And more than a year and a half after Battlefield 3 launched we are finally at the end of it’s post-release support; the End Game expansion pack, offering four new maps, two new game modes, and new vehicles (keep on rollin, baby!). I could sit here and essentially review the game and it’s expansions, but I rather focus on something else. Something that’s been causing an uproar lately with gamers. Long story short, I love Battlefield 3. But today I’m going to explain why their DLC offering, as well as their microtransactions, should be a standard model for games going forward. Yes, I’m going to make an argument for microtransactions, but don’t go judging too quickly…
Cutting It Short:
I wanna start with Shortcut Pack, Battlefield 3’s go at microtransactions. This raised some controversy at the time of its announcement, which stems from an industry wide conversation about nature and ethics of in-game microtransactions. There’s also the element of what this means to competitive balance, how these shortcuts effect the all-important metagame of Battlefield 3. Just so we’re clear; I do agree that most microtransactions are ridiculous – particularly in regard to certain Free to Play games on fancy little phones. But we can’t just vilify the concept in an all inclusive manner, like many ideas in games it can be done terribly or done right. Battlefield 3, mostly, did it right.
What these shortcuts did was unlock weapons pertaining to each class. You paid the grind away, skipping over the length of time it would take to get to a weapon you had your eyes on. People justifiably seen this as an affront to the game’s balance… except it didn’t harm balance at all (except in one case to be discussed). You see the weapons were unlocked, but you still had to grind to unlock the add-ons for each weapon. Any Battlefield player could tell you it’s with the add-ons you use that a weapon shines in the hands of a player. Couple this with the fact that these weapons aren’t objectively stronger than weapons you start with, especially if you’re grinding them against default weapon players who already pimped out their firearms. The metagame was safe, players still worked for the important attachments, and EA got a way to bank off a player’s option to cut corners. I personally don’t mind paying to skip grinds, I liked that WWE12 had such an option to unlock everything so I didn’t have to play some uninteresting season mode thing.
The one area where shortcuts falter was with the vehicle unlocks. You see since vehicles aren’t tied to a player’s loadout, as they are procured on the battlefield, the shortcut pack was for the vehicle perk unlocks. In this manner the metagame was compromised, and this shortcut was pay-to-win by definition. This particular microtransaction is tantamount to what Capcom did with Street Fighter x Tekken’s Gem system. They have premium Gems that were objectively, hilariously better than the default set. Hurting the metagame of a deeply competitive system is unbecoming of microtransactions, even if it adheres to the concept of skipping the grind. I would have settled for the shortcut offering double xp with vehicle usage (if it had to happen), or not offer it at all (if it didn’t), anything to protect the metagame. This is the one flaw of an otherwise benign sub-market in Battlefield 3, and overall how to do microtransactions in a competitive game with lateral (not progressive) unlockables.
And I just wanna note real quick about an infamous EA forum post of a guy who was hilariously outraged that a shortcut didn’t include weapon attachments. Not only did it make my night reading it, it tells me there are people who can give a damn about metagame. Please don’t offer premium shortcuts for guys like him, EA!
The Premium Play:
Battlefield 3 also jumped on the season pass train with Battlefield 3 Premium, a kinda sorta subscription that ensured all eventual map packs as they released. It also threw in soldier skins, dog tags, and server management; things I won’t cover because I simply don’t care for them. I just wanna say why this premium pass thing should set a standard for console releases like this.
Look at the above ad and consider this: EA could have taken those twenty maps, loads of weapons, heft of vehicles, bevy of game modes, slapped some paint-by-numbers campaign on top and released Battlefield 4 this year for sixty bones. Instead you get all that for $50 sans some campaign nobody buys Battlefield for to begin with. Bear in mind getting the DLC packs would run you $50 anyway, unless you care about running your own server and wearing exclusive dog tags. Let’s be honest here, how much crap would EA get if they released all of that as Battlefield 4 the year after part 3? People would proclaim annualization and further compare it to a certain franchises that really do charges $60 map pack/roster update “sequels”. You have up there enough content for another sequel, for ten dollars less than what a sequel would cost, extending the life of your initial purchase. All together it’s $110 for the completed feature set, but would gamers really be cool with it being a full priced Battlefield 4? Based on what I read online, I say no with extreme confidence.
This is the standard set up, kids; instead of some annual series people will call you out on anyway, release the game one year and spend the next year supporting it with DLC. It will look like you give a damn in an age where people fear that a developer would abandon a game for the next iteration all too soon, and save you the bad image of coughing up a sequel with lateral progression at best. Then have a season pass for fans who trust you enough, adding little incentives like early access and stupid little dog tags. Game companies should take note, EA just taught you all how to run DLC for your game. At least in the case of Battlefield 3, because what I’m reading in regard to Dead Space 3 and the iOS Real Racing games are major fails for both costumer appreciation and image control. And it doesn’t help when every interview sounds like you’re existing in a bubble. I digress, the point is DLC was well done for this game.
Don’t Just Do It, Do It Right:
The concept of microtransactions have spurred debates and rage blogs, but please remember the dialogue will never be doing it or not doing it. It’s going to happen. Instead let companies know which kind of offerings speak your language in a compromise. It doesn’t even mean voting with your wallets, they need to know that they can do it a certain way that doesn’t insult us or damage gameplay. This was Battlefield 3’s model and it works. DLC is here to stay, that’s a given. But again the argument should be about how it’s done rather whether they should exist or not. Using DLC to support a game post-launch well into what would have been annual-sequel territory is the right way to do it. Instead of ‘map-pack sequels’ and ‘roster update sequels’, why not use DLC (covered with a season pass) to carry the following year – also giving you a proper two year cycle to launch the next game. This was Battlefield 3’s model and it works.
So there you have it, microtransactions and DLC are merely things that can be done right or wrong. They can have obviously green-eyed intentions, or actually provide decent options for players. They can make a joke out a game a studio spent months crafting, or respect the metagame properly. Don’t group them all into one buzzword blob to be thrown around whenever news of a new campaign comes up. Don’t have the conversation companies aren’t willing to have, meet them halfway so we don’t have to suffer something like Street Fighter x Tekken’s Gem fiasco. I especially put the onus on journalists who rarely ask the right questions or grill pretentious representatives (from EA itself) when they made ridiculous statements. Both side can do better.
But for Battlefield 3, it did it best. End Game drops March 12th for PS3 Premium members (whatever) and two weeks later for everyone else. Thanks for reading.