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Plants vs. My Wallet - An F2P Story
by Tom Battey on 11/28/13 03:18:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Perhaps I've just been lucky in that my exposure to the free-to-play business model has so far been limited - or at least limited to examples that are so easy to ignore that I can't really take issue (no, Robot Unicorn Attack 2, I won't be paying you any money to listen to anything but that one default track, thanks.)

But now I've started playing Plant vs. Zombies 2, and I find myself conflicted. It's not that PvZ2 has a particularly obnoxious business model - it's actually pretty respectful of my desire not to spend a load of money on digital crap, and it offers a ton of content for zero  cost.

PvZ2 F2P
Nope, don't want 'em.

And that's my issue, really. PvZ2 is a great game - a game I'd happily have paid money for. What I'm not going to pay money for is the purchase of a digital squash guy and a bunch of in-game currency. So now I feel bad, because the guys at PopCap deserve to have my money, and they're not going to get any.

If there were some purely cosmetic items I could buy, then I totally would - but every purchasable item in the game impacts the gameplay somehow. Now hold on, I hear you cry, surely that's a good thing? And it would be, if all the items available for purchase didn't affect the game in ways I don't like.

Pretty much everything you can buy in the game exists to make it easier - either direct shortcuts or new plants - and that goes against a part of me forged by years of playing games where challenge is a core tenet. I actually can't bring myself to pay for things that make a game easier; it's just against my nature.

PvZ2 f2p 2
Sorry guys, don't want these either.

But I suppose I'm not really the target audience for these items. Perhaps it's a really clever use of the business model - the kind of people who want to experience the game at its most challenging (and therefore most free) are probably the same people who are least likely to want to shell out real money for digital currency and shortcuts.

I'm sure there are lots of people out there who love buying imaginary coins and level skips - and I hope plenty of them play PvZ2, because PopCap deserve to make lots of money from the game. It does make me wonder, though, about how the way we pay for games affects the way we enjoy them.

There are people out there who would never dream of paying £20 up front for a game, but will spend more than that buying plants and currency for PvZ2. And then there're people like me, who have paid frankly silly money for games over the years, often sight unseen, who won't spend a single penny on PvZ2.

Lots of people in the gaming industry are expounding the f2p model as the future of games, but if that's really the case then that future will leave a lot of people cold. Lots of people are so unused to paying for games that way that they probably just won't.

PvZ2 really awesome
Too much awesome for too little dollar.

And that sucks for the people making these games, because they could be making more money - though if you believe the f2p evangelists they're making ALL the money already, so perhaps they're not that bothered. But still, by embracing f2p entirely, they are locking out a particular audience who probably won't ever buy into that model. And turning away any consumers at all is silly, however much money you're making.

In my perfect world, there would be a version of PvZ2 that costs £5 up front, and includes some of the plants usually kept behind a paywall distributed at suitable intervals throughout the game. I'd buy that in a heartbeat. And other people could still pick up the free version, and pay for items or currency as they see fit. Everyone wins, and PopCap get even more money.

But of course games are not designed specifically around how I prefer to pay for things. I get that, and I get that if I'm going to play mobile games I'm going to have to get more comfortable with this whole f2p thing.

But I do wonder if people focused more on how certain audiences prefer to spend money and less on chasing a singular - if admittedly lucrative - business model, we could have happier gamers and even more money. And who doesn't want more money, right?

Tom Battey is an author and person who sometimes writes about videogames. He writes at and does the Twitter thing @tombattey.

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