The answer to that one is “yes and no”.
This is the 6th episode promotion the game has seen (the 7th if you count Halloween, which was really one month-long episode promotion!). And there’s been a mix of free and paid content in every recent promotion. But two things are true for all the buildings, decorations, characters and costumes made available since September last year as promotional items: they were all available for just a limited time – and they’re all no longer available.
Here’s a bit of episode promotional game history for the benefit of newer players:
1. The Duff Racer
This was a free decoration to celebrate the first episode of the current season of the show. It had no real quest attached to it. All you really had to do was place it somewhere in your town.
This had a mix of free and premium decorations, costumes, buildings and characters. For example, Mayan Homer, the Springfield Subatomic Collider and the Black Hole were all free (and related directly to this season’s Halloween episode). Kang and Witch Marge, however were premium (as were a number of other items).
3. Fat Tony
He arrived, on his own to promote the episode “Penny Wiseguys“. He was free, had a short quest, and there was no other building, decoration, costume or decoration as a premium extra. (That Fat Tony was only available for 3 days has since caused a mild outcry among newer players of the game, to the extent that he may be back within the next couple of levels – see here.)
4. The Cool Brown House and Cool Homer
This promotion occurred in November 2012, within a couple of weeks of the “Penny Wiseguys” promotion. Both the Cool Brown House and the Cool Homer costume were available free for a few days to promote the episode “The Day the Earth Stood Cool“. There was a quest which revolved around the theme of the episode which really needed both items to make any sense at all.
5. Gorgeous Grampa and the Gorgeous Grampa Billboard
Last month, to promote the “Gorgeous Grampa” episode, we got a free costume for Grampa and a decoration, the Gorgeous Grampa Billboard, which cost 40 donuts. There was a brief quest attached to Gorgeous Grampa, but buying the Gorgeous Grampa Billboard gained you no additional storylines.
6. Fruit-Bat-Man and the Fruit-Bat-Signal
Also in March was a promotion for the episode “Dark Night Court“. Many players found this one disappointing – not because the free item was a decoration (the Fruit-Bat-Signal) which didn’t do much and didn’t have a quest attached to it. The disappointment mostly came from Mr. Burns’ Fruit-Bat-Man costume, which was seen as the promotion’s key element, going for 90 donuts. If you didn’t buy it, you missed out on the episode-related quest, too.
7. The Swanky Fish and Springfield Falls
The current promotion is for the episode “What Animated Women Want” – and this time round, the free element is the far better prize! Springfield Falls is probably the nicest free gift EA have ever given us.
So, the free versus premium balance of episode promotions is mixed, particularly if you take into account Halloween. It does seem, though, that the pattern established in 2013 is to offer one free and one premium item in each promotion, which for EA probably makes very good commercial sense.