Friday, February 20, 2009

Why the Battlefield Series Has Gone Casual

When you think of hardcore PC games, it’s hard not to mention the Battlefield series, DICE’s seminal fragfest. Since its intro onto the scene with Battlefield 1942, this has been the “shooter’s shooter”, the epitome of large scale conflict. The iterations after 1942 have all expanded on the “hardcore” aspect of the Battlefield series, with ranks, unlocks and medals all being earnable with a significant investment. (The precursor of achievement-related unlocks, in my opinion.)

When DICE expanded its repertoire to the console with Bad Company, Battlefield was still holding onto its hardcore roots. The ranks and unlocks were still there, but they were easier to get. Despite this, the multiplayer segment was still twitch-driven, where a quick index finger would lead to inevitable victory over your foes.

During the development of Bad Company, DICE announced Battlefield: Heroes, a browser-based game for the “casual” audience. Built to accommodate a less frenetic playing style, Heroes plans to add some Team Fortress-inspired elements, giving players an opportunity to carve out a niche role on the battlefield. A bevy of class abilities are planned to make your character a more efficient medic, tank driver or soldier. It also sports a very cartoony look, reminiscent of Valve’s PC juggernaut, Team Fortress 2.

This left the future of the Battlefield series in doubt. Was Heroes the follow up to 2142, or did DICE have another Battlefield game hidden up their sleeves? Not one to leave their loyal fans hanging, DICE revealed Battlefield 1943: Pacific at the New York comic con. 1943, running on DICE’s proprietary Frostbite engine, seemes like the sequel that Battlefield fans had been asking for. As the convention progressed, more info started to come out about the new Battlefield.

Where previous Battlefields were full-priced, disc-based products with a large smattering of maps, 1943 is going to be a fairly low-priced downloadable product, with only three maps. It’s going to be available across all three major internet-connected platforms: PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

A twenty dollar price point sounds pretty good, but only three maps? Traditionally, while the games have had a large offering of digital playgrounds, chances were that you would only end up playing a small number of those maps anyways. By paring down the map selection, DICE is streamlining this into a product that could easily fit on the relatively smaller hard-drives of the Xbox and PS3.
1943 also changes the formula a bit by reducing the class selections down to three roles: Infantry, Rifleman and Scout. All three classes have anti-vehicle abilities, and health and ammunition are going to be in abundance. (In fact, ammo is unlimited.)

Seems the casual bug has bitten DICE again. While this isn’t the full Battlefield sequel that has been clamored for, one can argue that this makes the most sense for DICE’s business right now. By offering up a cheaper product across three successful gaming platforms, DICE is guaranteed to reach a bigger audience than they would if they had just put out a sixty dollar PC exclusive. By reducing the class selection and giving everyone a chance to fight effectively, DICE is also reaching out to the Call of Duty crowd, which is a little less familiar with the specialized roles common to the Battlefield setting.

1943: Pacific is also going to feature paid DLC, small chunks of extra content doled out for a hopefully reasonable price. By starting small, and adding little bits of extra game play along the way, DICE may just be looking into extending the life span of 1943 instead of focusing on a full-fledged game every two years. With the way the economy is, a long term plan where you can continually milk one product is probably the wisest. No one can fault DICE for trying to make money, but this is still a relatively new method of trying to get your business.

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