Personally I think that Plants vs. Zombies 2 (PvZ2) is a great game. The game has kept all the good from the first episode and spiced it up with new content as well as features like map and gesture operated powerups. The biggest change of the sequel though is that it went from paid to free. And as you know, this blog is all about game mechanic.
In hindsight it seems that dropping the price tag was a smart choose as PvZ2 broke briefly into top20 crossing on iPhone and iPad. This is a good result from a essentially paid game, but top20 isn't probably something PopCap and EA was expecting. Given the promotion power EA possesses, not braking top10 grossing is an evidence that PvZ2 monetizes poorly.
In this post I’ll present the 4 main reasons why PvZ2 is unlikely to ever reach top10 grossing on iOS.
1. Unsuitable for Different Play Environments
People play mobile games in the comfort of their home, where they have plenty of time and limited amount of sudden and unexpected distractions. But apart from home, games are also played while commuting, at work and in the solitary of the bathroom (source: Tech Crunch). Because of different play environment session length and the amount of concentration game demands can be seen as a crucial factor.
As a developer you have two choices. Either design your game so that it suits different environments thus enabling players to enjoy it throughout their days and fill up their free moments with a few minutes of fun. Or you can ignore this fact of different play environments and just hope that players will launch you game when they get back home or into the bathroom – assuming of course that they won’t continue playing that other game they have been playing throughout the day.
Each level takes a lot of time and demands 100% concentration making PvZ2
2. Lack of Social Gameplay
Playing a game with real people, preferably someone players know, is essential for retention and monetization. Imagine Hay Day without the ability to trade goods with other players? How about Candy Crush Saga without the progression map showing how far your friends have progressed and how they have faired on each level.
Despite Facebook Connect and beautiful progression map there are no
3. Fear of Disappointing Players
According to the freemium mantra games have to be easy to get into, constantly rewarding and leave players with a feeling of achievement after each session. Games like FarmVille, Sims Social and Hay Day followed this mantra successfully. They made sure that people new to games enjoyed playing them. They made sure that it is essentially impossible for players to ‘lose’. In short, these games aren’t about skills. Players’ success and progress simply correlate with time spent playing the game (or money spent to speed up the time).
To some extent the freemium mantra is very true, but it has to fit the genre. Simulation games such fit the description but freemium puzzle and arcade games should be treated differently. As we all know, failing a level in Candy Crush Saga, Jelly Splash or Angry Birds just makes us try harder. And passing these levels gives that amazing feeling of accomplishment.
Sadly PvZ2 is ridiculously easy. It takes absolutely no effort to pass levels, making the game unchallenging and boring. Most of the people I know quit playing PvZ2 because of the lack of challenge. None of them have quit playing Candy Crush Saga even after being stuck on a level for over a week at a time.
Lack of difficulty can be seen not only in falling retention but also in diminishing IAP revenue. PvZ2 offers boosters for real currency, which enable players to clear levels with some consumable super powers. But to create the demand for these boosters players need to have those moments where they’re just about to clear a level and realize that they’ll lose without the help of a booster. Lack of challenge results in low demand for boosters, which causes stagnant revenue.
4. No Core Loop
In my mind what truly makes a freemium game is the core loop. Core loop models single full session from the mechanics point of view. And as we’re talking about freemium games, restriction mechanics are essential part of any successful core loop.
Core loop doesn’t have to be complicated. For example Candy Crush Saga’s has only one restriction mechanic in form of Lives. Lives are consumed during every session creating a natural end to the session when player runs out of them. At this point player can wait, request Lives from Facebook friends or use real money to refill Lives.
Candy Crush Saga's core loop is very simple and very effective
Hay Day's core loop is typical for simulation titles.
Plants vs. Zombies 2 is Essentially a Free Paid Game
In the end of the day, PvZ2 is pretty much a paid game without the price tag. Sure, it offers IAPs, but free-to-play is so much more than that. Without restriction mechanics there are no core loops and without core loops creating demand for IAPs is very hard. The demand for IAPs is so much lower also because lack of social integration, which are essential in creating collaboration and competition between players.
Free-to-Play is not just adding IAPs. Far from it.