Is it finally time to accept the end of Battlefield’s dominance on PC?

By Sherif Saed, Monday, 31 October 2016 08:01 GMT

The Battlefield franchise has moved on from its PC roots, and I don’t mean in design or focus.

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“The Battlefield franchise is, effectively, a console series now. If you were to choose a version to buy today, the one with the biggest number of players would be the one to get.”

Perhaps since its inception, the Battlefield series has always called PC home. Before the rise of consoles, Battlefield games were largely considered one of the perks of owning a PC for the stellar multiplayer sandbox experience no other shooter could offer, certainly not on consoles.

Sure, DICE made Battlefield games for consoles at the time, like Modern Combat, but they paled in comparison to the real thing: the PC version. It wasn’t until the developer took a bit of a break and came back with the Bad Company off-shoot, a new sub-series where the sole goal was to figure out how to make this type of game work on a console.

So much so, in fact, the original Bad Company never came to PC. The sequel, Bad Company 2, did release on consoles and PC, of course, but by that point things had changed forever. It was now possible to play a solid Battlefield game on something other than a PC.

Battlefield 3 followed this trend, but unlike Bad Company 2, the game was a traditional Battlefield numbered sequel, not a side project with low player counts and watered-down mechanics. Battlefield 3 suffered from the same problem the pre-Bad Company games had: the idea that consoles could only manage an inferior version of the main event.

Nothing, however, will be remembered in quite the same way Battlefield 4 will. It’s the game that – for the first time – was identical across PC and consoles, old-gen not included.

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Battlefield 4 was the game that brought 64-player matches to consoles, the full-fat Battlefield experience you could previously only get on PC. We saw it again with Battlefield Hardline, and now with Battlefield 1.

Knowing all that, I never thought I’d actually see the day when PC could be in the same position PS3 was last generation; the platform with the lowest player numbers in a Battlefield game.

I’ve been visiting BF1 Stats since the launch of the Early Enlister edition of Battlefield 1, and though PC numbers were behind both consoles, things could have gone either way at launch. Well, launch came and went, all platforms gained more players, and yet PC stayed at the bottom.

At the time of writing, PC currently has 134,484 players online, compared to 194,876 on Xbox One, and a whopping 261,921 on PS4. Peak numbers for the previous 24 hours tell a similar story. PS4 has the lead with 298,223 players, followed by 212,048 for Xbox One, and just 136,594 on PC.

In fact, on Saturday, October 22, one day after the official launch, the number of active players on PS4 was at one point very close to the combined total on Xbox One and PC, at an impressive 346,726. PS4 numbers are even more impressive when you realise they represent owners of the full game only, and not a mix of EA Access subscribers and paid customers.

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PC never got close to reaching 200,000 active players, not even peaking at that. Player numbers in multiplayer games generally go downhill following the launch rush. Changes can and do happen down the road, sure, but generally speaking, the highest these numbers could get is on the first few days of release.

There’s a bit of a difference in peak hours across PC and consoles, too, which could indicate the region where each platform is popular. PC is usually more lively in the afternoon to late-night hours European time, whereas it’s almost the reverse on PS4 and Xbox One.

Considering how well-optimised the PC version is, and the fact it’s the most stable a Battlefield game has been at launch, I can only conclude the numbers represent a general trend among players, rather than a Battlefield-specific case. It’s possible PC players who grew up with older iterations simply moved on to a platform that requires less upkeep.

Or perhaps the PC market has changed to the point where AAA games just don’t sell as well as they used to. I could blame it on the $60 price, but I’d imagine many of those playing on PC didn’t pay the full price, just due to the sheer number of options available outside the Origin store.

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“I never thought I’d actually see the day when PC could be in the same position PS3 was last generation; the platform with the lowest player numbers in a Battlefield game”

Isolated from this comparison, these PC numbers aren’t low at all. It doesn’t take long to fill up a 64-player server, and you’d be hard pressed to not find active servers for any of the game modes, so there’s no worry there just yet. Online communities for many Steam games manage just fine with much lower numbers, so it’s not unheard of.

It’s also hard to say how many PS4 and Xbox One players will stick with the game beyond the three-month honeymoon, compared to their PC brethren. Both consoles have lost more players than PC since launch already, and with two Call of Duty games on the horizon, and Titanfall 2 having released last week, shooter players on consoles are definitely spoiled for choice this year.

I’d be lying if I said these stats didn’t take me by surprise. The Battlefield franchise is, effectively, a console series now. If you were to choose a version to buy today, the one with the biggest number of players would no doubt be the one to get. Unless you’re a mouse+keyboard player, in which case you may feel a bit disappointed.

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