Plants vs Zombies 2 And The Perils Of F2P Monetisation

plants vs zombies 2

Shuffling towards freemium failure

Making money on the App Store is tough. I know a lot of people who set out thinking that you can use it to turn a quick buck with a free to play game but that really isn’t the case. Even with a lot of knowledge and experience, it is more than possible for you to screw up your money making strategy to such an extent that it ends up being kind of embarrassing for all involved.

I’m mulling this over because of the high profile free to play failure from EA that’s currently brewing under our noses. Plants vs Zombies 2, despite a huge amount of promotion, hype and free chart topping success, is very much on the way to being a freemium fail as it struggles uphill to breach the all important top grossing charts that Supercell and King have effortlessly held for the past months.

Because, even with the help of all that shoving, it genuinely has done terribly in the top grossing charts. The screenshot below from App Annie’s Highest Grossing stats tell the story: the app only topped the top grossing category in two countries and they were in the small fry territories of Benin and Algeria. In terms of the big European territories and the US, where most developers will be measuring their success on, it’s hardly gotten into the Top 30 slots in top grossing; a clear failure for a game with such a big marketing budget.


plants vs zombies 2 image

Data from

Why it has flopped is likely to be dissected over the coming weeks. For my two cents, the failure can be isolated pretty much to the flawed execution of the monetisation model. With EA seeing games like The Simpsons! Tapped Out making a big pile of money from free to play, they decided to shove the model onto a game that was likely to wear it uncomfortably.

And so it proved. Gone was the tight, evolving premium package of the first and in came a relatively entertaining grindfest which provided relatively little incentive for you to go and purchase the additional content (such as retro plants, early level unlocks and in game power ups). By having diverse gameplay and cool art style, a game that probably should have been paymium ended up being shunted to free to play to what looks like underwhelming results.

So what can you as an app developer or marketer learn from this? The first lesson is a very practical one and that is that some games simply don’t stack up as freemium titles very well, especially when consumers have certain expectations of the product.

Plants vs Zombies was a very successful paid title and a paid follow up kept to a sensible budget and team size may have made a quick return and been a strong IP – something I’d consider preferable to weakening the core offering with a queasily received free to play follow up.

But the second lesson is a bigger one and that is anyone is capable of making mistakes, even the pros. That you can take a number of ways. It’s heartening to know that the big companies are able to take a step in the wrong direction, like EA did here, but it’s also a warning that it is easy to get things wrong when it comes to monetisation.

My main advice to avoid the pitfalls therefore is to simply stand back and honestly assess your product for the best pricing approach. EA looked at Plants vs Zombies 2 and saw a cash cow and not the product that was there. When it comes to your game you’ll know whether it feels like a full premium package, something that makes more sense as an ad funded free to play or an IAP based service game.

So choose the model your app deserves, rather than the one that seems right because others are doing it. Or otherwise you could end up with a freemium zombie on your hands.


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