Electronic Arts and developer Popcap Games joyfully surprised us all during E3 2013 when the EA press conference opened with Battlefield theme music and the unveiling of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. In a brilliant mash-up of brands and genres, the popular social and mobile Plants vs. Zombies franchise was making the move towards “triple-A” development (a more often than not misused label) and was becoming a third-person action/tower defense title with gorgeous graphics.
Having played many hours of Dungeon Defenders and other similar titles that Garden Warfare grabs its core gameplay elements from, we loved what we saw and played at E3. When it released in full, we had fun with the title but noted its lack of content, maps, modes, depth and progression. It was fun and pretty, but was missing a lot of what made Dungeon Defenders immensely replayable. Worse, it cost more and was clearly designed with microtransactions in mind – something we noted in our PvZ: Garden Warfare review.
And as it turns out, we were right. While Popcap has been adding free DLC (see: Zomboss) content to keep players coming back for more, the real motivator is to keep players paying for more. The limited amount of upgrades and customization options in the launch version of the game – unlocked via Sticker Packs purchased with in-game PvZ coins – was held down behind a very slow progression system. In a new EA blog post, Brian Lindley reveals why.
First, the good news: There’s more free content coming, in addition to tweaks to the in-game reward system:
- Gardens & Graveyards scoring has been overhauled to better balance scores between plants and zombies.
- Gnome Bomb overall coin rewards have been increased.
- We’ve increased coin rewards in Garden Ops based on difficulty played.
- ‘Solo’ and ‘2-Player’ bonuses in Garden Ops have been introduced.
- Numerous new coin rewards for support actions, assisted vanquishes and defending or attacking mode objectives, and using abilities in Boss Mode.
New content coming with Zomboss Down content update:
- Cactus Canyon: a new Gardens & Graveyards map.
- 8 new playable character variations.
- Over 200 new customization items.
- Zomboss Downsticker pack, featuring exclusive new character items and customizations.
- New plant reinforcements: Bamboo Shoot, Fire Peashooter and Ice Peashooter.
- Max character level increased from 20 to 30.
- 10 new achievements.
- Lots of fixes, improvements, tuning and balance changes.
We’d argue that for $30 ($40 on Xbox One) much of this should have been there at launch to justify the price tag, but make no mistake, it’s important that it’s coming to players now – for free! The biggest news however, is this – concluding the blog post:
Starting next week, players will be given the option to purchase coins from the Sticker Shop, which allows players the ability to access new packs and character content more quickly – all the same content that can be earned through regular gameplay. Now you have the choice to play your way; you can play to get new packs and content via earned coins in the game, or you can purchase coins to get more of the packs and content you want right away.
Surprise! The retail game is now introducing another layer of monetization, adding fuel to the fire of would-be players who suggested the game be free-to-play from the outset, knowing EA could not resist adding this in eventually. The in-game sticker packs are similar to what EA and BioWare introduced in Mass Effect 3 in its multiplayer mode (see: Battlepacks) and what EA and DICE have been offering with ‘Shortcut’ packs in Battlefield 3 and 4. Letting players pay additional real-world money to unlock content is one thing, but that only exists because the content (again, that’s already paid for by consumers) is locked in the first place.
The reality is, developers/publishers here have the incentive to hold back content and keep it held back as much possible to encourage players to pay additional money to get it. It’s an easy reality to swallow when the game is free-to-play, but when it’s a retail game that gamers already paid for – that’s not always easy to accept. Especially when in this case, the game was so obviously built with microtransactions in mind from the get-go. Remember when codes would unlock content? Those were the days!
Should Garden Warfare go free-to-play if its embracing microtransactions? Are you concerned about the amount of content ‘locked’ in games that feature microtransactions? Does this set a concerning precedent for all upcoming EA titles? Or is it totally worth it in the latest PvZ game? If you’ve yet to play the title on either Xbox, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was also finally given an official PC release date of June 24, 2014.
This is what EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen said last February:
“We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be.”
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is available for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It releases on PC on June 24, 2014.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.