Q&A: Battlefield general lays out battle plans

DICE executive producer Ben Cousins talks about the free-to-play game's beta program, why it wouldn't work on consoles, and what makes it different from Team Fortress.

Never let it be said that DICE hasn't been willing to take risks with its Battlefield franchise of team-based military shooters. After making a name for itself with Battlefield 1942, the Swedish developer took its new franchise into landmine-laden territory with Battlefield Vietnam, produced a futuristic offshoot, and successfully reinvented it for consoles.

For its next trick, DICE is producing Battlefield Heroes, a free-to-play multiplayer-focused PC shooter that will be fueled by microtransactions. Although there's no template to follow for taking such a project and making it a success in the West, the studio has already generated a significant amount of interest from gamers.

In the last six months, more than 170,000 users have registered at the Battlefield Heroes official Web site. The closed beta program that opened May 5 has already welcomed 10,000 players, and a news post about the upcoming expansion of the program generated 8,000 user comments and crashed the official site.

So it's clear that gamers know about Battlefield Heroes. But as any military scholar will tell you, knowing is only half the battle. GameSpot recently spoke with Battlefield executive producer Ben Cousins to talk about the other half.

GameSpot: You've got a class-based military shooter with a stylized, cartoon look to it. Why should people think this isn't a Team Fortress knockoff?

Ben Cousins: The first thing I can say is this is a Battlefield game and a continuation of the Battlefield franchise, which has been going in various forms since 1999. Obviously Team Fortress was out before that, but what we focus on is a mixture of vehicle and infantry combat in large, open environments, which is quite different.

We've also got a full MMO-style leveling-up and character-customization system. We're also free to play, with really low system specs. We're designed for a much more casual audience than Team Fortress. We're third-person, and we're really focused on a fun, easy-to-get-into, accessible gameplay. I'm a big fan of Team Fortress and have been playing it since the Quake version, but it's still a pretty hardcore game. Heroes, with our matchmaking system, is much more focused on bringing a new audience in to shooters. You said it's a cartoony, class-based PC shooter, but I think that's all we have in common with Team Fortress. Everything else we're doing is different.

GS: Are you having to limit the customization options in order to ensure everything feels like part of the same cohesive world?

BC: We've had a lot of fun exploring the limits of the stylization. We have two factions, the Royal Army and the National Army, which are influenced by the Axis and the Allies of World War II. And those are the kinds of costumes and clothing you'll see as a beginner in Battlefield Heroes. But as you play the game and level up, you unlock the ability to use different clothing items so you can tell the level of experience or power of a character by how unusual their clothing is.

What we found by letting the art guys on the team explore it is that the Royal Army start moving towards an action hero, kind of A-Team or Indiana Jones feel, and the National Army move toward a goth, emo, pirate kind of feel. We've had fun realizing that we don't need to stay within these historical archetypes and we can go into really crazy and interesting places with these factions, but still have a distinctive look and color palette with each of them.

GS: This microtransactions model hasn't taken root yet in the West. What do you look at in terms of successful predecessors for the microtransactions model in the US? Yohoho Puzzle Pirates? Acclaim's games?

BC: MapleStory is doing really well, and Puzzle Pirates is also doing well. I've been going to a microtransactions roundtable at each Game Developers Conference over the last few years, and there used to be maybe a few guys operating small businesses, small-scale role-playing games and that kind of thing. When I went this year, it was clear there were a large number of [successful developers].

I think it's interesting Heroes is the first microtransactions-based game from a major publisher. So we appear to be breaking the ice and doing something cutting-edge, but there's a good precedent in the West for reasonable success for a smaller-scale business. There's an audience there and a demand for this sort of game, and we think we can bust it open with Heroes with a higher profile and the higher-quality game we're offering.

GS: Is there anything to be gleaned from the fact that none of those successful microtransaction games you mentioned were action-oriented?

BC: There's little precedent for action-oriented microtransaction games in the West, you're right, but the predominant microtransactions genres in Korea and the Asian markets are action games like Special Force and Sudden Attack. Having studied the way they do it in Asia--we're also developing a specific Battlefield game for the Korean market which is separate for Heroes--we've learned quite a lot about what you can do and can't do with item sales in an action game.

GS: If it does take off, it's a long-term commitment like an MMO, right?

BC: Yeah, absolutely. From day one with Heroes, we've had at least a six-year plan in place in terms of who's working on the project and making sure we've got the budget. If we do show success, we're committed to keeping this going, and that means giving the consumers content and listening to them and having the community define what the content is and what their experience is, similar to what you see with an MMO.

GS: If Heroes does take off, does that preclude the launch of a traditional Battlefield-style game for the PC for the next six years?

BC: No, there are 250 people at DICE, several teams, and there are only 15 people working on Heroes.

