EA’s attempt to explain the rocky Battlefield 4 launch wasn’t good enough

Friday, 20 June 2014 16:15 GMT By Dave Cook

Battlefield 4’s launch issues were a cause of great frustration and dismay for fans of EA’s series at release and beyond. Company CEO Andrew Wilson recently called the situation “unacceptable” and offered an explanation. VG247’s Dave Cook reckons his rationale is weak.

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”I personally find it hard to believe that over ambition was the sole cause for the game’s launch woes, but concede that maybe DICE was trying to cram too much in there. It happens, deadlines get missed and things quickly fall apart.”

Note: this is an opinion blog.

Rubber banding, squad issues, irritating lag and confounding one-shot deaths were just a few of the prevalent issues that plagued the multiformat release of Battlefield 4 last October.

Angry gamers and bloggers called out the shooter as unfinished on social channels, the game’s DLC slate was delayed to allow more time for tuning – much to the dismay of season pass holders – and law suits were filed to investigate claims of corruption.

There have been better launches.

But here we are some eight months later and Battlefield 4 has largely righted itself, and although no game is 100% without flaws or bugs, you have to admit that it certainly performs much better than that mangled original build. I cannot take that away from DICE. The team has listened, learned and did its best to fix the problem. That is great to see.

What happened? Well, in a recent interview with Eurogamer, EA CEO Andrew Wilson blamed the rocky start on over-ambition; the fact that developer DICE was simply trying to cram too many new mechanics and content into new software on untested platforms like PS4 and Xbox One. He called it “unacceptable.”

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Let us not forget however, that both consoles now have similar architectures to PC, a format DICE has worked with for years now. I personally find it hard to believe that over ambition was the sole cause for the game’s launch woes, but concede that maybe DICE was trying to cram too much in there. It happens, deadlines get missed and things quickly fall apart.

”At launch Battlefield 4 was an expensive, mangled wreck of a game that looked utterly dog-eared on last-gen formats, and let’s not forget those paying for Premium who had to put up with months of being dicked around.”

Wilson effectively stated that technical incompetence was not the issue, but added that Battlefield 4’s crippled state came from the client side rather than its servers, which makes one assume that the game was perhaps rushed to coincide with the launch of Sony and Microsoft’s new machines. This certainly ties in with the over-ambition claim, doesn’t it?

This sounds a little more likely to me, as Wilson himself added that EA wants to give DICE more time to squash bugs in its games moving forward, and made repeated mention of learning from mistakes. It’s possible, then, that DICE was rushed during the game’s development, and came up short when it came time to test.

However, he denied that EA rushed the shooter to meet those new-gen launches, and even took the opportunity to take a thinly-veiled swipe at Battlefield’s rival Call of Duty, with its annualised dev cycle and release dates so rigid that animals are known to set their hibernation to them.

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Wilson said, “You could go down the really conservative path, which some people did in the industry, and your game didn’t have any of those problems, but you also got the feedback of, it just feels the same as it used to.

“Or, you could push the boundaries and end up in the situation we ended up in. Neither is good. But I would like to be in the company pushing the boundaries.”

I don’t understand Wilson’s rationale and cheap pot-shot here at all. Is he saying that Activision and its blanket Call of Duty studios are being conservative by releasing a yearly game, and refraining from innovation? Well, that wouldn’t be the first time teams like Infinity Ward and Treyarch have been accused of being lazy.

”I don’t doubt that customer faith, loyalty and appreciation are key to DICE or EA to some level, but the way Battlefield 4 felt rushed to meet other targets – be it shareholder demands, retailers or the console launches – simply doesn’t fly.”

It’s not a sentiment I share, given how little time these companies have to produce a triple-a product. Are the Call of Duty games innovative? Not really, although their developers are anything but lazy given the brutal dev cycle imposed on them, and you know what that so-called conservatism has allowed for year-in, year-out? Games that people paid up to £50 for that actually worked like a fully functioning product as promised.

Call of Duty: Ghosts, Black Ops 2 and the like still needed patches post-launch, and they hardly break the mould, but they actually worked to a satisfactory level. Battlefield 4 in the majority did not.

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At launch Battlefield 4 was an expensive, mangled wreck of a game that looked utterly dog-eared on last-gen formats, and let’s not forget those paying for Premium who had to put up with months of being dicked around and having their privileged DLC delayed to make up for critical issues. Issues that should have kept the game from shipping in the first place.

Around Battlefield 4’s launch I saw several gamers stating that EA should have postponed the title to fix those problems. Logistically, that would have been a nightmare, seeing as there was likely money tied up in all tiers of the retail food chain – from store pre-order incentives, that Microsoft-EA partnership, advertisers and more.

”Along the line I got the feeling that someone at a higher pay-grade, or with a louder ‘voice’ drowned out all reason then shifted focus on profit and capturing that peak market time while it was hot with new-gen fever.”

Another high-profile title, Watch Dogs, was delayed in the eleventh hour last year and its developer given extra space to address whatever problems plagued it at the time. That probably cost Ubisoft and Sony – who were in bed with the title – a great deal of money, or at least a few Christmas cards come that December.

There are problems with Watch Dogs that have since arisen on PC, but the point is that EA should have followed suit and put the consumer first by delaying Battlefield 4, thus giving them a working product worth the asking price, instead of bowing to other pressures.

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I don’t doubt that customer faith, loyalty and appreciation are key to DICE or EA to some level, but the way Battlefield 4 felt rushed to meet other targets – be it shareholder demands, retailers or the console launches – simply doesn’t fly if true.

It should never have launched in October 2013.

My final observation is that the DICE of last Christmas seemed like a studio stretched thin to near-breaking point, if we’re to believe it had Battlefield 4, Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars Battlefront on the go at once. That’s also unfortunate if true.

I do not believe for a moment that DICE purposely manipulated gamers or wanted to ship a fractured product win Battlefield 4. I have too much faith in humanity to believe that, but along the line I got the feeling that someone at a higher pay-grade, or with a louder ‘voice’ drowned out all reason then shifted focus on profit and capturing that peak market time while it was hot with new-gen fever.

What’s more important: Profit or customer trust? Some times it’s hard to see where the needle lies.

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