[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.