GS: You think the audiences would be different enough?

BC: Absolutely. We're still absolutely committed to the core Battlefield PC gamer fans, and there are 250 people at DICE. Make what you will of those two statements.

GS: So when are gamers going to get to try this out?

BC: We've already released the game. We're in closed beta right now and there are 10,000 people registered to play the game. In the last two months we've logged over 16,000 hours of gameplay, so there are people out there playing it. We're still in a closed beta, but the plan is to be adding new content to the game, new content to the Web site... We've got a full character-profile system where you've got a Facebook-style page for your character, friend lists, you can see what style people are using... The plan is in the last few months of this year, we'll have as many people playing the game at peak times as are playing Battlefield: Bad Company at the moment. So even though we're in closed beta, we'll be talking hundreds of thousands of registered users.

So we're already out. We've already released. We're ramping it up slowly over time, and if you're a hardcore gamer and a fan of Battlefield, you will absolutely be in the closed beta at some point. We'll be opening that up very wide in the next few months so there will be plenty of opportunities to play the game. Then the release that makes sense to [EA executives] would be when we start selling items and release restrictions of access, and that would be toward the start of next year.

GS: Will there be any kind of open beta, or is that just semantics when it's a free-to-play game?

BC: It is semantics, but I imagine we'll launch with an open beta so everyone's aware we're still in the beta phase. And then the moment we stop being an open beta is when we start officially selling items to consumers. As soon as you open a microtransactions service, players will expect a level of service above and beyond the beta.

GS: I know first thing's first, but how seriously have you considered console versions of Battlefield Heroes?

BC: We've looked into it and it's been brought up lots of times. Looking at the game videos and the style of the game itself, it looks like it would lend itself very well to consoles. But knowing what we know about the product, this is a very Web-focused game. You really need the Internet and access to a Web site to really enjoy the game, click through links, and browse the item store. Imagine trying to access Facebook on a gamepad; it's hard to do.

GS: So you're talking about something more involved than the Rock Band in-game music store?

BC: Yeah. We have discussions in the team where we're not sure if it's a social network with a game attached or a game with a social network attached. To render all of that on an HDTV would be fine, but navigating that with a gamepad doesn't really suit us.

GS: Do you find the notion of a game aimed at casual players having clan support contradictory at all?

BC: That's a very interesting question and there are two answers to that. One is I don't think there's anything in particular about a group of players that's particularly hardcore. There's no reason why a group of 10-year-old boys in a school couldn't form their own clan and they don't need to be especially competitive. That's why we call them groups instead of clans.

The other thing is we will have a hardcore segment of our community, and they'll be match-made into games together, having tournaments and organized competitive play. I see two types of clans for Heroes: groups of friends who just want to hang out and traditional clans the likes of which you and I would recognize.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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Discussion

40 comments
Skjoett
Skjoett

Can he just say when the open beta come

Megawizard
Megawizard

I'm curious to see what the transactions will consist of. If it's just cosmetic stuff, I don't see me getting too into it.

Kowpow
Kowpow

I sure am excited. Might actually pay for stuff :D

chickenfeed9
chickenfeed9

If they get this right, which im sure they will, ill be glad to spend £20 on microtransactions. Otherwise it wont feel right playing this game.

HotRod2142
HotRod2142

@-HCMF- BF:H has been in the works for a while and all ready has a big fan base. Also I under stand that BFBC needs more stuff with only 8 maps on attack and defend and only 4 maps for conquest. Then agian we need that patch for BF: 2 and a new one for 2142 since 1.5 made the game worse.

jakob_187
jakob_187

To be honest, I doubt that they would make any of the "microtransaction" components of the game give people an edge of any sort (better weapons, etc). If it did, I would hope that they'd include some form of a matchmaking setup to recognize who does and does not have that type of material on their account and separate them. Otherwise, you are talking about a game that has a relatively low level of balance...which means folks like me wouldn't touch this game to save our lives and those of our family members. I do, however, like the idea of a more casual game than the hardcore stuff. Granted, I'm one of those hardcore doods that loves my BF2, CoD4, TF2, BF:BC, and when I'm not playing those...WoW. However, those games are laden with so many damned kids that need to get some skills that putting something like this out will hopefully become the "MySpace of the Gaming World" and keep them out of our backyard for a while. So give the kids all the customization and options that you can. Keep them away from our pretty, tried-and-true, ridiculously amazing gameplay experiences and clan wars and let them have it out over who looks more emo.

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

I would much rather see more content for BF:BC, than a whole new BF game. Kepp the maps, modes, guns, etc comming...

