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.


Phil Hornshaw is deputy editor at Game Front. Find more of his work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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10 Comments on EA’s Battlefield 4 Spin, Excuses Won’t Help Future Games

concernedgamer82

On February 19, 2014 at 10:49 am

I agree completely. Gamers need to avoid preorders. Although, I have this odd suion that if, say, Battlefield 5 were to hypothetically not have preorders whatsoever, that EA would make the inaccurate assumption that Battlefield games were no longer popular, and they’d abandon the franchise entirely. I’m probably wrong, but it just feels, to me, like something EA would do.

Jimenez

On February 19, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Unfortunately, I think you are correct. What’s more, with digital distribution, there is no longer any reason to preorder. It remains important to publishers who now try to add value to preorders over day one sales. I’m not sure what any of this means, but it causes me great concern.

jip

On February 19, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Youtube Gaming Channel

Svenone

On February 19, 2014 at 6:54 pm

I think it’s a slow but happening process. I’ve seen it with my friends and myself. Between Mass Effect 3s conclusion (ok, it didn’t have the technical issues and was 99% great, but just was such a PR nightmare), Dead Space 3′s insidious DLC, SimCity, and BF4. A lot of us, now approaching our 30s are buying less games, and waiting longer to buy games. The carrot of pre-ordering is losing meaning.

I can’t think I’m the only one, and these botched releases aren’t exactly out of the news. It’s not like EA is going bankrupt, but they’re going to lose a little ground and the stock will probably stagnate.

Hypogriph

On February 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

I hate EA

Hypogriph

On February 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

I hate EA, love battlefield 3

Hypogriph

On February 20, 2014 at 11:03 am

I hate EA, love battlefield 3, this website posts suck also. It doesn’t tell you when you sent something…. ITS COMMON SENSE…

Dredd

On February 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm

In many ways, the addition of HDDs and near-universal online functionality has cursed the gaming world, for it has made it far too easy for developers to release games before they’ve even been properly playtested and expect the gamers to not only do the testing for them, but to take the burden of additional patches and DLC to fix the errors that should never have been allowed a release in the first place, often wasting hundreds of megabytes of console space. EA is the prime example of this, as well as deliberately releasing games unfinished in order to sell important content separately. It speaks volumes that they have won worst company in America two years running, especially during a recession where you’d expect hatred to be mostly directing towards the banks and companies in charge of housing prices etc. In my opinion, it’s a dead heat between EA and Microsoft as to which is the worst, which is not to say that all their games are bad but it is to say that you can only take anything they say with a pinch of salt, knowing that their outlooks are based on an incredibly isolated, borderline-delusional view of how the world works that is entirely centred around short-term financial stability.

Judas

On February 20, 2014 at 4:46 pm

EA has said that it would fix games for the last 20 years, Some things never change.

David

On February 23, 2014 at 4:40 am

Concur with Svenone, I also am doing much less pre-buying. The developers offer no incentive to do so, and the games will be discounted relatively quickly after release–more so if they have problems. That’s of course also Steam’s doing: with their distribution model, it’s a doddle to avoid overpaying. Of course, EA, realizing this works out poorly for them, has pulled all their recent offerings off Steam and created their own stupid, badly-designed, user-hostile game portal…