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Building  Battlefield 3 's Social Gaming Layer
Building Battlefield 3's Social Gaming Layer Exclusive
October 20, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

[In this in-depth interview, producer Patrick Loving explains precisely how the team at DICE architected the web-based social layer for Battlefield 3, lessons learned in beta, its future, and much more.]

If there's something you hear a lot about these days, it's the transformation of games into services. Another thing you hear a lot about is community, and social media's relevance to that community. Big franchises like Call of Duty and Halo have their own social communities -- so why not Battlefield 3, EA's big shooter for 2011?

To that end, a team was put together at Stockholm-based DICE to create the Battlelog service for Battlefield 3. Producer Frederick Loving speaks to Gamasutra about the development process for the service -- including how he determined what to include, what services influenced it, what the team achieved with it through the game's recently-ended beta, and future plans.

Why was Battlelog prioritized for this game?

I wanted to take the fun that we have in the game and just spread it out -- so you can pretty much access it from work, from when you're in transit, or pretty much any time you want. Because I wanted that, and I think a lot of other people actually wanted that as well -- to just have fun outside of the actual second to second.

How did you prioritize what you wanted to be available in Battlelog and scope it at the beginning?

I think we started with the whole friends-centric approach. Everything that Battlefield is about is playing with your friends, or against your friends, so that was the key -- to establish the friendships. So that was the core of everything: comparing with your friends.

And then we just started off that, and moved up, so then we added Platoons -- which is groups of friends playing together. So it's still the whole friend-centric [element], and then we added the Com Center, which is where you see where your friends are playing, what server they're on, you can communicate, you can VOIP with each other. So it all boils down to the friends actually.

Do you have a game development background or a web services background?

I actually have a bit of both. I've been working at DICE now for five and a half years, and before that I was actually in a web background.

As social features become more relevant to games, just as the web drew game people in via Facebook, it's going the other way. It seems that web services people are being drawn into games via these kind of integrations. Did you pull in people with web services backgrounds?

We have a fairly big team, and we, of course, recruited people for this. But we have a lot of really, really good people of course at DICE, and a lot of good designers, so we actually didn't have to look that much outside of the company. We had the expertise there already; we just needed to get it on the web, and that's why we looked elsewhere.

Did you look at what had been done before in social networking?

Definitely. I looked at all social networks, from Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, to of course [Halo] Waypoint, [Call of Duty] Elite. We looked at everything. That's inspirational for me -- just finding out what other people do, and just sort of grabbing the good pieces out of it.

But yeah, of course we're inspired by a lot of the social networks that are out there, and they're all pretty common, if you look at them. They have the similar feeds, they have similar likes, they have similar comments -- so there's a lot of common features amongst all social networks.

Why did you think it was important to integrate your own social networking features rather than work via Facebook Connect, or something like that?

I think a lot of gamers want to have their own little world where they just communicate with other gamers. I don't think everyone would like to spam the Facebook feed with what they're doing in-game. But I think it fits perfectly into a branded social network such as Battlelog. So that was the key: people want to keep it within the Battlefield community. The friends you have on Facebook are probably not the same friends that you have on Battlelog.

When it comes to other services like Elite or Waypoint, they have a lot of content. Waypoint goes as far as to have videos and behind-the-scenes stuff. Are you doing the same stuff, or are you concentrating on the core social experience?

For now -- for launch-- we're definitely focusing on the core social experience. But like I always said, this is a long term investment for us. We really want to give the players what they want. We're going to be keeping pumping out features as we go along.

Is this going to be a project that lives across Battlefield as a franchise, DICE as a studio, or EA as a whole? How big is this going to get?

We're starting off with Battlefield 3 and then we'll see where it leads us, but Battlefield 3 is where we're focusing right now.

Are you planning to increase the functionality of Battlelog as the game's life continues? Because this game is going to continue to be played for a long time.

I think that's one of the core strengths of Battlelog is that not only can we keep sort of pace with the game, we can do a lot more, since we're tapping into the data that's coming out of the game, and we can just manipulate and do whatever we want from the website with them.

We can, if we wanted to, do daily updates and improvements. Of course, we won't do daily updates but that's the power of being on the web -- we don't have to patch anything, we just update the web with all the figures that we have. So I think that's a major, major advantage that we have with Battlelog, is that just being able to update on the fly, pretty much.

Are you happy with where you got to on a first iteration?

I'm actually extremely happy. We've been focusing so much on this. We've been putting a lot of heart and soul into this. And we have to remember that the key for us is also that it's very, very robust and stable. I want it to be up at all times, and with the amount of traffic that we're seeing from open beta, and just moving forward, we put a lot of effort into making everything stable.

So yeah, I'm very happy with the features that we have, but of course we're going to keep adding stuff as we go along. I just want to see how people react to it, so that we can give the consumers what they want.

Has it functioned in the beta the way you anticipated, prior to launch?

