Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Plants vs Zombies Adventures

A new game just came out on Facebook and Ike pretty much immediately linked to an article about how this game merged two popular time wasters into one awesome game which was going to kill workplace productivity. The two games in question were Farmville and Plants vs Zombies. I actually played Farmville for a fair amount of time (basically until they removed the ability for me to give pigs to all my friends) and never really played the original Plants vs Zombies but really liked the World of Warcraft quest that spun off of it. And I love tower defense games in general. So even though I hate Facebook games with a passion after several of them bombed on me (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire stole my money, Scrabble started pausing games to serve ads, and Mystic Warlords of Ka'a took people's money and then shut down) I decided to give this a try.

On the surface the game starts off as a standard tower defense game. They moved away from the core Plants vs Zombies gameplay of having straight lines and infinite range plants and switched into a preset zombie path with finite plant range system. Not a big deal, but it is a change. You have peashooters and sunflowers and it all makes sense. Then the first twist gets thrown at you... Plants that you put down during a tower defense mission don't just cost you sunpower that you have to collect as usual. You have a finite number of these plants and when you use one on a given map it's gone forever. In order to keep playing map after map you need to generate a supply of these plants to use on each new map. The way you do this is by playing Farmville. Your town has 10 planter boxes and you can pay an ingame currency (coins) to grow more plants. The type of plant determines how many coins it costs to grow and how much time it takes.

How do you get coins to buy plants? Well, after each map any plants you use explode into a few coins, so you get a small amount of recycling that way. You can also build houses on your map that generate coins over time. Go to your town and click on the houses to get your coins out of them. They only build up coins for 3 or 4 hours though, so you better keep coming back often to get all of your coins! You also need to keep coming back often so you can grow more plants!

How do you get more houses? You spend another ingame currency (zombucks) on them. How do you get more of those? You do the tower defense missions and kill zombies! So it has nice interplay going on there. Play tower defense to get currency to play Farmville to get currency to play tower defense. Nice if the numbers are balanced properly, anyway. Terrible and frustrating if they're off in some way...

And off they are. I was able to play the game for maybe 45 minutes before I stopped being able to play. Part of this is not understanding what was going on. I gained the ability to make a new seed so I immediately planted a bunch of those in my farm garden. Turns out those seeds take an hour to grow, so half of my plots of land became worthless. It also turns out that the asparagus plant is strictly superior to the pea plant. (It shoots 4 square instead of 2 squares for the same amount of damage and same attack rate.) But it also turns out asparagus takes 10 minutes to grow instead of 1 minute. And costs twice as many coins. So while the tower defense missions are 'easier' with asparagus, you just get to do fewer of them since you can't grow enough plants to keep playing and you can't afford to buy them all even if you wanted to. So either I play with worse plants or I don't play as often as I want.

Or I pay them a bunch of money. Because that's what this game is designed to do, after all. Encourage microtransactions. There's a third type of ingame currency that you seem to only get by paying real money for it. You can spend this currency on pretty much anything you want. More planter boxes so you can get more plants? Done! Tons of coins? Done! $2.50 will get you a planter box. $20 will get you enough coins to buy 336 asparagus plants. Want a garden gnome for your town? (DO I?!) $1.50 and you can have one! Want to use beeshooters instead of peashooters? (They have more range and I suspect do more damage or attack faster.) You can't grow those at all. But you can buy them for a mere 40 cents each!

The numbers could be set up to make this a fun game I could play for a long time. Instead the numbers are designed so that I can pay them a lot of money in order to play for a long time. Or I can play for half an hour every 4 hours for free. It's set up to tell me when my friends outlevel me though, in order to guilt trip me into paying money when they do.

I can't say that I disagree with the design from a business point of view. The game was pretty fun for the 45 minutes I was able to play. I was able to unlock new things, and see achievements, and blow zombies up with plants. I'm sure there are plenty of people who will spend some money in order to play more often. But I hate this business model. Maybe because I'm a game locust who wants to play it all in one sitting and this business model is set up to get all of my money. It's not that I don't like paying money for games; I do. Even for free to play games, like League of Legends. I just hate having to pay extra in order to play at the rate I want to play, and I hate paying extra to be better.

So I'm not going to pay, and as such I'll probably end up not playing either. But if you're someone who plays games in shorter chunks than I do, or who wants to give the Popcap guys all of your money, give this one a try. It seems fun.

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