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EA reportedly fired Plants vs. Zombies creator after his refusal to make sequel pay-to-win [updated]

Star Wars Battlefront II featured a pay-to-win system involving loot crates which gave players significant advantages like faster regenerating health. Since then the company has pulled micropayments from stores. Need for Speed Payback was the same way. The game limited progression in many ways so that players would buy loot crates to level up and acquire other items faster. Ghost Games introduced a patch to change this yesterday but, you could argue that it shouldn't have been pay-to-win in the first place.

According to a statement made by The Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy designer Edmund McMillen, EA has been planning aggressive microtransactions for years and has gone to great lengths to ensure compliance. The incident McMillen discussed occurred between his friend George Fan, the creator of Plants vs. Zombies, and EA after they acquired the franchise. The publisher reportedly fired Fan many years ago after he refused to implement the pay-to-win model into the series. McMillen said the following on the Round Table Live! podcast.

You guys want to hear an industry story that has to do with EA and an independent developer? This is a semi-unknown story, and I hope I'm not stepping on toes with it, but I know I can… as long as I say it like a slightly "fuzzy on the details"... It involves a friend of mine, George Fan... And PopCap hired him, set him off with two more people in a small office, and said, "Hey, make the game" and he's like "Okay, I'm going to make Plants vs. Zombies". And he made Plants vs. Zombies, it was hugely successful, and they got acquired by EA.EA made that game even more successful. And they were like, "Okay, we're going to focus on this and we're going to make a sequel, we're going to do spin-offs, this and this". And George was like, "Great, I've got an idea for a sequel!"... He developed this game independently as well, with an independent mindset with a small team of people... So it was his baby. And they're like "Hey, y'know, let's make this sequel, start on the sequel, and we're going to put it on mobile, and we're going to do this pay-to-win". And he's like, "Ah, I dunno, it's not a good idea, and I don't really want to do that with my game, and they said, "You're fired".

As with any such story, take it with a grain of salt until we have both sides of the argument, but there might be some truth to this. After the podcast went up on YouTube and was picked up by various outlets, George Fan himself issued a brief statement on Twitter. He admitted that he was fired by EA and that he refused to make Plants vs. Zombies 2 a freemium game. Freemium is a pricing strategy where any piece of software is provided free of charge, but money is charged for certain features and virtual goods.

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Fan stopped short of revealing the whole story but it seems like he might discuss it at a later time. Individuals outside of the gaming industry always believe that even developers are on board with the idea of having pay-to-win microtransactions but that's really not the case. If this story is indeed true, then it shows us another side to development. Developers are either on board or not. If they aren't, then they risk losing their jobs. We'll keep you posted if we hear about further developments to this story.

Update 11/22/17: It seems that there may be more to the story than what designer Edmund McMillen shared. Allen Murray, another former PopCap employee, said Plants vs. Zombies creator George Fan was fired as part of regular layoffs. Murray also wanted to talk to McMillen "offline" to clarify the situation. It's unclear who's account is correct because even Fan admitted he was against making Plants vs. Zombies 2 a freemium game.

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Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.

