Plants vs. Microtransactions
I really like Plants vs. Zombies 2. It’s easily one of the best tower defense games ever made. The sounds of the plants and zombies are incredibly well done, the music is thematically appropriate- if not particularly memorable- the animation and graphics are fluid, beautiful, and detailed. The gameplay is stellar. Plants vs. Zombies 2 could be one of those games that you spend ten hours on, coming out of a bleary daze at three in the morning, somehow missing your underwear, images of firebreathing plants staining the backs of your eyelids.
PvZ2 could be that wonderful, time devouring game.
But it isn’t.
Which isn’t a knock on the quality of the actual gameplay at all. PvZ2 is a spectacularly well done game, it’s the package that the game comes in that drives you away from the game. It’s microtransactions. But it’s more than microtransactions, it’s invasive and pervasive microtransactions. It’s blatant, in your face, obvious, cash grabbing. It’s EA showing you time and time again that they only made this incredible game as a way for you to delivery more money to their greedy money furnaces, fueling the engines of despair that run the Microtransaction Robots, whose sole task it is is to monetize every game in every way possible. Also, they probably eat babies.
I really dislike the microtransactions.
Which isn’t to say I dislike microtransactions as a concept. For some games this can work really well! Like music/rhythm games, where you can buy piecemeal the songs you want to play and not be forced into buying songs you don’t care about. Or games like Jetpack Joyride where you just drop a buck or two to get a silly little doo-dad. Hell, Valve has made an utter killing with microtransactions in DoTA2 and TF2! I’ve no problems with how those games do microtransactions at all. In fact, I quite like them! Unlike PvZ2, though, these games don’t gate content arbitrarily then force you to grind through it or pay to unlock it. They don’t intentionally deceive you as to how fast you progress. They don’t spam you with ads after every third level.
Okay. Wait. It’s time to stop being vague. Let’s get into how PvZ2 really does its best to show you little it cares about your play experience, and how much it just wants your money.
Much like PvZ the Original, you have three (well, four, but it’s a secret!) worlds to fight your way through. Each stage is a day and each day you’ll get a new plant, or new twist, or new zombie to fight your way through. Yay! This is good. Then, once you’re at the end of the world, a shiny portal opens up and the game tells you that you’ve unlocked the next world. Also yay! Except that what the game doesn’t mention is that you unlocked the next world not unlocked the portal to that world. In order to unlock the portal so you can actually use it, you have to collect stars from the stages you’ve already played by completing challenges. Each day has three stars to earn.
“Okay, that’s not so bad.” you say, wondering at my anger, “I’ll probably have some already and it’s just five days to get all the stars I need anyway, right?”
Of course, I wouldn’t be asking that question for you if it was that simple. But it isn’t that simple. Nope! You unlock two or three stars during the normal course of the world, maybe a couple of more. So let’s say that you have five stars, by some stroke of luck. Congratulations, you need just ten more! No big deal, right? I mean, they’ll let you earn three stars per-day, right? Sure. They totally do. Except each individual star challenge earns you one star.
That means you have to play ten more stages to get all the stars you need to move to the next world. And this isn’t just place your dudes on the map and go to town, these are challenges. These are things like “Don’t let the zombies move past the third row” or “Don’t use more than 12 plants ever”. These are things you may fail at the first couple of times. This will easily add two hours to your playtime, all for the ability to start playing the next world. It’s like if in Mario they said you couldn’t play world 2-1 without beating all of world 1 twice. In fact, you will spend more time doing these challenges to move to the next world than it took you to beat that world’s regular days in the first place!
But. Hey. You could, you know, just pass EA a few bucks and unlock the next stage. No biggie, right? Just a couple of bucks, save you some time, then back to the sweet sweet PvZ2 action.
And if you decide to grind it out, like I did, well, guess what? Unlocking the portal in world two is thirty stars. So you now get to spend twice as long unlocking the third world! (And one can only assume the fourth world is even longer.) But you could just save yourself the time and pay for it all to be unlocked. Just. A. Few. Dollars. No biggie.
Because we all love paying to skip pointless content in video games, right?
Okay, but that’s not so bad, right? I mean it’s challenges, doing things in a different way, it’s kinda like achievements. Fine. Whatever. No big deal. Except (there’s always an except!) some of the stars are locked behind gates. Gates that require keys. Keys that only can be used on that world’s gates. Keys that don’t drop every single time you battle, but are a percent based chance of dropping.
Did I mention that power-ups, plants, and seed expansions are behind these gates? Yeah, they are. And not only that, the amount of keys needed to unlock the gates in world one is more than the number of stars you need to go to world two so if you want all the plants and power-ups to get as much advantage as possible, you’ll have to play that world more times than you’d need to get all the stars to move to the next world! Oh boy! Surprising no one, though, you can buy keys to unlock the gates. Because why wouldn’t you be able to? Why grind out keys, never knowing if one will drop, when you can spend a buck or two to unlock the gate? And it isn’t like these gates are just for challenge’s sake, they have incredibly useful plants and powerups that you will not get any other way. Fantastic.
The game is actively wasting your time and hiding content behind arbitrary barriers just so you will get frustrated into buying the things you need to get to the content you want.
Which is par for the course for a microtransaction game.
And it isn’t even close to the worst of it.
Who likes ads? Fucking no one! But PvZ2 gives no shits, because after every third or so stage you’ll get a pop-up ad telling you about all the sweet deals you can get in the store. 30% off plants, what a deal! Already bought those plants? Spent $20 on coins already? Who cares, you get the ads anyway! Sure, it’s not terribly hard to just click the red ‘X’ and get rid of the ad but it doesn’t make it any less annoying or intrusive, much less how blatant EA is being about why they made this game. If you bother to go and actually look at the store you’ll see that there are plants and items you literally can not get without purchasing them!
I’m not opposed to paying for games. I pay for a lot of games. Literally thousands of dollars of games a year. And I don’t mind paying for additional content either, I own most every piece of Mass Effect DLC ever made! What bothers me about this free to play stuff is that instead of selling you an experience, EA is giving you a game for free and hoping/manipulating you into paying more than the game would cost in a retail situation. They’re looking at their customers as vessels for money, not players of video games. Not to mention such absurd money tactics call into question the entire idea of the game’s development. Is this stage hard because I suck at it, or is it hard because they designed it to suck money from my wallet? I bet the game would be a lot easier with that 8th seed slot, wouldn’t it? Too bad I literally can’t get it without paying for it.
Like I said above, there’s a great game hiding in Plants vs Zombies 2. It’s just a shame that it’s hidden behind so many layers of greedy microtransactions.