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How EA keeps its Simpson game alive and kicking

EA has released a healthy set of updates that are timely and connect to the show, keeping the game relevant for players.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out, now with zombies! Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts' latest tool to keep The Simpsons: Tapped Out iOS game from becoming a zombie app: actual zombies.

In anticipation of The Simpsons' annual Treehouse of Horror episode, EA updated its Farmville-like game to include Halloween-themed landscapes such as a cemetery, complete with zombies and zombie pets that can infect the characters in your game. The addition adds a new wrinkle to the game, and breathes new life in for players who were done buying buildings and likely on the verge of burning out.

With the upgrade, EA made good on its promise to continue supporting The Simpsons: Tapped Out. The company had previously updated it to add new buildings, quests, and characters, and even offered up a free racing car timed with the season premiere. It's a great example of how a game can drum up attention for the TV show and while keeping interest high, allowing it to avoid the fate of becoming an ignored app on the iPhone or iPad.

I was initially skeptical about how well EA would handle the game. It had the worst start imaginable for a developer, with the early game plagued with bugs and overwhelmed by the interest level. As a result, EA had to shut the game down for months to rework the whole thing before re-releasing it in August.

But aside from a few glitches and maintenance notices here and there, the game has performed well. When it was back on the app store, it took the top free spot on the iPad and iPhone App Stores. While it's dropped out of the most popular slots, it remains the top grossing app, meaning gamers have been willing to fork over real money to buy "doughnuts" that serve as the currency for premium items (as with any game under the "freemium" model, it is free to download and play).

The freemium model is core to games such as Farmville and its creator, Zynga. That company has struggled as it deals with the risk all games face: eventual burnout. While that's less of an issue for games that require an upfront payment, it's a critical problem for games that make their money based on continued usage and intense interest.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out is likewise attempting to avoid that fate. The Halloween-themed update adds a lot of nice details, from the horror-themed introduction page to the nifty animations of zombies attacking characters like Homer and Bart.

There's also a sense of urgency to the update -- the Treehouse of Horror quests, buildings, and characters are only available for until Halloween. Afterwards, those items won't be available; although EA told me you would be able to keep any buildings or characters you did buy during the next few weeks.

The zombie update for "The Simpsons: Tapped Out." Electronic Arts

The additions include a giant Ray Gun, Heck House, or the hell version of the church, a Burns monster, and other clever references to the show.

I wasn't a big fan of the game during my early run, which required a lot of waiting around. The game was not too subtle about pushing me to buy doughnuts to speed things up, which is expected with these kinds of games, but not to that degree. Still, as I started to accumulate buildings and characters, I had to admit it was fun seeing the city take shape. It's a nice kick for this longtime Simpsons fan. The Halloween-themed additions only made it sweeter.

I can't wait to see what EA has up its sleeves for the next update.