Note: This article is not a personal review or evaluation of Battlefield 3. Rather it is an examination of how well Battlefield 3 can succeed against its direct competitor, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Battlefield 3 can now be named EA’s fastest selling game to date. As of last week gamers have purchased 5 million copies of the 10 million units that were shipped to retailers and other distribution channels.
Selling 1 million copies, let alone 5 million, is a feat not easily obtained. Battlefield will no doubt be named as October’s best-selling game. With a current (as of 11/02/2011) Metacritic score of 90, EA’s latest military shooter has garnered a heap of praise from game reviewers. It is also the flagship title for EA’s online distribution channel, Origin.
Despite its healthy sales numbers and critical acclaim, Battlefield 3’s “success” might be overlooked if it can’t succeed in toppling Activision’s annual Call of Duty release. This article will highlight 4 problematic issues that may hinder the "success" of Battlefield 3.
1.) Company trash talk
2.) Single Player Campaign
3.) Online Distribution Channels
4.) Sale Numbers and Review Scores
Trash Talking Yo
In May of this year EA’s CEO John Riccitello began to ramp up his criticism of Activision and MOW3, believing that DICE could develop a far-more superior game.
"We know we have a big competitor," he stated. "But head-to-head with Call of Duty in Q3, we have the superior game engine, a superior development studio, and a flat out superior game. Our goal is to significantly gain share in the huge FPS category and to put the other team on defense." 
This was before Activision had announced Modern Warfare 3 for 2011 or a public showing of the game in action. In earnest many critics and gamers were gushing over Battlefield's amazing visuals in action with DICE’s new Frostbite engine. Unfortunately Riccitello would not let the game speak for itself and continued using his bull horn against the competition.
"So I do think, though, that we've got the better game, the better tack. And if you think about your readership, it's got a concentration of people that might tell the difference between a good game and a bad game. We're going to do really well there.”
Everyone enjoys a good feud; it helps strengthen brands and innovate new ideas on how these games should be designed and produced. However, this is one of the few issues that could lead to Battlefield’s downfall. We have all seen various games fail to live up the PR hype-machine, but none have had to compete with the behemoth that is Call of Duty. What would it take to succeed in out-performing COD; a better multi-player system, a more meaningful campaign experience, better community engagement? What does it take? If any military FPS game hopes to outperform the success of COD every design aspect has to be carefully developed and executed. Even its single player component.
Strike 1: A Campaign
If you have read most reviews of Battlefield 3 you've noticed that there is one critique that remains constant; the campaign isn’t so great. Personally, I have only played COD 2,4, MW2, and Black Ops; while not enjoying all of the narrative elements of these game, it is fair to say that the campaigns were enjoyable and often times extremely well designed. Players enjoyed these experiences and promoted water cooler discussions. It seems that DICE has missed the mark with BF 3’s campaign. Jim Rossingnoi of Rock, Paper, Shotgun states that the campaign, “doesn’t work too hard to sustain the incredibly pretty illusion it establishes. It suffers from many of the worst aspects of scripted games.”
Additionally, this is the first Battlefield game to have a campaign (excluding the Bad Company series), possibly developed because of market expectations. Certainly COD’s success is largely due to its devotion to evolving the FPS multiplayer experience. BF 3's campaign suffers from typical military tropes, boring combat scenarios, and meaningless quick time events. This sophomoric attempt is an unfortunate misstep for the series. But as Rossingnoi and many other critics have pointed out, “for those of us who actually give a damn about FPS games, that isn’t what matters. What matters is what happens with the multiplayer.”
I’ll concede that Battlefield’s true success will be determined with its multiplayer. But if your publisher’s CEO is out on the town hailing superiority, I think players would and should expect a similar COD campaign experience. Why even bother with a campaign at all if you are only providing a watershed moment of what players have come to expect from a FPS military excursion? Would it have been harder to market without it? Did EA marketing strong arm DICE into developing the campaign? Surely developers had to have had their concerns with the presentation of the campaign when compared to the COD franchise? Based on numerous critiques is it seems that the campaign may be an unfortunate stain on an otherwise praised and acclaimed multiplayer experience.
PC Concentrate: Origin and Battlelog
Though Origin has been out for several months, Battlefield 3 has been viewed as the flagship title for EA's digital game distribution service. Though the service offers deals and functionality similar to Steam and other digital gaming services, it has its fair share of criticism. Most notably its EULA. After reviewing the ELUA reviewers discovered that gamers could not opt out of Origin's spyware practice of scanning your computer files and internet browsing history.(As of writing of this article it is unclear if you are able to opt out of this agreement when installing Origin.)
As if Origin's poor acceptance wasn't enough to harm Battlefield's success, Battlelog could been seen as an obtrusive misstep.
Battlelog centers around an appealing visual design with post game and personal gaming statics. However, the user experience derails the visual aesthetics by forcing too many clicks to arrive at one's gaming destination. Jim Sterling at Destructoid adds, " It's a weird, proprietary attempt to turn a videogame into Facebook and it's so forcefully imposed on the player that it chokes everything else. Once in a game, everything's okay, but the overall experience is constantly hampered by this awkward, shoehorned "service" that nobody asked for."
I applaud DICE's decision to create a visually appealing hub for the Battlefield experience. It seems really cool and interesting. But it may be a hard pill to swallow for users who are already frustrated by EA's Origin service. The functionality that the external website provides may seem appealing to designers and developers, but forces player to question why this functionality wasn't built inside the game itself. The lack of communication on how Battlelog enhances the player experience has been incredibly mute.
The Numbers Mason!
5 million. As we mentioned earlier those figures are pretty impressive. However, within 24 hours of its release last year, Black Ops sold 5.6 million copies in the US and UK markets. Unconfirmed reports have the total number of units sold at around 18 million. Sold. Not shipped, sold. 10 million is a healthy number of units to ship, but it may be not be enough to accomplish an impossible feat. The ability to outperform Call of Duty. It’s also important to note that COD was able to push more units year after year. Will EA risk pushing out another Battlefield next year to compete with COD? If they don't, do they run the risk of losing their player base they establish with 3?
Review scores aren’t everything (Just Dance anyone?) but do help shed some light on how critics and gamers feel about the game currently. Even though the PC version shares a healthier score, let's examine the console that should push the most units, XBOX 360.
Battlefield 3 (11/02/2011)
Call of Duty: Black Ops (11/02/2011)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2(11/02/2011)
Not a huge disparity in numbers, but still a warranted look. Battlefield 3’s 360 is currently lower than the last two COD games. (Typically reviews scores will flatten and drop lower after the first few months of a game's release.) XBOX 360 is clearly the dominate platform for FPS military mp, if you can’t appease the diversity of the console market than your franchise may have difficulty in bringing more players into the fray. An increasingly overcrowded and competitive fray.
On one side of the coin, Battlefield 3 can already be viewed as a success; the flip side is a harder face to read. In the coming months we can reflect on more concrete sales numbers and critical reception. The problems we outlined today do pose some issues that could possibly hurt the longevity of the series. Was this the only chance EA had at toppling COD, if so, have they already lost the fight? If not, what can they do to solidify their chances at dominating the competition in the next round?
Part 2 will follow after the release of COD:MW3. Michael doesn’t prefer military FPS games and has no real allegiance to either franchise. He'd rather warp in a plasma cannon or collect pocket monsters in tall grass fields. This post can also be found at gamedesigncenter.org.