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EA addresses "unacceptable" Battlefield 4 launch

DICE changes the way it makes games ahead of Battlefield Hardline.

EA has addressed what the boss of the company has described as the "unacceptable" launch of Battlefield 4 - and detailed the new processes it has put in place to prevent it from happening again.

In detailed interviews with Eurogamer, EA CEO Andrew Wilson and DICE general manager Karl-Magnus Troedsson said the development teams behind the Battlefield series had learned their lesson the tough way after Battlefield 4 launched in a state many players labelled broken.

Battlefield 4 released late last year for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, with a target of 60 frames per second and 64-player multiplayer on next-gen consoles.

But at launch it ran into a number of problems, most notably in multiplayer, with many unable to play.

The problem was so bad that in December 2013 DICE said it had placed all of its expansions and "future projects" on the backburner while it put all hands on deck to focus on sorting out the mess.

"For clarity it wasn't actually a server problem for Battlefield 4," EA boss Andrew Wilson told Eurogamer. "It was a client side problem. Right now the game is playing extremely well, and people are in there and having a lot of fun. I'm still playing it."

So, what went wrong? Wilson said the game suffered because of its ambition.

"Think about what Battlefield 4 was: 64 player multiplayer, giant maps, 1080p, Levolution that was changing the gameplay design in an emergent way. There is a chance there are things you are going to miss through the development cycle. And you end up in a situation we had with Battlefield 4.

"For me, the situation we had was unacceptable. For the team it was unacceptable. We have worked tirelessly since then to make sure the gameplay experience got to where it absolutely should have been at launch and we're focused on that and we continue to deliver value to that player base.

"But when you do things like that you can never guarantee. It would be disingenuous for me to sit here and say, 'we will never have an issue again,' because that would mean we were never going to push the boundaries again. And I don't want to be that company. I want to be a company that pushes to lead and innovate and be creative. But you can start to do things that give you a better handle and a better view about what the potential challenges might be."

Wilson said EA is now trying to get the "final" version of the game in the bag earlier, providing the developers with more time to test.

"You can lengthen development cycles," he said. "You can give a much longer timeframe between final and launch to get a lot more testing on the game. You can change the development process whereby you have more stable build requirements throughout the entire set of development. You can start betas earlier so you get it out in the wild earlier with more people banging away at it.

"We have changed development processes, we've changed development timelines and we've changed testing processes and beta processes, all with a view to not have the issues again."

One accusation EA has faced since Battlefield 4 launched is that the game was rushed in order to hit the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and that DICE should have had more time to test the game.

Wilson denied this, however, insisting DICE had plenty of time to work on the game, before pointing to the challenge of creating a next-gen console launch title.

"DICE had a lot of time this time," he said. "Hardline has had three years. Last year was a very unique situation. Not to abdicate responsibility whatsoever - we own it, we are responsible for it and we have worked tirelessly to remedy the situation - but when you are building a game on an unfinished platform with unfinished software, there are some things that can't get done until the very last minute because the platform wasn't ready to get done.

"What was happening with Battlefield 4, even as we were pushing all of this innovation, was a lot of it we couldn't test until really late in the phase. I believe it was unique."

Wilson said EA had two options with Battlefield 4: push boundaries or play it safe, the latter of which was a thinly-veiled swipe at competitor Activision, whose Call of Duty: Ghosts released last year around the same time as Battlefield 4.

"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."

"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."

EA boss Andrew Wilson
Battlefield 4, by DICE.

For DICE, the launch of Battlefield 4 was particularly troubling because it damaged the studio's reputation.

"Was I surprised at the reaction? No. Were we a bit surprised by the state of the game? Yes. For sure," DICE boss Karl-Magnus Troedsson told Eurogamer.

"But that's why we've been working so diligently on taking care of that. It has changed a lot of things about how we go about doing things.

"People in the studio have taken this very personally. It has led to some very tough discussions about what we're doing. We're looking forward, we're not looking backward any more, and saying, 'okay, what do we take out of this hardening experience and what does that mean for us moving forward?'

"We'll talk more about that in the future but there is definitely a lot of lessons learned."

And so we come to Battlefield: Hardline, due out in October 2014 - a year after the release of Battlefield 4.

Both Wilson and Troedsson said Hardline, developed by Dead Space maker Visceral in partnership with DICE, has benefited from a three year development, and would incorporate all of the improvements made to Battlefield 4 over the last eight months in a attempt to avoid problems at launch.

Indeed, the launch of the Battlefield: Hardline closed beta some five months before the game's full launch was part of EA's new development process - triggered by Battlefield 4 last year.

"How stable is the server? What state is the client in? That's one example of a thing we changed based on what happened with BF4," Troedsson said.

While EA expects Hardline to be a hit game, it knows it faces a degree of skepticism - quite rightly - from those who feel burned by Battlefield 4. Forums are littered with comments from Battlefield fans who say they're unsure of Hardline - or at worst will skip it entirely.

