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Plants vs Zombies 2 wasn’t what a lot of fans expected out of a sequel to the classic strategy game, as it was rife with microtransactions that many players said felt like hitting a free-to-play wall. The original producer of the game, Matt Johnston, has opened up about what was going on behind the scenes as those decisions were being made.
In an interview with MinnMax, Johnston said that the seed of microtransactions in Plants vs Zombies 2 was part of its original design, with the idea of plant food. This was intended to be a leg up for players who were struggling, as a way to overcome a particular obstacle. In the midst of development, though, his team was suddenly asked to make a slice of the game playable for upper management, for reasons he didn’t know at the time. And while the team made the demo, it’s at this point that he first expressed some reservations about following a F2P model.
“We don’t think that’s possible without breaking the game,” Johnston explained. “The game is this interwoven, meticulously hand-balanced set of interdependent components. Every plant has a zombie that it depends on for that balance. Making sure that that whole thing is woven together in that perfect lineage and that perfect experience was just a magic trick that you can’t mess with.”
The demo was well-received by management, and shortly after PopCap was acquired by EA. That’s when Johnston was told that the earlier demo had been to give EA, as potential buyers, an idea of what was going on with the game. Sometime after the acquisition, Johnston says he was visited by then-EA CEO John Riccitiello who said his kid–a big PvZ plan–had suggested the idea of rent-able plants.
“It went against everything we had just learned,” Johnston said. “If you have that interwoven fabric of all these elements, you pull one out and the whole thing unravels.”
Johnston said he advocated for keeping PvZ2 as-is and making a separate free-to-play game, built from the ground up with those hooks in mind, so it wouldn’t “break anything.” Shortly after, he claims, he was taken off the project and then later asked to leave the company.
PopCap’s Peggle series saw a similar outcome with Peggle Blast, which also made heavy use of microtransactions. Plants vs Zombies has since gone on to spin off into the Garden Warfare series of shooters, which has three entries of its own, along with the F2P collectible card game Plants vs Zombies Heroes. Plants vs Zombies 3 has been soft-launched in some territories, but a final release date has not been set. EA says it has “optional microtransactions that can help you speed up progression.”
Gravity Heroes also has a demo available here: Product Info: Developer: Electric Monkeys Publisher: PQUBE Website: Gravity Heroes Twitter: @monkeyselectric / @PQubeGames