When Battlefield 2042 launched in November last year, it seemed like EA was ready to blame any number of outside factors on the game's sorry technical state, and its subsequent poor reception. The publisher cited all the usual Covid-related disruptions, even if it seemed like DICE was hit harder than most.
But one particular theory posited by EA executives – according to a report from February – was that the surprise launch of Halo Infinite just four days earlier put Battlefield 2042 on the back foot, despite the (supposed) positive critical reception from those who were allowed to play the launch build.
There's certainly some merit to this train of thought. Halo Infinite's multiplayer is free-to-play, a first for the series. A franchise as big as Halo, particularly given Microsoft's ongoing efforts to grow its community on PC and attract new players, set Infinite up for success regardless.
It would have a been a surprise had Battlefield 2042's player count at launch exceeded that of Halo Infinite: a full-price game beating a free-to-play one is always noteworthy, when it does happen. But these figures don't tell the whole story.
The run-up to the launch of Battlefield 2042 had no shortage of signs that we were in for a rough one, perhaps even rougher than most DICE launches. After promising unprecedented transparency, DICE went dark for months at a time, leaving a void for leaks and speculation to fill.
As we got closer and closer to the October release date without solid details of the beta, it became clear that the game had been pushed back internally, even if DICE took its time to officially announce a delay. When beta details did arrive, the uptime was uncharacteristically brief – almost as if DICE didn't want players to spend too long playing.
The 2042 beta ended up getting a mixed reception, and DICE quickly pulled out the tried-and-true justifications of the beta build being old, and assured everyone the experience at launch would be vastly superior. Things were, indeed, better at release... but not by much.
After peaking at over 105,000 concurrent players on Steam at launch, Battlefield 2042's playerbase quickly and steadily took a sharp nosedive, to the point that it became the least-active Battlefield on Steam, outpaced by Battlefield 5, Battlefield 1, and even Battlefield 4 on occasion.
Battlefield 2042's first season arrived over six months after launch. Despite the meagre morsels of content it brought to the game, this new update rekindled interest amongst some players. The game's Steam numbers jumped – and to this day, they're still higher on average than the months preceding its launch.
Halo Infinite, however, appears to have run into the opposite problem: after impressing everyone at launch and attracting over 272,000 concurrent players on Steam when it released, 343 Industries couldn't keep up the momentum.
Even setting aside all the legitimate complaints about Infinite's monetisation and its recurring technical issues like desync, or the problem that rendered certain modes unplayable for months, the main grievances simply have to do with the game's lack of content – both at launch, and in subsequent seasons.
Looking at the two games today, there's clearly been a reversal of fortunes of sorts. Player sentiment is one thing, but numbers don't lie. On Steam, at least, Battlefield 2042 has proven more popular than Halo Infinite. Both games sit at around 6,000 concurrent players at peak hours, but DICE's shooter has the edge at various times off-peak. At the time of this writing, 4,086 people are playing Battlefield 2042 compared to Infinite's 1,926. And that’s a fairly common pattern, too.
Indeed, a wider look at the several weeks following Battlefield 2042's Season One launch reveals that interest has remained somewhat consistent. Player numbers did drop from launch week, of course, but there's still a contingent of players who either returned, or bought the game after Season One came out and stuck with it.
Unfortunately, as encouraging as they may be, these numbers still put Battlefield 2042's playerbase below those of Battlefield 5 and Battlefield 1 on Steam. It's unclear whether 2042 will ever bounce back. Reports suggest EA wants to finish its obligations of new content/seasons as cheaply and quickly as possible, so it's safe to assume this cadence and quantity of content is what players should expect going forward.
EA pushes back against the idea that Battlefield 2042 is in the hands of a skeleton crew, but you really only need to look at what DICE has delivered so far, and what has been promised for the next several months. When it comes to raw business, EA has all but forgotten Battlefield 2042 even existed, as it's never mentioned by name in financial filings anymore – only Battlefield 5.
There's every chance both games will be viewed differently in the future. Battlefield 2042 will likely never reach the highs of DICE's modern classics, but it could still end up as a better game by the time the studio officially moves on from it. EA, however, is already working on the next Battlefield, and asking players to fork over $70 for a new game is going to be a very tough sell given the reception of its most recent release.
Halo Infinite, however, is a game designed to live for a long time, so it has a better chance of turning its fortunes around – just like Destiny and so many other live service games have in the past. You can always start with a solid, consistent core and build on it, after all.