Electronic Arts' focus on microtransactions may have caused a storm of controversy in Star Wars: Battlefront II recently, but the publisher's push for pay-to-win has been contentious for a long time. As one such example, it has now been reported that microtransactions themselves could have been involved in the redundancy of Plants vs. Zombies creator George Fan.
Fan made waves through the launch of the beloved tower defense game back in 2009, and developer PopCap Games was then subject to a $650 million buyout from EA in 2011. However, just one year later there was a round of layoffs at PopCap, with Fan notably one of those made redundant. There has been some mystery surrounding Fan's departure from the studio, but now there have been suggestions that Fan was fired over his objections to EA's focus on pay-to-win microtransactions in Plants vs. Zombies 2.
The news comes courtesy of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac designer Edmund McMillen, who spoke about Fan's departure from PopCap on the Roundtable Live podcast. There, McMillen described the events of Fan leaving PopCap, stating that EA suggested "let’s make the sequel, we’re gonna put it on mobile, and we’re gonna do this pay to win" with regards to Plants vs. Zombies 2. When Fan disagreed with this idea, McMillen stated that he was fired. McMillen's comments can be seen below.
This would certainly explain Star Wars: Battlefront II's pay-to-win-problems, as well as a number of other EA releases that have been plagued with in-app purchase issues. Recently shut down studio Visceral also saw criticism for its 2013 release Dead Space 3, while in the realm of mobile games 2014's Dungeon Keeper has gone down in notoriety for its awful pay-to-win mechanics, with the game barely functional without additional purchases being made. With those examples in mind, the time frame's for EA's microtransaction focus certainly match up.
However, Fan himself has remained coy on the subject, stating on Twitter "it is true I was laid off by EA/PopCap, and also true that I was against making PvZ2 a freemium game." As well as this, Plants vs. Zombies 2 lead producer Allen Murray has questioned the veracity of McMillen's claims, also taking to Twitter to advise that Fan was not involved during the time that Murray was working on the project, and that Fan left prior to a "change in franchise leadership."
It's certainly clear that something was wrong behind the scenes, whether an ideological clash between an independent designer and a larger publisher or something more predatory in nature. With Fan currently unable or unwilling to share more regarding his departure, it may be some time before a definitive answer is gained. In the meantime, EA will have to contend with the controversy over Star Wars: Battlefront II and the stock price backlash that has come with it.