EA’s Battlefield 4 Spin, Excuses Won’t Help Future Games
Electronic Arts and its executives are no strangers to damage control when it comes to the launch of Battlefield 4, but their rhetoric of accentuating game sales over launch complaints doesn’t seem like it’s going to lead to many changes in the future.
Speaking with Rock Paper Shotgun at DICE earlier this month, EA Chief Creative Officer Rich Hilleman said he didn’t necessarily accept the premise that Battlefield 4 had a bad launch — because it sold well.
“Battlefield 4 has been an exceedingly successful product on both consoles and PC. From a sales perspective, from a gameplay perspective,” Hilleman said. He went on to downplay complaints about Battlefield 4 from players later in the short interview.
“I think there was a lot of noise about the game, but some of that is a function of your surface area,” he said. “The more customers you have, the more noise becomes available. We did things wrong. We know that. We’re gonna fix those things. We’re gonna try to be smart about what customers want in the future.
“But I’m not willing to accept — and I don’t think most of my customers are willing to say — ‘it’s a bad product, I wish I didn’t buy it.’ That’s not the conversation we’re having now. I think what we’re hearing is, ‘You made a game we really liked. We would’ve liked it a little better if it didn’t have these problems.’ Many of those problems we can fix, and we have and will.”
Hilleman is right in as much as developer DICE hasn’t made a bad product (as Devin Connors noted in his review of the game), but he’s also using an awful lot of language that basically takes DICE and EA off the hook for Battlefield 4′s launch. It’s worth noting that DICE put all DLC on hold after the launch of the game until its issues were fixed, and that DLC moratorium only just ended last week.
EA wants Battlefield 4 to seem like a unique case. When he was asked last week what lessons from Battlefield 4 EA might apply to the launch of Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming multiplayer shooter Titanfall, EA Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen blamed early development on new platforms like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, as well as Battlefield 4′s complexity as a game.
“I think the one thing to remember on Battlefield, Battlefield is an extremely complicated, very big, large, expansive game — 64 players, 60 frames per second, built on a new console that was essentially just coming out,” Jorgensen said at the Stifel Technology, Internet & Media Conference in San Francisco. “You tend to have very challenging development on games like that, and we’ve been very focused on making sure that any issues that we’ve had have been patched or repaired, or provided updates.”
Now, it’s important to note that part of any corporate officer’s job is to put the best face on the company at all times, and that element of what Hilleman and Jorgensen are doing here. Both are trying to downplay the problems of the company while highlighting the positives, and everything they say works to protect EA from a negative image that could hurt the corporation’s bottom line.
But Hilleman’s quotes in particular are troubling, especially given other high-profile launch failures at EA in recent memory. He falsely equates launch sales with launch success; he focuses on fan loyalty and their willingness to put up with problems, rather than speak about how EA is working to avoid those problems in the future.
And that’s a big part of this whole discussion that deserves some attention. Every time EA is asked what it learned from Battlefield 4 or other games, such as SimCity, and how those lessons will be applied to future titles, like Titanfall, the company gets cagey. “We’re fixing the problems,” they say, “but also the problems weren’t that bad, and the games sold well.”
Hilleman seeing success in Battlefield 4 from a sales perspective is hardly crazy; the game was financially successful, and that’s how corporations measure their success in general. But it also doesn’t seem like a big extrapolation for EA as a whole to interpret game launches the same way. SimCity, for example, was another game that sold well in spite of itself, mostly on player loyalty, but which also had an abysmal launch. Developer Maxis and EA spent months saying an offline mode for the game, which would have greatly alleviated launch issues, was impossible to include; and yet, that position was reversed last month, with an offline mode coming later this year.
The point is, there’s quite a bit of precedent here for EA to continue with business as it has been. It’s true that the publisher doesn’t put out bad products — so long as they work as intended — but it’s also true that EA’s measure of success is units sold, not customers satisfied, and those numbers lately have been two very different figures.
The only way those two figures are going to become one and the same, or at least come more closely in sync with reality, is if players change their buying habits. It’s hard to convince any company to change its ways if the bottom line continues to reflect success.
It’s been said before on Game Front, but it bears repeating: As a consumer culture, the best thing players can do is abandon pre-ordering games and buying titles sight-unseen. Waiting to buy games after they’ve been proven solid guarantees better game experiences. It encourages publishers and developers to think about their game beyond just its release date. And it dismantles thinking like that seen in Hilleman’s comment, because sales numbers will come from games that work, not just games that have fans.