Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) has finally released the long-awaited sequel to the indie smash hit, Plants vs. Zombies.
The sequel, Plants vs. Zombies 2, was released on Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)‘s iOS last week, and already, it has risen to become the top free app in the store, beating out Candy Crush.
With the sequel, Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) has embraced a free-to-play model, and this decision could reap rewards for the struggling video game publisher.
But more importantly, it serves as a potent reminder as to why Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s mobile operating system is still number one.
Making money from free games
If you’ve never played Plants vs. Zombies, you’ve been missing out. There’s no shortage of tower defense games on mobile platforms, but Plants vs. Zombies stands above the rest as the king of its genre.
The first game was a hit for its developer, PopCap games, which was subsequently acquired by Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) for over $1 billion.
That bet could pay off.
The fact that the game has managed to shoot up the app charts, and earn nearly universally positive reviews, says a lot.
As someone who has played both games, I can say that the sequel has kept the core components that made the original game so successful, while adding new twists.
But the biggest twist is an entirely different business model.
The first game carried an up-front cost. Pay X dollars, and you can have the whole game. But the sequel is free. Anyone can download it and play for dozens of hours without forking over a single dollar.
But if you’re an addict, you’re free to spend your money buying upgrades.
This is the same model that’s been used so successful in games like Candy Crush, which is currently the top grossing iOS game. By some estimates, it brings in over $600,000 per day from US players alone (over $200 million per year).
By forgoing an upfront cost, and instead encouraging in-app purchases, games like Plants vs. Zombies 2 should actually see more success than their for-cost competitors.
And for Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA), it could just be the beginning. The company has already planned a console spinoff, not to mention the revenue it could bring in from licensed toys (the purchase of which it encourages in-game).
Apple’s declining market share
Some investors may have watched in horror as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s share of the mobile operating system market declined.
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)‘s Android has taken the world by storm, and now accounts for 80% and 60%, respectively, of the smartphones and tablets sold.
But although Android still dominates when it comes to market share, it continues to lag in apps. For the most part, successful iOS apps make it to Android — eventually. But would be owners of Android phones and tablets have to accept the fact that they’ll have to wait for the best the app community has to offer.
No doubt Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) will eventually port Plants vs. Zombies 2 to Android. But for now, the game is only available for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s iOS, and it might stay that way for quite some time. Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) has yet to set a definitive release date for the Android version of the game.