"The moment I saw PvZ GW’s card pack oriented structure, I had concerns about microtransactions," wrote USG bossman Jaz Rignall in his review of Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare just two months ago. "However, as of now, there are none in the game. When I asked whether or not there were plans to add them, EA were a little evasive, claiming that things might be reviewed after the game’s release."
Well, "things" have been reviewed, and in news that will not surprise most of you, EA has decided that The Right Thing to Do with Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is to incorporate microtransactions.
EA's justification for the addition, explained in a recent blog post by the game's producer Brian Lindley, is to allow players to "play Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare your way." In other words, you now have the choice to either grind your way through the game in order to earn enough coins to purchase new content, or to simply open up your wallet and pay for more coins to acquire content immediately. This is a common technique used in free-to-play games in order to tempt people into spending more money -- particularly when combined with the "you can acquire it all through regular gameplay" excuse that Lindley uses in his blog post -- but Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is not a free-to-play game: it's a $40 game, and one that, moreover, requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play in the first place.
Jaz noted in his review that he was happy with the rate at which it was possible to earn cards through normal gameplay, and as such it may well be that this is nothing more than a time-saver for those who wish to acquire specific content but don't wish to grind for it -- treating the unlockable content somewhat like premium DLC, in other words.
The thing that players will need to keep an eye on, however, is whether or not this rate stays the same following the introduction of microtransactions. EA and PopCap don't have the best track record with this, particularly so far as the Plants vs. Zombies franchise is concerned: Plants vs. Zombies 2, for example, was praised upon its original release for its relatively fair use of the free-to-play model, but months down the line after the press and all but the most dedicated players had forgotten about it, the companies quietly completely revamped the progression and monetization structure for the game, even going so far at one point as to start charging in-game currency in vast quantities for players to replace their "last line of defense" lawnmowers -- breaking a fundamental game mechanic in the name of encouraging more in-app purchases. To EA and PopCap's credit, they quickly reversed this particular aspect of the game's monetization after widespread outcry, but the game has still changed significantly from how it was when it was first released; whether or not Garden Warfare will share a similar fate remains to be seen.
Let's hope not, as by all accounts Garden Warfare turned out to be a surprisingly competent and enjoyable multiplayer shooter; EA and PopCap will have to take care to ensure that microtransactions do not wreck the existing game balance, as they so frequently do in poorly designed free-to-play titles.
Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is available now for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. EA announced today that a PC version will be arriving via Origin and "other retailers" on June 24, but there's no word of a PlayStation version as yet.