This isn’t just silly, it is authentically silly. After the Origin-based leak of Battlefield 4’s existence yesterday in connection with Medal of Honor: Warfighter, EA has confirmed that the tile is in development. Once you get over being shocked by a sequel to one of the publisher’s major franchises and catch your breath, let me know.
All good now? OK.
When Microsoft packed the Halo 3 beta with Realtime Worlds relatively unanticipated Crackdown, many recognized this as a brilliant move. Demand for the open-world super-cop game skyrocketed, with countless players finding unexpected joy in leaping from rooftop to rooftop while waiting for a taste of Master Chief’s new-gen adventure. Since then, the tactic has been replicated by a number of publishers including Ubisoft, Sony, THQ and Capcom. It’s not a brand new concept for EA, either. Battlefield 3 beta access was promised (and delivered) to those that purchased Medal of Honor in 2010. So, if the idea that access over a year off will be bundled with a game still months from release isn’t new, why is the Internet reacting so strongly this time?
The big reason is that prior to the leak and subsequent, Battlefield 4‘s development hadn’t even been mentioned. Sure, we all guessed that it was coming, but this reveal seems clumsy. Given what has appeared on EA’s website, all indications point to the blunder forcing their hands.
Everything we’ve learned about announcing games tells us that this wasn’t planned. The fact that EA and DICE aren’t “ready to talk about Battlefield 4 yet” makes that abundantly clear. Still, there is something else troubling about the beta “guarantee.”
After E3 2012, many of us became certain that the next generation of consoles would appear in Fall 2013. The market is contracting, and new IPs, which are easier to sell in the launch window of new hardware, are becoming extremely uncommon. If Microsoft, Sony or both launch next year, EA has just put themselves in an awkward position. They have three different options, none of which are particularly appealing. Remember, these choices assume that there will be new hardware for Microsoft or Sony next year.
Option 1: Release Battlefield 4 only on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
This option will cost the least of three. Development on hardware that DICE has had years of experience with means efficiencies that simply won’t be possible on new tech. EA will be able to deliver on their guarantee of beta access to anyone that purchases Medal of Honor: Warfighter. This does likely mean lower sales. Early adopters will be less interested in purchasing a title for a “last-gen” console. With no guarantee of backward compatibility in the next wave of hardware, playing Battlefield 4 could mean having one more console connected to enjoy the game. The worst scenario with this decision is if Activision has a Call of Duty title ready. EA is already trailing, and this setup would be devastating.
Option 2: Release Battlefield 4 on PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and whatever next generation systems are available next fall.
Not only will it be costly to simultaneously develop for four or five different platforms (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and at least one next-gen console), the player bases will be more fractured than they are already. Maintaining additional servers for different platforms won’t be inexpensive, and gamers are already frustrated by the impact that rent-a-servers have had on the community. The upside is that this option might yield a balance between sales and fulfilling a guarantee that the next option doesn’t.
Option 3: Release Battlefield 4 only on PC and next-generation hardware.
This will make a huge splash for EA and DICE, showing off the evolution of the Frostbite 2 engine (or successor) on the shiniest, newest piece of tech. Sales will be likely be high, even if Activision does roll out a Call of Duty title (which we imagine they will). There’s one problem, though. What about the guaranteed beta access for purchasers of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game? Inevitably, there will be individuals that don’t upgrade on launch day. How can EA possibly guarantee them access to something for which an additional hardware purchase is required? Put simply, they can’t. Even if there is language connected with the offer that gives EA an out, the backlash will be enormous. Using the lure of a beta for a game that may or may not appear on existing hardware to sell another product is extremely risky.
EA must be regretting the early reveal of Battlefield 4 right now. With next year’s landscape so cloudy, the commitment they’ve made puts the publisher in a tricky position and, more importantly, at the whim of the platform holders. Even if Microsoft is the only console manufacturer that launches next fall, EA is in trouble. The partnership between Activision and the Redmond computing giant has been strong.
Certainly, only time will tell how this plays out and what EA’s reaction to upcoming hardware announcements will be. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping our eye on the story.