EA, an entertainment software company based in Redwood City, Calif., began offering “Plants vs. Zombies” after it acquired PopCap, the game’s creator, in 2011. Prior to that, Vice President of EA Entertainment Patrick O’Brien says, it started as a PC game in May 2009 and made the leap to mobile February 2010.
In 2011, it became available for the Nintendo DS system. When EA purchased PopCap, it allowed for the expansion of the title, including the smash sequel “Plants vs. Zombies 2” on mobile, and “Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare,” which was a sleeper hit. “‘Plants vs. Zombies’ has been extraordinary for us,” O’Brien says.
Today, the game is available on every device and platform. “It’s got great legs,” he says. “We’re constantly making new games and new levels to existing games.”
This includes “Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2,” which will be released in spring 2016. In this third-person shooter game, “the plants and zombies are fighting for territory,” O’Brien explains.
Extending the Brand
“Plants vs. Zombies” is EA and PopCap’s strongest licensing brand. Alicia Brattin, a licensing director for EA focused on PopCap, says the companies look for ways to extend the “Plants vs. Zombies” brand through different platforms.
These have included “Plants vs. Zombies” toy construction sets, action figures and plush toys, as well as comics, which were created in partnership between PopCap and Dark Horse Comics Inc. “Those have been hugely successful,” Doerr adds. “We have sold over 1 million books.”
A large point of sales for the comics has been in schools, via Scholastic Inc. More stories will be added with the release of “Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2” comics, Brattin adds.
“It gives players an opportunity to read the story and learn more about the characters as they wait for the game to come out,” she states. “It’s how we look to extend the brand. The comic will also bridge the story gap of what happened between the first and second game.”
Other brand extensions include “Plants vs. Zombies” apparel from Bioworld Merchandising. “The brand is doing extremely well in Mexico and Latin America,” Doerr adds. “We’re the No. 2 boys brand in Peru, right behind ‘The Avengers.’”
EA and PopCap also have launched a promotion with ConAgra Foods Inc. “That’s going to be for Mexico and Latin America for ACT II popcorn and Del Monte Ketchup,” she says. “We did a promotion with them last year that was hugely successful. We’re both very excited.”
But despite their success, the companies manage the merchandise program very carefully. “One of the things you always think about is oversaturation,” Brattin says. “There’s a lot of thought and strategy that goes into what our program will be.”
EA stays successful by focusing on its players, O’Brien says. “We are constantly taking their feedback on board to make the games better,” he says. “We have a very large customer experience division in Austin, [Texas], where we’re responsive as possible to any player concerns or needs.”
The company’s marketing team also utilizes test groups for new games, Brattin adds. “[We] test the game playing mechanics and get feedback on the story,” she says. “We do lots of marketing research based on brand awareness and interest in all the territories around the world.”
This research helps EA succeed in a crowded market. New games are released every day, particularly in the mobile platform, she says. “It’s a very competitive landscape,” Brattin admits. “It’s all about making sure that you’re delivering something that customers like and [then] keep that fresh.”
EA has nurtured an environment where employees are enthusiastic about their work, O’Brien says. “People are passionate about games and what we do, regardless of their role as a gamemaker or in finance,” he says.
It is simply an enjoyable place to be, Brattin says. “We create fun products,” she says. “In order to do that, you have to have fun. When we walk around our offices, there’s video games, puzzles and board games.”
Doerr agrees. “In many ways, it feels more like a family than a job,” she says. “I feel very well taken care of here.”
She sees growth ahead for EA internationally. “We’re really trying to put our focus on the European Union, and we’re excited for the brands,” Doerr says.
This includes different opportunities for “Plants vs. Zombies” that the company has yet to announce, Brattin says. “There’s lots of good stuff coming for the spring,” she teases.