So for DICE the launch of Hardline is a crucial opportunity to show its community that it has listened to feedback - positive and negative - and acted upon it.

"Naturally this is a focus for us moving forward," Troedsson said. "It's not something we take lightly in any way. It would be wrong of us to not take it seriously when we launch the next game.

"But we are in such a good position right now. Battlefield 4 is stable. It's a good experience. All those fixes are going straight into Hardline. Most of them are already in there. We have a lot of people still working on BF4. Everything is going in the right direction here. But yes we absolutely have this as a focus for us. Launching this game needs to be different than BF4."

"Launching this game needs to be different than BF4."

DICE boss Karl-Magnus Troedsson
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Another concern Battlefield 4 players have is that DICE will stop support for Battlefield 4 now that Hardline is due out.

The concern sparked Troedsson to issue a blog post in which he vowed to continue to support Battlefield 4 despite the announcement of Battlefield: Hardline.

"Part of it is because now we're shipping a game just a year after the other one, annualising as some people say, so I wanted people to understand that doesn't exclude our support or focus on the former title," Troedsson told us.

DICE's goal is to move away from what Troedsson called a "serial" development, where one Battlefield game is released, updated and supported, then another Battlefield game is released two years later and all players are expected to move across.

Instead, DICE wants a "parallel" development, where multiple Battlefield games are supported at the same time.

"Just because the next one comes out, doesn't mean we should stop taking care of BF4 with updates, balancing, and if any new issues come up we'll fix that," he said.

"If somebody is currently playing Battlefield 4 and having a great time there but they say, I'm not ready to switch, I'm still busy getting the highest rank or unlocking everything, that's fine. I'm happy as long as they're playing a Battlefield game. Naturally I would like them to play both, but if they won't do that I'm happy if they play one of them."

Troedsson said DICE would be able to lean on its vast pool of developers in order to achieve this goal. He currently overseas DICE's main studio in Stockholm, Sweden, a smaller DICE studio in Uppsala, Sweden, Visceral and DICE LA.

"What that basically means is we have a large group of developers who can help out and do things," he said.

"So if we have a team working on BF4 after this game is out, and they find a bug or they want to make an improvement, they can fix it, boom, and it can be put into the next patch with this game as well. That's an extreme strength in what we're going to do moving forward, thinking of the franchise portfolio in a more holistic way."

"We are going to launch an amazing game this year."

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The elephant in the room is the apparent move on EA's part to release a Battlefield game every year - or annualise the series.

DICE is no stranger to making multiple Battlefield games relatively frequently, but Battlefield: Hardline launches just a year after Battlefield 4. In the context of Activision's annualised Call of Duty series, some have wondered whether EA is following suit.

Both Wilson and Troedsson denied that Battlefield was now an annualised series. In fact, Wilson told us not to assume that Battlefield 5 would release next year.

"Well, I wouldn't assume that, but you might!" he said.

"We are going to launch an amazing game this year," he continued. "The feedback has been strong. And we're going to continue to run that game as a live service much the way we had Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4 and we will do with Hardline. And then we'll look at what's the right time to launch the next one.

"We felt this was a great time to launch Hardline. It's been in development for around three years. It's ready to go. The content is cool. The gameplay is cool. And it was the right time. We think it can exist within the Battlefield ecosystem symbiotically with Battlefield 4 and to some extent Battlefield 3."

Troedsson said EA has not dictated that a Battlefield game release each year, and he insisted he wouldn't force DICE to do so, either.

"It's not like I'm going to sit back home and come up with an idea and go to the team and say, 'build this,' and they're like, 'nah.' And I say, 'no, build it because we're going to annualise the franchise.' That's not the way it works, even though I know people love to joke about how EA comes up with our ideas.

"There's no rule set in place for this. We'll keep making Battlefield games as long as we have great ideas for them. In this case we have a new team building a brand new setting. We couldn't ship this game this close after the other one if we didn't have another team of course. There's been a lot of collaboration. The expansion pack, End Game, that's one specific clear one, but there has been other involvement between the teams in the background not everyone sees.

"The commitment is we'll do Battlefield games if we have a great idea for something we believe is going to be interesting for driving the franchise forward, and something the players will enjoy. And, as I also said in the press conference, if we have a team that is passionate about building it.

"There's not a rule set in place in any way. It's up to us. Me and my responsibility and then the games we want to do. I'm not shying away from the fact there is a business we need to run in the background, and having a successful Battlefield game every year instead of every other year, well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that's a positive, right?

"But I would never commit to something like that unless we feel we can deliver those games, something that feels like a good Battlefield game, it's a true Battlefield game and is something we believe is right for our customers."

So, will there be a Battlefield game in 2015? Given there will no doubt be a Call of Duty game from Treyarch, you'd think EA would want to have something to go up against it.

"We'll have to wait and see what happens in the future," Troedsson said. "The latest games we have launched have been in the window we're talking about now for this game as well, but we'll see what makes sense in the future and what kind of ideas we come up with."

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