There was recently a reported rumor going around that the creator of Plants vs. Zombies, George Fan, was fired from EA after he refused to make the game’s sequel pay-to-win. As with all stories, the whole situation is a bit more complicated and nuanced than it first appears.
On a podcast called Roundtable Live, Binding of Isaac director Edmund McMillen told a story about Fan, a friend of his, that was quickly circulated around the internet due to its implications. An excerpt can be read below.
This is a semi-unknown story and I hope I’m not stepping on toes with it… It involves a friend of mine George Fan. George made a game called Insaniquarium, he made it ages ago, and it won a lot of awards. He got headhunted by Popcap, and Popcap hired him, sent him off with two more people in a small office and said hey make a game. And he said, ‘OK I’m gonna make Plants vs. Zombies.’ And he made Plants vs. Zombies. It was hugely successful. They got acquired by EA. EA made that game even more successful. And then they were like, ‘OK we’re gonna focus on this and we’re gonna make a sequel, spinoffs, this this and this.’ George was like, ‘Great, I’ve got an idea for a sequel.’ He developed this game independently as well, an independent mindset with a small team of people. It was personal. Knowing the guy I can see: the characters are personal, every bit and piece is something from him, so it was his baby. And they’re like hey let’s make the sequel, we’re gonna put it on mobile, and we’re gonna do this “pay to win.” And he’s like, ah I don’t know, that’s not a good idea, I don’t really want to do that with my game, and they said “You’re fired.” And he left… This is such a newsworthy thing, and it’s frustrated me for years that there’s not news stories about this.
On Twitter, Fan himself stops just short of completely confirming this story, though he did reveal that he was indeed let go from the company and he was also against making Plants vs. Zombies 2 a ‘freemium’ game. He does not, however, directly correlate that opinion to his departure from the company.
Regarding recent rumors, it is true I was laid off by EA/PopCap, and also true that I was against making PvZ2 a freemium game. That's all I'll say on the matter for now
— George Fan (@thegeorgefan) November 21, 2017
Kotaku spoke with two former high-level PopCap employees who stated that Fan was let go during a larger set of layoffs in August 2012 that affected around 50 people. It was at this time that PopCap closed its office in San Mateo, California where Fan had worked. These employees also said that Fan just didn’t mesh well with the corporate environment.
Allen Murray, another former PopCap employee, had this to say on Twitter:
Wow. Hey @edmundmcmillen, I was the producer of PvZ2 and that story was not even close to the truth. It’s a bummer that something false like this came out second hand. I’m happy to chat offline… Cool. Since this picked up some traction, I should state the facts that I know. I was the lead producer from Jan ‘12 to launch in July ‘13, about 18mo. George was never involved during the time I worked on the project. He was working on a different game, which was super fun! But it never launched. George was unfortunately part of the layoffs in Aug ‘12, but I know none of the details surrounding his departure. In Oct ‘12 there was a change in franchise leadership that mandated a shift to f2p mobile. Despite concerns about the design change, I’m proud of the work me and my team did. George created a great game that we built upon and I was sad to see him go. I’m excited for his new endeavor and wish everyone the best of luck!
Even if there is certainly some truth to certain aspects of the original rumor, it appears that the whole story is much more complicated than just “EA being greedy EA again.” Still, if you don’t like these anti-consumer practices, speak with your wallet.