Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’s Post Release Microtransactions Are Asking For Customer Disappointment

Do you remember when games were just games? It seems so long ago now. These days games are constantly updated services, with chunks of the components making up the constituent parts of the “game” split between local devices and storage media, and rows and rows of servers off in a warehouse somewhere. This somewhat undermines the concept of a traditional video game review, where there is no single complete thing that can be reviewed, and distilling an ongoing service into a buyer’s guide or critique isn’t really possible when it represents a moving target. But this does not absolve reviewers of responsibility to provide accurate information on how they can expect services to work. Enter Garden Warfare, EA’s attempt at turning Plants vs Zombies into a third person shooter of all things. EA haven’t clearly outlined their plans for the business model of Garden Warfare. Whilst they’ve confirmed that they want people to fork over £24.99 to £34.99 for the game, they are being cagey about the future implementation of any microtransactions. Not that you’d be aware of this if you read most reviews.

In a pre-release interview with Gamespot, EA confirmed that Garden Warfare would be shipping without microtransactions, but left themselves plenty of wiggle room to patch them in at a later date:

“So we’re not going to have any microtransactions at all at launch,” PopCap Games producer Brian Lindley told GameSpot at a recent press event.

Following the release of Garden Warfare, Lindley explained that PopCap will look at in-game metrics and player feedback to determine how best to move forward. This could include offering in-game payments, but one thing is for sure: microtransactions “definitely” won’t be available at launch.

This creates a Schrodinger’s microtransaction problem. It’s impossible for customers purchasing this game on release to know whether they should have any concerns about how the microtransactions are going to be implemented, because they haven’t been implemented yet.

This lack of information is somewhat compounded by professional video game reviewers opting to omit this information from their reviews. Whilst IGN did mention in their review that microtransactions will be added down the line, Destructoid‘s praises the game for a lack of microtransactions, Polygon‘s only includes idle speculation rather than any direct word from EA, there’s no mention of microtransactions whatsoever in CVG‘s review.

The outlets that posted reviews today opted to publish their reviews before EA had given a clear answer for how microtransactions would be implemented, with no knowledge of how they might impact the game design or balance. Several did so without adequately warning players that these changes might be in the pipeline, and no amount of post-release review updates will be of use to players who have already spent money on the game based on professional recommendations.

I’m not sure exactly what the solution here is. There are legitimate reasons why EA might want to implement microtransactions after they have player metrics to work with, although the vacuum of information also lets them mitigate some of the backlash they would have otherwise got from including them at release. Review outlets who are using post-release updates to reviews as a crutch for omitting crucial information in the initial reviews should probably stop doing that, but the market doesn’t seem to reward delaying a review in order to be thorough.

I really don’t want to start assuming games will have microtransactions unless the publisher or developer gives a cast iron confirmation that they won’t.

What’s to be done?

12 Comments Leave yours

  1. Dean #

    Assuming that we accept that micro transactions can be implemented in a good way, doesn’t this boil down to a fear that the game could be patched into something worse than it is on release, which is a concern for any game these days, multiplayer ones especially.

    • Lewie Procter #

      A worthwhile point, although there seems to me to be a difference between a patch intended to improve the game and a patch intended to maximise revenue.

      A paying customer disliking the former is a matter of opinion, whereas a paying customer disliking the latter is a result of different priorities.

  2. I think that there is a decent chance that you will have to start assuming games will have microtransactions unless the publisher or developer give a cast iron guarantee that there won’t be.

    And even then, I’m not sure I’d believe them.

  3. In terms of reviews for games that add micro transactions later, I think readers should be notified and the review altered ( in some cases rewritten depending on the magnitude of the change) to reflect the new state of the game. In fact I believe some sites will be operating like this ongoing now?

    As for the actual game I guess it really depends on how they get implemented and *when* is also a factor. TF2 did this well, Battleforge did not (IMO).

