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Decline of Mole’s World Shows the Danger Behind Milking Nostalgia

By Isabella Jiangcheng
Sep. 28, 2021 updated 04:11

Recently a post titled ‘Is Mole’s World dead?’ is trending on Chinese social media. User ‘alee’ posted the screenshot of her receiving Mole’s World’s latest ‘returning player’ package that contains 300 mole coins, equivalent to less than 3 RMB (0.5 USD). The comments are filled with mockery towards the stinginess of the ‘dying’ game, adding salt to the injury that just four months ago, this game was considered a phenomenon and en route for global success.

most gamers react negatively towards the latest 'returning player' package

Mole’s World is a mobile adaption of the successful franchise Mole’s Manor. The original PC version was first released in 2008 as a browser game that targets young players aged between six and fourteen. Drawing inspirations from the American multiplayer game Club Penguin, Mole’s Manor incorporated agriculture stimulation with mini-games and tasks that attract the young target group. The game quickly gained success in a market that was overlooked by the mainstream developers. These cute little moles attracted over 50 million registered users and over 60% of the accounts were active players within only one year, making Mole’s Manor a collective memory of Chinese kids born after 1995. 

The dreamy, colorful setting attracted the young audience successfully

Mole’s World was thought to be playing the nostalgia card right. Many players used the slogan ‘my youth is back’ on social media to celebrate the return of Mole’s Manor. When the game was finally launched in June, 6 million players rushed into the game in the first eight hours after the release. The game remained #1 on the free download chart on Apple App Store in China for weeks, beating Tencent’s most successful game Honor of Kings. The tag ‘Mole’s World’ started more than 150,000 discussions on Weibo in the first week of its release; the franchise itself also became a cult favorite on the internet with hilarious memes.

gamers have made the characters into stickers and memes

But after only three months, the initial excitement was exhausted. The game dropped down to 1000th on the free download chart on the App Store in September and 200th on the free game chart. The Baidu Index for Mole’s World also fell rapidly. Criticism about the game mechanics quickly overshadowed the successful launch of the game. 

Trends for Mole's World from 01/06/21 to 27/09/21 in App Store China(Green: top free apps, Yellow: top games, Purple: top grossing games, Source: Qimai) 

Baidu Index trend for Mole's World from  01/06/21 to 27/09/21 (Source: Baidu)

Although the game has echoed gamers’ nostalgia with the original settings, art style, and characters, many players have found the simple graphics and the tedious daily tasks disappointing. And there was generally not much to do or to interact with. Many gamers felt that Mole’s World ‘scammed’ them with their childhood memory. Harsh comments such as ‘It looked like an unfinished game just for the publicity stunt’ and ‘I came here to make up for the good old days but instead I am forced to do labor in the game that resembles my day job’ became the new identities of the game.

Players realized that the social appeal of the game was largely through memes and discussions online, not from the game itself. Gamers were also upset with the not-so-honest monetization strategy that encourages players to spend with in-app purchases.

Tag 'playing Mole's World is like having a part-time job' received 4.73 million reads on Weibo

While adapting from a formerly successful franchise is becoming a common strategy for mobile game developers, Mole’s World demonstrated a cruel reality of how milking nostalgia can backfire. Games can achieve instant success by playing on gamers’ emotional attachments, but long-term success cannot be based solely on the residual passion. Right now, Mole’s World is trying its best to develop new gameplay and scrambling to introduce interesting cross-features in its latest update. But the players are hesitant to give the game a second chance.