How to kill Call of Duty; aka, Why Battlefield 3 won’t win

17 Oct

Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3?”

For some reason, people seem to think is a reasonable question to ask, but I’m never sure what they’re expecting to hear in response. I almost always hear the question asked with thinly veiled praise for one and blatant contempt for the other or as if it’s only possible to buy one or the other but not both.

Hey, Battlefield 3. You’re aiming the wrong way….

A much more interesting question is, “Which game will sell more copies?” The answer is, without a doubt, Modern Warfare 3, and the reasons why explain exactly what makes the original question so pointless.

It’s no secret that Electronic Arts views Call of Duty as the franchise to beat when it comes to marketing its first-person shooters. CEO John Riccitiello and DICE Producer Patrick Liu often bring up the competition in interviews, but Riccitiello once went so far as to say that Battlefield 3 is designed to beat Modern Warfare 3. From everything we have seen, heard, and played, however, that statement appears to be an outright lie.

Call of Duty multiplayer is fast-paced and arcade-like with a focus on short, point-based matches set in small arenas. Likewise, Battlefield’s multiplayer is a slower, team-based experience that concerns building momentum in expanding warzones.

Looking past the similarities that come with being first-person military shooters in a modern setting, you’ll find that the two games are practically at opposite ends of the genre. If EA really did design Battlefield 3 to beat Modern Warfare 3, I have to wonder if any one on staff there ever played a Call of Duty game. The only way EA can hope to dethrone Call of Duty while continuing to make Battlefield games in the same vein they always have is for Activision and Call of Duty’s developers to drive the series into the ground themselves, leaving fate entirely in the latter’s hands.

EA staff have even said as much publicly. Corporate Communications Chief Jeff Brown said Call of Duty won’t be around in two to three years, implying Activision will allow the series to fail like it did with Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero. So, it appears what Riccitiello really meant is that Battlefield 3 is designed to simply be around so it can pick up the pieces when Call of Duty crumbles. Somehow, choosing to remain in second place and focusing on living longer than the gold medalist doesn’t sound like a plan that has the customer in mind.

Of course, Battlefield’s developer has already proven it doesn’t understand potential consumers. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding of the term ‘beta test’!” Liu said in an interview when asked why the Battlefield 3 beta didn’t feature vehicles. Maybe there are some people who truly don’t follow the game community enough to know what the purpose of a beta is, but Liu is sorely mistaken if he assumed gamers wouldn’t formulate opinions about the full game based on the single-level beta even when they knew it was only offered to help DICE test the game’s online multiplayer. If anything, a developer should understand that a beta represents more than just a simple demo to players. It’s a closer taste to the full game than they’ll get anywhere else as far as they’re concerned, even if that isn’t true.

In fact, Joystiq’s Arthur Gies said it appears the final version of Battlefield 3 has been tweaked significantly from what players experienced in the beta. He said weapons and damage feel different between the two. “It changes the dynamics of firefights, allowing for each side to take and hold positions, and making flanking and tactical coordination much more viable,” he said. “The increased player survivability also make vehicles in Battlefield 3 more fair than they would be with the beta’s damage models.” He likens what he believes to be the final build of the game to Bad Company 2. After playing the beta myself, I wrote off the game, but Gies’ comparison alone almost makes me want to reconsider.

So, where does offering a relatively deep yet misleading look at your game’s multiplayer weeks before its release fit in with EA’s goal of toppling Call of Duty? It doesn’t look like there is a plan to be number one other than hope and wait. Sure, Battlefield 3 will be a fine game, but it won’t have the audience Call of Duty does, and it never will if its creators continue to make the game they want to make rather than the game that people want more than Activision’s. EA should be content making a successful series they care about and not talk trash when their supposed Call of Duty killer plays nothing like the game they’re hoping to beat.

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