Plants Vs. Zombies 2 is doing rather well, grabbing the attention of quite a considerable number of gamers. According to Popcap, the video game’s creators, the defense tower-esque game has ramped up an impressive 25 million downloads in just two weeks, far surpassing the number of units sold for the original game’s entire lifespan. But, could these killer download numbers reflect badly on the game publisher’s future business model?
There is a key difference between Plants Vs. Zombies (PvZ) and its sequel. In what would seem like a counter-intuitive move, EA (Popcap’s publisher) has elected to release the sequel as a free to play video game.
Many would ask the question, why would EA release this game for free, when they could have made a pretty penny, by publishing the game with a price tag? Arguably, the game would not have been downloaded anywhere near as many times, had it not been free.
EA Games and Popcap made the conscious decision to release the game for free on mobile devices, with very good reason. The mobile platform has grown substantially in recent years and EA Games, realizing this fact, is making a beeline for these users, temporarily casting aside its original PC gaming fanbase. The “freemium” model provides gamers with the software at no expense, but also includes the option for users to pay for microtransactions.
When taking into consideration that the Plants Vs. Zombies 2 has already been downloaded 25 million times, in two weeks alone, consider the total number of downloads that EA and Popcap are likely to garner over the course of several years. If you thought these two weeks’ worth of downloads was a killer result, wait until the end of the fiscal year.
Although, initially it seems difficult to appreciate the mega-publisher’s business model, in the long term, they stand to, perhaps, make more money from this approach by inflating their player-base to astronomical proportions and then serving them with optional microtransactions.
This certainly won’t please too many PC gamers, however, who made the original game a success to begin with; They have been excluded from the party, altogether, and an announcement for a PC version has not yet been officially confirmed (it is likely, however).
Many will be asking the question, is it pay to win? The answer is “a little bit of both.” As with many of EA’s other recent games (Dead Space 3 is a prime example), buying the microtransactions and powers that lie behind “pay walls” does provide the player with obvious advantages. However, the game is not insurmountable if you don’t put in any money; it just demands that you work slightly harder for victory.
This does, however, raise the question of cheating. Players who pay for these advantages do receive a tangible benefit. Many years back, these “cheats” were free to find and enter into whatever gaming device that you had, at the time. Now, part of EA’s new business model seems to center around carving out a feature that was simply taken for granted, and forcing their customers to dole out money to receive the code.
This also raises another contentious issue. Simply paying to beat a game, surely, defeats the purpose of the game’s inception to begin with? The challenge is what most gamers desire and, by artificially lowering the difficulty, you completely reshape the gamer’s experience.
Frankly, EA and Popcap’s efforts have been geared towards making Plants Vs Zombies 2 more universally appealing. But, in doing so, they also run the risk of marginalizing their existing fanbase and hemorrhaging money from their core demographic. The question then must be asked, will the money they generate from their new target audience be greater than what they could have made from their previous one? Plants Vs. Zombies 2 may have made killer download figures, but they have yet to achieve a killer revenue.
By: James Fenner