Is EA taking Micro-transactions too far?

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This isn’t another rant about the abomination that is Dungeon Keeper and its microtransactional hell. No, this is about another of EA’s free-to-play mobile games: Plants vs zombies 2. I loved the first game, when Popcap was still Popcap, but the second one, instead of being a paid product is instead a free-to-play game. Crucially though, one needed to not spend a single cent to play through the entire game, which is how free-to-play games should be. It looks like that’s changing.

According to a rather troubling report on the internet’s front page, EA seems to be making some rather fundamental changes to the game. A change that’s implemented for one single reasons; to make more money.

In Plants vs. Zombies, you get five lawnmowers as a "safety" in case one of the zombies should happen to reach your house,” says rather angry Redditor sketchampm. “The lawnmower will mow down the zombie and everything in it’s path, but once it’s gone, that’s it…at least until you restart the level.”

In the new update, I noticed that after losing a lawnmower I had the option to "buy it back" using in-game currency. Now this being a "Free to Play" game, the in-game currency takes quite a long time to acquire and can also be obtained more quickly by using your iTunes account to actually buy large amounts it. Interesting, but I wasn’t going to use my coins for a lawnmower. They’ll be back after I fail the pinata event anyway. NOPE.  I used some coins to retry the event (I think this is new as well) and noticed my lawnmowers were gone. Huh. So in the events, doing a "retry" will not respawn the lawnmowers. You’ll have to buy them back. Well that sucks.”

That does suck, but it is a special event, so it’s almost acceptable. Plus, it’s such a huge game, and it’s free – even if the micro-transactions have stripped away the game’s charm. nothing to complain about, really. Except it gets worse.

Following the new update, the same user noticed that the lawnmowers were disappearing from the actual campaign levels too, and you’d have to pay the in-game currency (2000 coins a pop!) or actual money to have them reinstated. This changes a fundamental part of the game as a way to extract cash from users.

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Curious, I updated my own copy of Plants vs Zombies 2 and found no option to buy-back lawnmowers. In fact, I found no evidence to support these claims at all, so I scoured the Reddit thread again, and found numerous users – on both Android and iOS -  who’ve corroborated the claims, along with many who’ve said that they, like me, aren’t affected. Users on NeoGAF have also complained of similar gouging.

It seems that EA and Popcap are doing A/B testing of sorts to see just how far consumers are willing to be pushed before they break; trying to see just how much money they can get out of people before they’re incensed.

And perhaps, they’ve finally crossed the line.

[Thanks to Daniel Keevy for the tip]

Last Updated: February 12, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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