By tempest 22 Comments
We’re just about two weeks away from Battlefield 3’s launch. As mundane as it sounds, the hype surrounding this game is escalating as the due date draws closer. However, even in this time of hype and eager anticipation, a growing list of concerns has begun to accumulate. We aren’t quite at the point where those concerns are reaching critical mass, but it would be wrong of us to look the other way and not identify some of the possible forthcoming issues with Battlefield 3. As a longtime fan of the Battlefield series, I’m retaining my confidence in the outcome of the Battlefield 3 product; but as a level-headed video game enthusiast, I have a few lingering concerns about exactly what kind of product EA and DICE are shaping this game up to be. We can’t talk about Battlefield 3’s impact without mentioning the elephant in the room. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is coming, and so are the projected 18 million buyers that are likely to be in tow. Whether you’re the fan that unapologetically lives and breathes Call of Duty or the through-and-through Battlefield diehard, both sides can agree on one thing – Call of Duty will make a dent in the sales of every major first-person shooter released near or around it. This subject has been the type that most media outlets have backed away from, because the idea of pitting these two games against each other sounds like cheap message board fanboy fodder that we get enough of already. It’s understandable banter, but in lieu of Battlefield 3’s marketing strategy, beta and apparent campaign direction, it’s crystal clear that this direct comparison of these two franchises is exactly what Electronic Arts and DICE want.
When the tagline in every new Battlefield 3 trailer reads “Above and Beyond the Call,” it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that this slogan is an indirect jab at Call of Duty. We’re supposed to sit here, read that slogan and connect the dots -- the keyword in that phrase is “call,” because it ever-so slightly refers to that other game; yet it is just vague enough to slip through the cracks and sound like an innocent old military saying. You think your game is better than Call of Duty. We get it. In fact, we always have. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this tactic from EA and DICE when it comes to throwing a few jabs in Call of Duty’s direction. Think back to the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 days, where we were treated to a few comedic trailers starring the ragtag team from the campaign – poking fun at some of the often mentioned annoyances of the Call of Duty multiplayer (think grenade spamming or the “spray and pray” gameplay style). Better yet, go play the campaign of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and listen closely, as some of the in-game dialogue between the protagonists take potshots at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I think the one line that stood out was the “heartbeat sensors are for pussies” diss. Is it true? Absolutely… and thank goodness I’m not the only one who feels that way, but it was yet another knock against Call of Duty that scored a collective “oh no they didn’t” from gamers on both sides of the fence.
While all of us writers, bloggers and journalists are trying to do the best we can to play nice, it’s obvious that not only does EA and DICE have no reservations about acknowledging their rivalry, but they are persistently on the attack every go-around. They want the comparisons, they want the fan-based warfare and they certainly don’t mind people putting the word ‘versus’ in between the names of these two franchises. So in my eyes, if that’s what they want, then that’s what I’m going to give them. You want the truth? Battlefield 3 has been tripping over its own feet lately. Between embarrassingly poor television spots with Jay-Z, a controversially inept beta and the latest news about the single player campaign sporting a mindless Michael Bay “nuke the universe for wow factor” Call of Duty formula, Battlefield 3’s stock is starting to dip into a more grounded reception. I don’t like the sound of that either, but it’s hard to deny that EA’s star player could potentially have a sub-par season. Is it all gloom and doom? If you’re an unbiased gamer, then absolutely not. The biggest culprit to most of the alleged backlash was the quality of the beta, but anyone who has a smidge of understanding of what a beta’s purpose actually is can disregard the deafening “Battlefield 3 sucks” mongering that kicked into gear during and after the beta window. If you’re the type that wants to sit down and judge an unfinished product, then have at it. Sure, you can make a few reasonable arguments for and against the state of the beta – you can either echo the point that I just made, or you can say “shame on you, DICE” for electing to put out an overly rough representation of Battlefield 3 that may have compromised their success against Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 this holiday season.
Regardless of which way you look at it, the beta was most assuredly an attempt by EA to say “we’re going to give you access to Battlefield 3 right now, because we want to prove to you that we’re better before you spend that $59.99 on MW3.” Some would say that my last point was a bit of a stretch, but when looking at EA and DICE’s track record against Call of Duty, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if that was the actual mentality. If the aim of the beta was a pre-emptive strike to rip and pull all of Modern Warfare 3’s would-be buyers away, it arguably backfired… fair or not. In terms of hypothetical strategy, EA probably believed that the gap between the release dates of Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 was too small, and that most people would elect to wait an extra week to ride with Call of Duty again. By giving people a window into Battlefield 3 a few weeks before it releases, it would hopefully boost their chances for higher sales and more pre-release notoriety. In the end, they may have done more harm than good, and I hope it’ll be a lesson they learn from here on out.
I touched on something earlier that I want to elaborate on, which are the early impressions from various outlets that outlined the shift towards a more over-the-top Michael Bay-inspired campaign in Battlefield 3. Contrary to what the majority of fan responses have been like, I done have a massive issue with this. While most Battlefield campaigns range from decent to good, it is yet another FPS game where the single player mode feels like an appetizer for the multiplayer main course. Battlefield titles can certainly use a campaign that attempts to pack a bigger punch, so I don’t mind a few extra mindless booms and crashes if it makes the experience a little more memorable. The real problem that I’m seeing with Battlefield 3’s campaign direction is that it contradicts what the series is synonymous for as well as the anti-Call of Duty stance that DICE and EA have been touting all this time. I can’t help but think back to last year’s reboot of Medal of Honor. That was a game that ditched just about everything that made Medal of Honor well… Medal of Honor. In actuality, change was exactly what that series needed. However, the choice to craft the new look Medal of Honor into a second rate Call of Duty came across as a desperate attempt at competing with Call of Duty to hopefully steal away a few loyalists from the record breaking series. It sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Medal of Honor’s failure proved that you can’t put a crack in Call of Duty’s riot shield with a copycat game. While Battlefield 3 is still keeping the vast majority of its integrity, it’s still bothersome to me to watch EA continue to try and beat Call of Duty by putting more Call of Duty in their Battlefield 3. There is an Xzibit “Yo dawg, I put a _____ in yo _____” meme somewhere in this argument, isn’t there?
From a marketing standpoint, catering to the Call of Duty fanbase doesn’t make sense. It contradicts their entire potshot strategy, and feels like another lofty attempt from EA to strong-arm Battlefield 3 into becoming that elusive “Call of Duty killer.” Even though Battlefield’s campaigns could use a little more oomph, it still isn’t going to help EA get what they really want. The whole reason why so many eyes have been stuck on Battlefield 3 right now is because of how different the series actually is. For the people who have grown tired of the same Call of Duty formula, it gives them an exciting alternative that feels refreshingly new and breaks the mold that they’re used to. Reverting back to the same strategy that they test drove with Medal of Honor won’t get EA anywhere – it didn’t work then and it won’t work now. The key to Battlefield 3 beating Call of Duty is letting Battlefield 3 play its own lane. The more you architect Battlefield into a Call of Duty game, the more likely people will play Battlefield 3 and say “I’d rather play Call of Duty.” Instead, stick to what you know, and stick to what you do best. That strategy is the very reason why Battlefield is such a successful franchise, so EA… don’t screw it up just because you can’t stomach seeing Call of Duty sell units. You’ll only end up causing Battlefield 3 to fall by the wayside. Pick your battles and go above and beyond the battlefield instead of going above and beyond the call.