Eric Johnson

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Don’t Like In-App Purchases in Games? Deal With It, Says PopCap.

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PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies 2, the sequel to the hit tower-defense game from 2009, recently crossed 25 million downloads — more in two weeks than the first game racked up in its lifetime. But, unlike the first game, which initially cost $20 on PC and a few dollars on iOS, PvZ2 was free and supported by in-app purchases.

Critics’ and users’ reviews of the game were generally positive, but a subset of users has kvetched on the iOS App Store since launch that the free-to-play business model is “ruining great games like PVZ,” as one review noted.

PopCap’s franchise business director for Plants vs. Zombies, Tony Leamer, doesn’t seem too worried, though.

“When people hear things like ‘free-to-play’ or ‘freemium,’ in their heads they think they know what that is,” Leamer said in an interview with AllThingsD. “What we’ve seen with Plants vs. Zombies is, in the vast majority, once you play the game, you understand that this is a very different approach to offering a free experience with optional payments inside.”

As many game critics have pointed out, it’s possible for skilled players to beat PvZ2 without spending any money, but it takes a lot longer. Some of the titular plants — which players drag and drop onto the screen to fight off invading zombies — are only available through the store; that store also lets players unlock more advanced plants and speed through the game’s worlds faster, or buy packs of virtual coins that can be spent on short-term in-game power-ups

Leamer declined to share any specific in-app purchase sales numbers, but said that they’ve met PopCap’s expectations. And, although he gets asked about it a lot, he said that the “small handful of dissenters” pleading for a paid version of the game without IAP shouldn’t hold their breath.

“It’s hard for us, because the Plants vs. Zombies 2 experience is one that we’re going to be expanding and adding content to all the time,” he said. “It would be hard to charge you for something that we haven’t even thought of yet … We’re not selling content.”

Instead, new worlds for the iOS game — the first of which was announced at the European gaming conference Gamescom — will be free. Keeping games fresh through free updates is a common strategy for free-to-play game developers seeking to bring back fickle downloaders who’ve stopped playing, and to encourage more in-app purchases from the small percentage of those players who tend to subsidize the rest.

In-game purchases are also coming to PopCap’s other new games, Peggle 2 and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, even though both of those titles will debut on the Xbox One and will be sold at premium, but currently unannounced, prices.

“From us or for anybody else, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a game where you don’t have the ability to buy something in the game,” Leamer said. “I think that’s just a reality of the industry right now.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to PopCap’s franchise business director for Plants vs. Zombies as Tony Learner. His surname is Leamer.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus