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PopCap CEO defends move to free-to-play

Plants vs. Zombies 2 downloads have already eclipsed performance of first game

PopCap CEO Dave Roberts has confirmed that Plants vs. Zombies 2 has enjoyed great success in its first hours on sale.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 was launched yesterday, introducing a free-to-play business model to the much-loved franchise. In an interview with GeekWire, Roberts claimed that PopCap has "gotten a lot of flak" for the move to micro-transactions - which is consistent with EA's strategy for all of its mobile releases.

However, the widespread belief that "free-to-play is so evil" hasn't damaged the game's early performance.

"I don't think anyone at EA has seen anything go up that fast to the top downloads. By 6 a.m. this morning, it was already at number one," he said yesterday. "My guess, by lunch today, we will have hit the same number of downloads that it took us five months to hit in the first version. It probably took us close to a year to hit that number on the PC."

"My guess, by lunch today, we will have hit the same number of downloads that it took us five months to hit in the first version"

Perhaps inevitably, Roberts staunchly defended the free-to-play model, citing the number of players the game will ultimately reach as its greatest strength. "We can now talk to a million people in a day or two million people in a day or five million people, or whatever it is going to end up with today. That's a huge deal," he said.

"People used to complain about ... (when we started) we sold $20 download games. You had a 60-minute trial on, and then you had to pay $20 for it. And then you owned it. It was two percent conversions, and it was the same thing. A lot of people would try it, and a small number of people would pay for it. And that's how PopCap grew up."

More importantly, Roberts believes that, for better or worse, the market has already voted in dollars. On mobile, free-to-play is the clear winner, with the app store's top grossing chart dominated by freemium titles until, "70 or 80 or 90."

"That's the sad truth," he said. "People have decided that free-to-play is a better way for them to monetise. And, some of the purists would argue that the industry has made them do that.

"Can you do it in a way that preserves what we believe is the great game experience and customer experience? We hope so. We think so."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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