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Battle Torn: Examining The Success And Slouch Of Battlefield 3 - Part 1
by MichaelVaughn Green on 11/03/11 01:23:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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[1].

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." [2]

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.”[3]

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.”[4]


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[5].(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."[6]

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[7]. 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)

Metacritic: 84/100 84.46%

Call of Duty: Black Ops (11/02/2011)

Metacritic: 87/100 87.60%

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2(11/02/2011)

Metacritic: 94/100 93.39%


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

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Fernando Fernandes
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There may be something in there, but IDK... I'm not a huge fan of FPSs. I don't like Angry Birds too, hehe (needed to say that). But the number is impressive indeed. I think I am the only one that doesn't like Battlefield (the genre, actually). :-)

MichaelVaughn Green
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I enjoy the games. Not my favorite genre, but there are some cool things about the games. I admired Bad Company 2's UI elements; really great visual stuff designed for that game. They've seemed to have taken it to the next level in BF3.

Matthew Mouras
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I'm always impressed by CoD's continued success. CoD 4 was a very interesting departure from the previous games, but every CoD since has featured incredibly similar gameplay. How much more can be done to tweak the multiplayer experience without alienating fans? How little can be tweaked before it's stale and starts losing steam?

I've played every CoD on the consoles and enjoyed them, but by the time Black Ops came out, it was wearing thin. I beat the single player and thought it was a mildly entertaining and serviceable addition to the franchise. Then I turned to the multiplayer and thought, "oh this is the same feature set that was established four iterations ago in CoD 4." I played for a few hours and called it quits. Been there... done that plenty of times. Still... my hat is off to Treyarch - they did add some interesting distractions in the dual-stick analog shooter and various other Easter eggs.

Battlefield 3 has a very mediocre single player. I was disappointed in how much less fun and more restrictive it felt compared to the far more enjoyable single player campaigns of the two Bad Company games. But the multiplayer.... oh the multiplayer! Much like CoD, Battlefield's online play hasn't changed much over the last few titles, but it never gets old to me. The class-based systems allow for so much freedom and so many ways to contribute. When everything comes together within your squad, it's not like any other franchise out there. I can be endlessly entertained by working with my team in various ways and watching my ribbons and unlocks pile up for all the different little successes I had in the game. Expansive maps, vehicles, excellent sound design... BF's multiplayer will always crush CoD for me.

MichaelVaughn Green
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I agree with your MP comments. I think I've enjoyed that experience in the past, more than I have with the COD series. Unfortunately, some current aliments have limited its accessibility.

Eric Schwarz
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Battlefield 3 is not really a direct competitor to Call of Duty no matter how much EA want to position it as such. The feel of gameplay and shooting, the size of the levels, the focus on teamwork rather than instant gratification for the player, combined arms rather than just infantry combat etc. all create a distinctly different experience. I think that players who want Battlefield will get Battlefield, and those who want Call of Duty will get Call of Duty. Many will pick up both. I think by its very nature (higher learning curve, teamwork focus, etc.) Battlefield is always going to appeal to a smaller market than Call of Duty, as well.

Call of Duty has its brand name, and that alone is enough for many people. Even were Battlefield 4 to end up completely and utterly copying the Call of Duty formula, feel and gameplay style, that name brand and the expectations that come with it would invariably still win out over EA. EA's game is the Digimon or Yu-Gi-Oh to Activision's Pokemon; I don't see Pokemon being threatened by anyone.

The only way to really pull ahead of a game like Call of Duty is to develop your own fantastic game and hope it becomes the next big thing. That's really all there is to it - people will jump ship when they get bored of Call of Duty or when Activision drops the ball, not when you create a more convincing imitation. The biggest failures in gaming history don't stem from direct competition, they stem from stagnation, a lack of originality and the loss of infatuation by the mass market.

EA should be happy that Battlefield is selling well and making a lot of money, plus keeping them relevant. Beyond that I'm not sure they have any business expecting to topple the titan, when they should be focused on making one of their own. The same can be seen in their other game franchises - the switch from Mass Effect as a sci-fi RPG to Gears of War IN SPACE!, Dead Space as survival horror to Dead Space 2 to a straight-up shooter, and The Old Republic as their answer to World of Warcraft - and I think that mentality will always see EA relegated to second place. So long as you're always imitating others, by definition there is always someone you concede as better and more relevant than you are - a self-defeating attitude for a business if I've ever seen one.

MichaelVaughn Green
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Eric thanks for the comments. Couple of thoughts.

I think many people will disagree with you about Battlefield not really being a direct competitor of Call of Duty. EA has certainly promoted and marketed the game to be a direct competitor. Though it may have a different gaming experience, the general view is that EA is gunning for the competition. And that competition is Call of Duty. I think most gamers that enjoy this genre will be picking up both copies; the question is can Battlefield 3 have that cultural impact and turn the tide in favor of EA. And if it can't, will that been seen as a failure?

I don't think Battlefield 3 is making that much money yet. I haven't seen anything on development costs, but there has been reports that EA would at least spend 100 million dollars on marketing alone. They've claimed to have sold at least 5 million. Will just assume at the price tag of 60.00 US bones, so that's 300 million, pretty impressive so far. But if we start to add in costs for development, Origin and PC server support, customer service, distribution cuts etc.; that number starts to shrink drastically. As it stands now, I do think the 5 million sales is a success. But can they do that again the next time? Or can they keep pushing that sales number up?

Make great games. Consumers will respond. The changes you see in those sequels are interesting, I think you might over generalizing some of the characteristics of those design choices. I'm not convinced that a lot of those sequel design choices were regulated to "appease a large player base", but it is difficult not to examine that. Dragon Age 2 sorely shined with that design impulse. I would even suggest that the BF3 campaign suffers from the same syndrome you just pointed out.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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COD is/was a perfect storm.

Its like comparing MMO-X to World of Warcraft, it can't be beat by design alone, it a phenomenon way beyond just tangible economics.

And just like with WoW, the only thing that can out-preform COD is COD.

Either people will get bored of COD and they will buy something else, or they just simply won't.

No matter what you throw at the COD IP at this moment (be it production value, marketing, game design, etc.) it will still be the best selling MMS on the market because it just -is-.

Its like Pepsi and Coke.