Business Model Influence

I did not even mention when Plants vs. Zombies 2 came out because it made me sad. Mobile only, F2P with cash shop? Ouch. Now that I have a device that plays it, I of course had to try the sequel to one of the best games ever made. It’s not bad, but it’s disappointing given the first. I don’t think anyone has ever thought, “You know what would really improve this game? Let’s have some EA business execs design the monetization.”

You first notice this when the game tries to sell you things. Want all the plants? Pay per unlock. Want to use the new special abilities? Pay per use. Want to skip to a new world? Pay per unlock. Want more slots for plants, plant food, and starting sun? Pay per upgrade. Most of these can be unlocked to some degree or at some point in-game. I would have been happy to buy the game; I am immediately resentful that the game wants me to buy parts of the game a la carte. Beyond the money-grubbing, nickel and dime nature of the transactions (I haven’t added it up, but there’s a reasonable chance I would pay more than they are asking if they just asked me once to buy the game), it puts game balance decisions in the hands of the business model rather than the game designers. How many plants and which ones should the players have available to face this challenge? Depends on how much money they spent. How much sun should they start with? Depends on how much money they spent. How often should we expect them to use the special abilities? Depends on how much money they spent. I don’t see how you can reasonably design around that answer.

You second notice this when the game is balanced around the assumption that the players have spent $X. I do not know the value of X, but PvZ2 is “aggressively balanced”. The first one was a fun romp, and if you wanted significant difficulty, you had to work for it. The second one gives you fewer resources and more enemies, and if you want lowered difficulty, you have to pay for it. I can reasonably foresee that all the levels can be beaten without spending money, but you will fail most of them at least once doing so because you will need to change your strategies in ways you cannot reasonably foresee and certainly cannot change mid-level. While working out the puzzle is more or less the point of a puzzle game, frequent readers will know my persistent irritation with games that require you to know the coming surprise in advance to survive it. Or, PvZ2’s business model suggests, just pay for the special abilities to respond to the sudden appearance of a huge lump of zombies.

I am mostly enjoying the game, and my wife is playing it obsessively, but I seem to develop Tourette’s every time I spot a design decision that seems motivated by the cash shop.

: Zubon

I suppose I could have just posted “EA bought Popcap,” and the rest logically follows.

4 thoughts on “Business Model Influence”

  1. Did you look at it right after release? Since then they’ve changed the layout of the worlds where you pick levels to make it much more idiot proof and take out one of the few interesting things they’d added since PvZ1. Now you just march linearly through the levels with no choice at all. Very lame.

    Also, if you’re any good you play completely for free but you end up accumulating so much of the currency that buys powerups that all challenge whatsoever is removed. The only hard thing was deciding when to use a powerup and (all but) autowin a level. I feel like the game is aimed at very bad players who will end up spending money to get past the (for them) difficult obstacles. PvZ1 was fun no matter your skill levels. PvZ2, not so much.

    1. No.

      If your experience was right after release, you might be happier with the current state of the game because it changed. To quote, “That update also bolstered a lot of enemy difficulty in various stages.” So the people you are saying are not “any good” and are “very bad players” are playing a harder game than you did.

  2. I have PvZ1, and have put in a decent amount of time with it; I see zero appeal to it. To me it players like a massively oversimplified tower defense game with no mazing and limited need to mix towers up (the triple lane shooter solved most maps that I saw). I kept thinking I’m missing something, or that at some point it gets interesting, but 20 or so levels in, and I still don’t see it.

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