Yeah. I think we got a lot of feedback in the beta that's been really, really good. Of course we acted on feedback, but the key part that we got feedback on was how to handle the backend service. We've been trying a lot of stuff behind the doors that people haven't been seeing -- so yeah, definitely. We've been getting some really good feedback that we're looking into, and implementing as we go along.

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sam death
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Wish they would focus more on game features, than a Battlefield version of Facebook, not everyone loves being a member of multitudes of social networks. Can't even fire up your favourite game and escape the real world...

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Facebook is the real world?

I think the only thing social about FPS is being able to upload your taped sessions to YouTube to reap the rewards of advertisement dollars.

I mean really, who wants to have a conversion and share pictures about killing your digital avatar after the event is over?

Lisa Brown
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I'm really curious about how game-specific networks like this fight or overlap with publisher-specific networks (like social stuff on Origin) and console-specific ones (PSN and XBL friends lists policies within games). Anyone have insight?

Rolando Alvarez
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"I think a lot of gamers want to have their own little world where they just communicate with other gamers."

And for that we use VOIP programs and fan site forums. I'm extremely curious what kind of bubble DICE develops their games in.

Joseph Thomas
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The problem with these added social features and that they are being forced on to people who not want to use them.

Personally, I don't want to have nor care to have every single bullet shot tracked. There should/need to be a way for individual users to this off during certain play sessions or all together. Typically this can be handled through playing on an unranked server, however, the problem with unranked servers is that they typically do not get as many players or don't run anticheat. There should be a way to play in a "ranked" server, but turn off your personal stat tracking. The reason that a feature like this is important is sometimes you just want to have fun in a game. Sometimes in BC2, I like to strap C4 to my vehicle and drive around blowing up tanks. This helps out the team and is a lot of fun, but what if I was a guy who cared about my stats? If I really cared about how much my killes per minute was, then I would be in a hard situation. Should I limit my fun in the game because I care what my stats are? No, this should be easy to turn off.

The other problem is that we are being forced to use some of these features. Most people already using VOIP such as Ventrilo when playing games, with people in the game and not in the game. When playing with BF3, it would automatically launch some VOIP program that you had to minimize BF3 and manually close the program or you would hear an echo.

The most obvious issue with time being spent on these social features is that is time taken away from the actual game. In BF3 if you join a game, that a friend of yours is already in, sometimes you would get placed in their squad if you are on the same team. However, if you are both on the same team and both have spots open in your squad, you still can't join each others squad. This is absolutely unacceptable. If playing with friends was a main priority, this should have been one of the first features added. Often in BC2 there are guys I play with who are not on my friends list, just guys I see who are regulars in a server that I am regular in. I will join their squad, or sometimes we will start a quad. This is not possible in BF3 from what we saw so far. My friend and I joined a 64 player Capsian game and we were not in the same squad and had no way to join the same squad, it was nearly impossible to play together.

Then there is joining a game together through drop zone, my experience from multiple times is it is slow an unresponsive. Not only that, but people just don't know how to use these social features in Battlelog. I have friends that just stopped playing the BF3 Beta because of how unusable Battlelog was, along with no easy access to a tutorial. These are people who I have played BF2 and BC2 with. I understand it was beta though. (which should mean feature complete, but some people don't stick the meaning of beta anymore).

As someone who has literally bought every single Battlefield game (besides 1943 as I prefer PC and I was waiting for it on PC), I can honestly say the actual experience of playing with friends, based upon the beta, is awful. There should be a way to simply launch BF3 without going through a browser, and join a game, then be able to join other peoples squad. I don't want to use a browser, I don't want some proprietary voice chat to popup, I just want to play the game.

Joseph Thomas
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Edit: Some how a double post ...

Brad Durham
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I think you guys are missing just how great a service like this is. During the beta everyone I knew was checking everyone's pages, asking about unlocks and backing each other up in forum posts. With everything so social and accessible the level of the pissing contests and fun was more than I've experienced in other games.

Essentially games are just adapting, once again, to the online world. Since games actually began having online play there has been very little progress on how it utilized the internet until recently. In such a fast paced, constantly evolving environment it isn't good to fall behind. With things like Battlelog, COD Elite, and the like games are gaining another foothold into the PC online market.

Look at the most successful games and you will notice that they tend to be the most social. It only makes sense to embrace that.

Maria Jayne
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I found the web launcher to be truly horrific when I tried it in beta, it just felt wrong. I felt like I was playing a browser game not a triple A full price product. The experience didn't improve when I made it into the actual in-game menu features either.

I just can't believe a company with this much pedigree and funding via EA could produce such an ugly launch process.

I've never been big on social tie ins for games, I don't have facebook, twitter or any of the other links to random people who I once had a common interest with. These days games seem to care more about social marketing than they do the quality of the game itself. I've always believed my friends are the people I talk to reguarly without needing a program to give them bullet points of what I am up to....surely if they need that they aren't really your friends?