at those purely interested in ports of games they’ve already played. Making a PC game into a small-screen affair is not an easy feat and necessitates adhering to some limitations. But it then begs the question of why 2K, who obviously feel their new game is not worth shouting about, don’t take the plunge on something big and risky.

This is the game that the phrase “just one more turn” sprung from after all, and if you want a dedicated player base, there’s none more willing to sink extra hours in than the hardcore Civ enthusiasts. It’s not as if 2K, owners of Zynga, don’t have dedicated mobile developers that could brainstorm on how to monetise and develop a game like this to be a feasible free-to-play title without compromising on gameplay or making it P2W.

Of course, it is important to remember that there are aspects we’re not necessarily privy to as an audience. For example, 2K may have wanted to ensure that Civ: Eras & Allies was functional before giving it its proper name, and announcing it to the world. But given that many are already taking about the ‘silent’ drop of a new Civ game, the opportunity to make a big splash may already be lost…

Why not scream from the rooftops?

What’s worrying is how quiet 2K is being about the new game, and whether or not this reflects a lack of confidence in what they’ve made and how it adapts the aspects that make Civilization so special, engaging, and above all, such a best seller. There’s a whole host of dedicated Civ superfans who’d gladly pay premium prices for a dedicated mobile version of their favourite game. The lacklustre reception of Civilization VI’s mobile port (at roughly 2.5 stars on average for Android) is a testament to the fact that this audience is most definitely there, and won’t settle for half measures.

But if they try to change what makes Civilization so unique in favour of chasing a broader audience, then 2K risks removing what makes them stand out. After all, there are dozens of games that offer the same formula, with established audiences and dedicated studios behind them. Poaching their players with a half-baked take is a losing battle. But presenting them with something new could be key to crafting a surefire hit.

So come on 2K, let’s not have a repeat of XCOM Legends, if anything can stand on its own with a bit of experimentation, it’s the Civ series.