Monetizer: Plants vs. Zombies 2

Monetizer: Plants vs. Zombies 2

Following on from my speech at the Develop in Brighton 2013 conference, we're running a weekly column called Monetizer.

You can see previous columns here, and we're posting screens of the different techniques we come across on a daily basis on our Tumblr page.

As for the concept behind Monetizer, it's an attempt to quantify the opening 10 minutes or so of significant free-to-play games to check out the early user experience and monetization techniques.

This week, we're playing EA and PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies 2.

Give me sunshine

Given that Plants vs. Zombies 2 takes a much-loved and highly successful paid game franchise and converts it to the free-to-play business model, you might think the game would be controversial.

The reason it's not is (unlike last week's Monetizer candidate The Drowning) it's reviewed tremendously well - gaining an 8.5 from review aggregation site Quality Index.

Also, as EA pointed out at Gamescom 2013, the game's 16 million downloads in two weeks makes it the company's biggest mobile launch to-date (and currently it's only available for iOS).

Loading up the game, there's the option to connect to Facebook, but this isn't forced. It does use Apple's Game Center, however. When it starts up, the game also checks for new content and downloads it, but it tries to do it in the background where possible.

Of course, there's the usual in-your-face request for Push Notifications, which no doubt everyone declines.

Teach me

In terms of demonstrating a very basic tutorial process, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a great example of restricting gameplay as much as possible to get the key elements across to the player.

This is something that's reflected throughout the first level of the game, whereby new plants, items and gameplay elements are introduced in a tutorial manner, despite players now being involved in the main game levels.

Similar to the way it layers in gameplay complexity, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is also very smart in the way it introduces monetization.

It takes around 30 minutes before you're taking directly to the in-game shop. Prior to this, in-game character Crazy Dave gives you some soft currency to buys an time-based consumable to supercharge your offensive plants.

In addition, a new element to the Plant vs. Zombies gameplay (due to F2P) are the direct power-up moves (enabling you to pinch, flick and electrocute zombies for a short period of time).

Again, these are formally introduced, and in these early stages of the game, you earn enough soft currency not to need to spend hard currency on them.

Stacking shelves

In terms of how the store is structured, EA/PopCap has employed 8 bands of transaction value (most companies use 6), ranging from a minimum of $2.99 up to $99.99.

Calculating at the Discount Ratio (the per unit price range comparing a minimum to a maximum transaction), it's 2.7.

This compares to a typical range of 1.3-1.7 for most games, although as we've previously noted, EA's The Simpsons: Tapped Out has a ratio of 4, so it seems that it's company policy to reward payers who spend more real cash with proportionally more virtual currency.

As well as buying virtual currency (which is used in-game to buy the consumable power-ups), players can also buy permanent items such as new plant types and upgrades such as additional plant slots or permanent start-level boosts.

These range in price from $2.99 to $3.99.

Finally, EA/PopCap offers three bundles, each containing one plant type, some coins and a permanent upgrade.

Personally, I'm usually suspicious of these, as they are hard for players to value, but in this case (assuming you do want the items contained), the bundles are priced at discounts of between 44 to 64 percent compared to the price for the items if bought individually. 

The math

So much for my anecdotal views. It's time to break out the equations.

Looking at Plants vs. Zombies 2's success, the iPhone version has already been top 100 top grossing in 90 countries, top 10 in 17 countries, with a US top grossing position of 17.

For iPad, the numbers are 101, 18 and 11 respectively.

So, using our basic equation, we get Success coefficients of...

iPhone = (17/90)/17 = 0.011

iPad = (18/101)/11 = 0.016

Obviously, these will increase over time, but they already meet our nominal success benchmark of 0.01.

Cash in?

Looking at our Monetization coefficient, this is constructed using the pricing of IAP, the confusion in terms of the number of ways real money can be spent in-game, and how actively a game attempts to monetize a player in the first 10 minutes.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 doesn't do the latter, but its layering of IAP and the $2.99 minimum IAP transaction does give it a fairly high ranking of 209.

We take 100 as our benchmark for high monetization.

Other recent example include The Drowning with 49 (low) and Machine Zone's Game of War with 299 (high).

In this regard, then, we'd define Plants vs. Zombies 2 as a game with a high level of inherent monetization even if it doesn't actively push it on players.

Conclusion: Plants vs. Zombies 2

Success coefficient (iPhone) = 0.011

Success coefficient (iPad) = 0.016

Monetizer coefficient = 209

Currency discount ratio = 2.7

Click here for a larger version

(Above you can see Plants vs. Zombies 2 plotted against various other games, although please note Monetizer remains a work-in-process.)

More generally, Plants vs. Zombies 2 sits in our '3' quadrant (high success, high monetization).

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.


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jon jordan
The full detail of my talk - and thinking behind the process - can be found here
jon jordan
Good questions Trevor.

In fact, the point of my Monetizer column is to come up with a quick and dirty process of analysing games using open source data.

In terms of the Success Coefficient, I wanted some simple numbers that would generate a strong filter to highlight success (and failure).

The top 10/top 100 ratio gives an idea about a game's momentum up the charts, with the US top grossing peaking chosen because it's the largest market.

Indeed, I want that denominator to have incredible power...

However, the key point of my talk at Develop was that these sort of system can be created by anyone and tweaked to their own specific interests, so you could use Japanese, Chinese or Korean top grossing positions if you were interested in that market.

So, my goal is to generate actionable insights in as simple as way as possible, and I'm very happy if you want to suggest better value and equations.

Really, this isn't me trying to impose anything. It's me trying to get people thinking for themselves.

Trevor McCalmont
I'm a little puzzled at why the "Success Coefficients" are useful pieces of information. How does (# Countries in Top 10 Top Grossing / # Countries in Top 100 Top Grossing) / Highest Rank in US Top Grossing mean anything real, and where is the arbitrary benchmark of 0.01 coming from?

Also, by putting Highest Rank in US Top Grossing in the denominator gives it incredible power. A game that reaches #1 is twice as successful as a game that reaches #2?

I think it would be more valuable to use values and equations that yield actionable insights instead of creating confusing equations with no real meaning.