The Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare series has prided itself on being the zaniest competitive shooter around. Whether it’s playing as a heavily armed plant or a brain-eating zombie, fans can always look forward to a crazy good time. The sequel, Garden Warfare 2 launched last February and has received regular free updates to keep its players engaged. The latest expansion is called Trials of Gnomus, and it includes new game modes, additional weekly events, and new areas to explore.

Marcel Kuhn, the associate producer for Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2, spoke with [a]listdaily about the free update and how the game manages to stay ahead in a market full of competitive shooters.

Marcel Kuhn, associate producer for Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2, EA PopCap

“The Gnomes have been occupying the town hall in the middle of the Backyard for a while now, and even though players heard construction noises from within, they weren’t able to enter,” Kuhn said, when asked to describe the Trials of Gnomus expansion. “For this update, we’re finally opening up the doors of the town hall, and players get to see what the Ministry of Mystery built for their King: The Mystery Portal.”

The portal gives players access to three time-limited modes that include: Super Mix Mode, Cats vs. Dinos and Boss Hunt. Players are rewarded with Rainbow Stars for participating in these modes, which are used to open Rainbow Star reward chests that contain unique customization options and Trial Keys. Keys are used in the new area, the Gnome Underworld, and unlock the Trials of Eternity. “Each trial will challenge the player in a different way, i.e. their ability to memorize a sequence of icons or navigate across hazardous traps,” said Kuhn. “I could go on about what happens next, but I think that’s a surprise the players need to find out for themselves…”

When asked about how Garden Warfare 2 has grown since launch, Kuhn responded: “We’ve had several updates since we launched in February and delivered new experiences for all areas of the game. That includes new maps, characters and customizations as well as completely new game modes such as the Delivery Time Trials and the Community Challenges we’ve added as part of the Trouble in Zombopolis update. These additions make the game feel alive, as there’s always something new to discover, no matter what type of experience you’re looking for.”

Given its dedicated fan base, we asked why the developer released free expansions instead of using paid DLC like many competing games do. “It’s part of our identity as EA PopCap,” Kuhn said, “and we feel that as our players invest time in us, we need to invest time in them. We want to make sure our community knows that we care and support them, we deliver that support by providing free content updates and hope that the players continue to enjoy the PvZ GW2 experience.”

So how exactly does EA PopCap work to keep its players engaged for the long-term? “We’re keeping the game fresh by providing new updates that also include gameplay tuning based on feedback we’ve received from our community,” Kuhn explained. “As a result, the game keeps improving as time passes, allowing players to continue to have fun and discover new characters and challenges along the way. We’re also adding new ways to play multiplayer through new character variants in our free content updates. So if you have an affinity for a certain character class but wish certain abilities had subtle differences and variations, we’re adding those in with new variants. There have been several since launch, and we’re continuing to look at more.

“While our most recent update Trials of Gnomus introduced three new, time-limited game modes that specifically catered to our multiplayer community, this is not limited to player-to-player interactions. In earlier updates, we added single players challenges and new quests to the Backyard. We also continue to deliver new customizations for our characters, which is one of the key pieces to GW2’s success and allows players to be creative by generating unique characters to play with.”

We asked about how EA PopCap worked to convert players of the original game over to the sequel. “GW1 was an amazing game and introduced the world’s craziest shooter,” said Kuhn. “We are very happy that we have such an active community in both GW1 and GW2. In order to reward that community, we’ve implemented special features to make their transition from GW1 to GW2 easier, such as the ability to import characters you’ve unlocked in GW1 into GW2. There are also some exclusive loyalty rewards for GW1 players transitioning over to GW2. To give you a taste of the full GW2 experience, there are also time-limited, free GW2 trials on all platforms.”

GW2 released in a year that’s already loaded with competitive shooters, including heavy hitters like Overwatch. Then there are upcoming games such as Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1, both of which are being published by EA. How does GW2 manage to stand out in such a crowded space?

“The Plants vs. Zombies universe, with all its crazy humor, ensures that it’s still the craziest shooter around—there’s simply nothing like it out there,” said Kuhn. “On top of that, GW2 offers a unique balance that allows casual players to enjoy themselves while requiring skill to be successful at a higher level of play. It’s easy to play, but hard to master.

“Based on the vast amount of content in the game, there’s also a lot of depth. Be it on your own or with friends—there’s also always something new to discover and to look forward to. This can be a new personal best in the shooting gallery, promoting a new character variation you’ve unlocked or inviting your friends into your Backyard to show off your latest character customization. The possibilities to enjoy the game in different ways are seemingly endless.”