Plants vs Zombies 2: In-app purchasing done right?

PvZ2 LogoPlants vs Zombies 2 has been out for a little while now, at the attractive price of free, and several reviews have concluded that the game is “free-to-play done right”. I nearly agree. It’s “free-to-play done as well as it can be.”

The original Plants vs Zombies was a joyfully addictive game that managed to stand out from the massed tower defence games that tablets and phones seem custom designed for. Its smooth interface, charming graphics and gently insane world made for a nearly flawless experience. Now that Plants vs Zombies 2 has been out for a while and I’ve had a chance to play through it a bit I’d like to try and explain what it is about the sequel that doesn’t sit quite right with me.

Yes, the boomerang has a circular shadow.  They did back in ancient Egypt.

Yes, the boomerang has a circular shadow. They did back in ancient Egypt.

There’s no denying, the sequel is easily as good as the first game – the core gameplay is essentially unchanged and at the attractive price of “free” they could have made a much worse game and it would have still been good value. But the “free-to-play” aspect hangs over it. “Free-to-play” of course meaning “the game is free but will try to make you part with money via in-game purchases at every turn.” Some games are downright obvious, offensively so, at this, while Plants vs Zombies 2 is comparatively restrained. As the gushing reviewers noted, you can finish the game without spending a penny of your hard-earned cash. You can even collect all the stars if you’re good enough.

But here’s the problem. I enjoyed the game, am still enjoying it in fact, but not a minute went by when I could shake the feeling that I was being manipulated.

The game wants me to spend my money on it, and indeed I did, buying one of the cheaper bundles. I freely admit I’ve burned through a lot of the coins that gave me, letting me brute-force a number of the harder challenges by spamming magical powers at the shambling hordes – no pure victory for me. Did that one purchase flag me as a spender? I don’t know. I’ve heard that some games are designed to pump up the difficultly once you make an in-app purchase to convince you to spend more. Did Popcap do the same? I’ve no idea. I do know that they’re very clever people and their game is designed to be a bridge between them and my wallet. What I also know is that the supply of keys – collected during levels and used to unlock closed off parts of the map – dried up. Its supposedly random and I apparently just need to keep grinding, but it’s been days since I saw a key, and those gates are sitting there invitingly with their £1.49 toll. Ho hum.

No. No Popcap, I’m not going down that route. Either your random number generator or your Evil Psychology Money Extraction Engine has closed off chunks of your content to me. Even if it is nothing more sinister than the rolling of dice, I’m grinding and grinding and meeting nothing but frustration. Given that the gates exist solely as an opportunity to spend money that’s IAP spoiling my fun.

Little things like that add up to make an otherwise fantastic experience grate ever so slightly, a sour note in the chorus. “Free-to-play done right”? I don’t think so. It’s “free-to-play done well”, but there’s a way to go yet.

But mostly, you made Snow Pea a paid-for unlockable. Snow Pea! My favourite, the mainstay of my chlorophyll army! This shall not be forgiven.



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