28 Comments
  • This micro transactions stuff is just as ridiculous as all these sexual harassment accusations
  • Ah, so you're not cool getting financially raped and missing out on content but you're totally cool with incidents of sexual harassment being covered up and ignored.  Got it.
  • He said he's not cool with either, actually.  Obviously meant to be a joke.  Obviously not one you appreciated.
  • Not sure that is the case.  Had he said "micro transactions are just as ridiculous..." then that is one thing.  Instead, he said "stuff", which to me, indicates he means people reporting on it and complaining about them.  Either way, making a correlation between the both of them is asinine to say the least.
  • I never said I was cool with one but not the other. I was saying they are both outrageous and out of control.
  • What do you mean by "micro transactions stuff"? Are you talking of the microtransactions or the outrage?
  • I was putting everything all together. Basically in the news world all you hear about is new sexual harassment allegations everyday and in the gaming world you hear about new games adding micro transactions or pay to win schemes into games and I'm just tired of it all. I play games so I don't have to deal with all the bs going on and companies like ea and take two and Microsoft are ruining gaming as we know it. I know there's other companies who add micro transactions too but I don't want to list every single one
  • That's what I thought. You are here to defend MS, take two and EA. Your comment sounds like you are here to damage control these practices. You know, you're not obliged to come here and complain about industry journalist try to talk about this anti-gaming policies or about gamers trying to defend gaming. No one is forcing you to open these topics. You don't have to deal with this so why are you here getting involved? The thing is if you want to try to defend microtransactions/loot box/pay2win in a full price game then please do. Post your arguments showing that these are good for the industry. 
    I'm ready to have a discussion about the issue with anyone favouring it. If you don't want to get involved and is tired of the whole thing then I don't understand the reason why you're even opening these topics.
  • How i miss games use to be. None of this pay to win. -.- almost all games from EA are like that. What next battlefield?
  • Absolutely, Battlefield will be next...unless a new Titanfall comes out first.
  • They are both probably coming out the same time next holiday season
  • Wow!
  • I'm waiting for EA to start charging for footballs in Madden. 
  • For $4.99, you can get footballs with extra inflation that offer more grip...for better ball handling and 10% more chance of a touchdown.
  • *Less inflation - Ya know, deflategate. :)
  • I don't know much about American football, but I'm definitely willing to pay extra for better ball handling!
  • I love Plants vs Zombies 2, but the game certainly does feel like some levels are designed to be beaten only if I use those spells that are mainly obtainable through microtransactions. Seems EA got it their way after all.
  • This is getting unacceptable.
  • If they want games to be micro transaction supported give them away free like android and ios titles. I have always purchased pc games because they offered a fair way to play that wasnt centered around cash to win.
  • Then you'll have idiot company "fans" defending these companies and mocking gamers who criticise EA with bs arguments...
  • Why can't we complain about it from every side. Both sides are taking it too far.   First, there is nothing wrong with the idea of microtransactions or loot boxes as long as they don't intefer with the normal expectation of gameplay. And that is the point both sides need to realize.  On one side, if gamer paid for a full game (not a freemium) and the game requires the purchase of lootboxes or microtransactions in order to finnish the game that is wrong.  Or even if you don't need the lootboxes or microtranacstions officially to complete the game but, the developer makes it so hard to complete the game naturally without it that is also wrong. In the later case Battlefront II is the current whipping boy of gamers and the media because it overstepped the use of lootcrates and the game can not be completed or attainable parts with any reasonable time frame.  It could be completed without transactions but, doing so took over (an estimated) several thousand hours to do it without getting all the lootboxes. That is a scenario of a developer over stepping with extra cost to complete the game by manufactuing a need to spend more money to complete the game. Definately wrong. EA manufactured and artifical need for purchasing lootboxes beyond need of the lazy gamer or gamer who likes to add a little flair to his outfit.  On the other side, some gamers are being crybabies.  I get there are things with LB and MT's that can be abused and that abuse should be a practice that is frowned upon. First step, is to show them by hitting them in the pocket book and don't buy the game.  That seems to be happening with BFII right now.  Second, have the industry take care of this not the governments. Have the industry set the rules (much like the rating systems)  because having the government regulate this will only hurt everybody (not just the developers.)  But expecting completely removal is an overstep.  We will see lootboxes translate into something else or if removed games will go up in price.  Seriously, AAA games have been at $60 for almost 10 years now. Meanwhilte these top AAA games are getting bigger and bigger with budgets larger than a Marvel movie.  I personally don't want the games to go up in pricing with all games being the deluxe package pricing. Developers' aren't not going to put extra effort in parts of games that dominate MTs and that is the sellling knick knacks if they can't charge and make money. Adding extra income by charging the lazy shouldn't be on companies like EA to stop. Only when they make the game pay to win for games that you already paid fully for. MT's  and lootboxes they serve a purpose or atleast they mainly served that initial purpose.  Some people like short cuts to get from point A to Z and not spend the time to some basic legwork.  Now if those games want to cheat by spending their own money or in game coin  buying that super blaster or get an upgrade card to Luke Slywalker that is on them. Or if they want to buy a pimp hat to wear or rainbow colored sniper rifle that is on them. Those are resources that the developer spent time developing.  No different that a car manufacturer adding options to your car purchase (some things cost extra e,g, advanced audio system, heated seats, super galaxy black paint jog)  and there is an  after market providing updates to your car. That is all MT's are in 99% of the issues and aftermarket option for gamers.    If gamers are too lazy to play 3 hours to get something that easily is attainable to them in normal gamepay that is on them and then spend another 3 to get the next big thing that is on them again.  As I have said above the requirement of hundreds of hours to get it is an abuse of lootboxes and in case of BFII EA should be hit hard for that abuse.  I have no problem with a company selling them knick knacks and shortcuts to gamers that affect their own gameplay.  Now if doing so affects my gameplay (especially with online gameplay) that I can't easily compensate against those that spend hard cash with playing at a normal rate then we are going to have problems.  As for purchasing lootcrates the radnomness of these can be an issue.  And that will  have to be dealt with. But, since you are getting something (maybe not what you want)  I personally don't consider gambling.  I personally think Halo 5 handle MTs well with their REQ packs. That could be attained with good solid dedicate gameplay and if you wanted to purchase additional REQs that money went to help 343 build additional content for the game available for the rest of us. Not just the occassional map but actual new game content.  They also set forth rules on how REQs could be used that balanced at online game play fairly well. 
  • There is a great documentary on this very subject. It's about the company that made that stupid fruit ninja game and the conflict pay to win causes among developers and suits. Top doc. Bing it.
  • Screwed the voice actors too. They don't get my money.
  • It seems Kotaku is the only whoever does any investigative journalism these days when it cones to gaming news: https://kotaku.com/widespread-rumor-about-ea-firing-plants-vs-zombie-cre...
  • EA is just plain **** from the start.  These indies should know better than to accept an offer of buyout. DICE and Bioware are lost cause. I was a big fan of these two, but now i cant support them.  So glad EA doesn't control half of the gaming industry.
  • George Fan never worked on PvZ2 and was let go from EA with 50 other staff two months before the decision was made to make PvZ2 a F2P title; https://twitter.com/allenmmurray/status/932444277317296129
  • PvZ was such a simple and great game, PvZ 2 could have been an amazing game but then EA bought them.
    These freemium games are getting worse and worse, i downloaded the Sonic Forces spin off for my android phone and it is pretty good but the amount of lengthy commercials are annoying as f**k. Some times I'm like: "please let me pay for this game and skip all these Micro-transactions and ads BS" but nooo, i need to watch long ads and see micro transactions everywhere.
  • If true, another reason to avoid games from EA. If we don't like this practice, only way to make it change is to show these companies that there is money in making a good game. Freemium with microtransactions is not as bad as adding microtransactions to full priced games, but for me it still ruins otherwise decent games that I'd be happy to pay to play, but don't harass me during the game with buying stuff to help me win. That completely destroys the game.