  4. DY357LX #

    Sadly, I don’t think we (the gamers, the buyers) can “win” anymore.

    The best solution (in my opinion) is to wait for a “Game of the Year” or “Complete” edition.

    PRO’S: All the DLC is bundled in at a good (usually) price.
    CON’S: You have to wait 12-18 months for these versions to appear… if they do. Not a lot of people can do that.

    Failing that, you’ll have to wait for a Steam sale or the like.

    The other problem comes down to casual gamers.
    They don’t know much better and will happily spend £50+ on recycled crap like the latest CoD or FIFA game. Every year they moan that last year’s version was better but they still throw down their cash on day 1.
    They’re also more willing to repeatedly throw down £1.99+ on micro-transactions for the junk in titles like CandyCrush, Dungeon Keeper or Plants Versus Zombies 2. (Which all throw artificial wait times at you unless you get your wallet out.)
    They don’t realize that, if NO-ONE succumbed to in-app purchases, we’d all win! The devs provide a fuller/more complete game (maybe charging £1.99 instead of free) and we’d be more willing to recommend said game to friends, generating more cash for the devs.

    I miss the days of expansion packs and developers who gave us level editors and modding tools.

  5. The solution is to not buy games unless they were made before 2004 😛 it’s all getting a bit ridiculous, this microtransaction/IAP nonsense.
    The way I see it, if you’re paying for a game upfront (no matter how much) then there should be zero IAPs. You’ve bought the game, you should get the complete thing.*
    On the other hand, if a game is free-to-play, then that’s a situation where IAPs are acceptable, because it’s a method of gaining revenue. A good free-to-play model would be something like Blacklight – everything is useful in some fashion, but (in the case of guns) one receiver may not have a feature that another does, so it’s all about finding what you like playing with, rather than getting something inherently “better”.

    *This gets complicated by DLC and things like that. Should we be paying for DLC if we’ve paid full-price for the game in the first place?

    • k #

      “The solution is to not buy games unless they were made before 2004”
      That resulted in a vocal and hearty gallows laugh because it’s exactly the way I feel these days.
      Not cynicism per se, just pragmatism. I’m very much leaning towards out as a consumer unless GOTY/steam sale.

  6. Sorry Lewie but I don’t agree. Reviews should be for how the game is at the time it’s reviewed, not based on what might happen. Otherwise reviews have to account for the possibility that any issues might be addressed in the future too.

    • Lewie Procter #

      I’m not suggesting reviewers guess what might/could happen in the future into their reviews, unless they have a functioning crystal ball, but including relevant information that is available to them in a review would be a good bare minimum.

      Something like “EA are planning to update this game to include at some point in the future to include microtransactions. No details of how they will be implemented are available now, but we will have an update for when they are added down the line” would satisfy me.

  7. It’s EA.

    The default assumption goes as follows : If they can fit micro-transactions in. They will. If micro-transactions are successfully wedged in, they will be placed into the game in such a way that they are of maximum detriment to the customer experience (see Dungeon Keeper Ios for the current example).

    EA do not care for the quality of the customer experience, EA care only for how much money they can wring out of their buyers before the end of the quarter to ensure their stock doesn’t tank. How long that strategy will continue working for is anyone’s guess. But with one golden goose already firmly slain (Simcity) and another quite badly brand tainted (Battlefield), they’re fast running out of good income streams.

  8. Sky Black #

    Really liked this article, I think reviewers should absolutely mention the possibility of the game having micro transactions added at a later date.

    Games remind me more of films these days. Even minor alterations to films like Star Wars or Blade Runner change the consumer’s experience, as does adding micro-transactions to a game post-launch…especially if they are ‘pay to win’.

    Glad you’re writing more articles on Savy Gamer, look forward to more!

  9. MGb #

    Clever move by EA after the DK backlash.
    I suppose it’s fine as long as they give you the chance for a refund whenever they mess around with the game post-release 😛

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