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

lrsp
lrsp

I like the concept for this game. It is like Team Fortress but on steroids. As long as they have a good ranking system that puts hardcore gamers with hardcore gamers and less experienced people with other less experienced people then I will play the game. I am good but not amazing at team based shooters.

siiixon
siiixon

i dont mind to pay ; ) after all the money i would spend on a BF3 CD-key i spend on BF-H equipment, what the big deal... in fact i find this way more fair system then the "pay once and if you hate it its your problem"

Ghost777
Ghost777

I hope for those less financially fluid that the microtransactions are new costumes and accessories. If they can provide actual combat benefits it could be bad. If the transactions provide damage or health boosts there will be a lot of angry players. Then again everybody should be able to afford at least $30 in transactions.

klugenbeel
klugenbeel

I love the Battlefield series, hate EA, but this looks really cheesy looking,but cartoony games can be fin, look at Team Fortress....and at the same time, this looks WAY too much like Team Fortress.

DeathHeart95
DeathHeart95

My only worry is that the micro transactions might give people a big edge. DICE usually delivers though. Can't wait for this game.

pspeck_1
pspeck_1

It's too bad it's been pushed back some. I check out the site weekly, but I can't figure out those riddles!

chevydriver1123
chevydriver1123

Seems like they are putting some decent work into the game and not just doing a typical milk the franchise move. Ill be looking forward to it.

kingster113
kingster113

This game will serve well in the Asia. :) There'll be always dimwits who comment hell lot when the developers had already said that this game is based on fun and crazy concept.

Hofmarskal
Hofmarskal

I think they are very wrong about not bringing this for the consoles. Gaming on the pc is great, and much more serious the the consoles. It's much easier to be casual about console gaming then on the pc. I like both, and being able to by a cheap downlodable game that can be picked up and droped again quickly is great on the Playstation 3, and posibly X-box 360. Games like Monsters (PSN), and Siren Blood Curse (PSN). Another thing, hov can 10 year old kids pay for microtransactions over the web??? And how can they think, pc gaming is more social than PS3 or X-box? The PS3 has a fully funktioning web browser, so it wouldent be hard to browse a web page, and most people have a pc anyway!!! Problem solved! I don't I will be playing this game on my pc, but I might on my Playstation 3/37" Samsung Full HD display:-)

_Target_
_Target_

im already testing the game it really fun

imperial_agent
imperial_agent

I'm a hardcore Team Fortress 2 fanatic... but I would be willing to try this out. I like the vehicles. Also, the micro-transactions aren't bad, either, I would probably plop a few bucks down here there. Can't be any worse than iTunes. I'll give it a shot, but no way is this game going to pull me from Team Fortress 2.

masterlu
masterlu

Right, let me get this straight.. Someone at EA figured "casual gamers, microtransactions AND social networks - this just HAS to be a huge hit!" and then they went galloping away on the bandwagon of bullsh*t. A console game for casual computer gamers, who are still expected to pay for weapons and skins and whatnot and be interested in yet another flippin' social network thing. So basically you've made a game aimed at 10-year-olds (said it yourself..) and casual (read: console) gamers FOR THE PC and then slapped on a bunch of additional social network crap and intend to finance the whole shebang with the credit cards of the aforementioned 10-year-olds. Am I the only one seeing the flaws here? I may be a bit cynical, but still..

Gruug
Gruug

Maybe for new PC game players, not really into this type of game play. Rather have a BF type game similar to the past games. Good luck on those micro-transactions...yeah, right...lol!

Hokkie
Hokkie

This game is stated to be released before years end. i didn't know anything about microtransactions for this game and I hope that the core game can still be enjoyed without needing to spend the extra buck. I also like how the guy says that small business owners and small-scale role-playing games use micro trans, and thinks that people are paying them, so they can do it too. But, umm....small companies dont HAVE hundreds of people working for them, its like...3-4 people, and uh, EA you have enough money as it is.

ak47pi
ak47pi

I have heard that will happen at some point, and seeing how it hasnt been announced yet, I would guess sometime between Q2 and Q4 '09.

ColdfireTrilogy
ColdfireTrilogy

nah this game just isn't for me. First off the game player size isnt battlefield like, i mean where went my 64 player massive battles .... now its all small and lame, if i wanted small i would play CS1.6 or CoD4 ... Im just hoping for a battlefield 3 using the frostbite DX graphics engine sometime soon.

division_9
division_9

This games going to be a blockblower and not a blockbuster like everyone seems to think it'll be. My first and biggest problem with this is the 3rd person setting this is set in, The camera angles just plain bad for a game like this because you can see someone who wants to sneak up behind and stab you with a knife if they could even bother to put melee in which truthfuly is more exhillirating then shooting someone in the back with a dual tubed Panzershrek. Then I hate the cartoony idea because it essentially takes the battlefield 1942,Vietnam, 2 and 2142 feel which is tense and dangerous and replaces it with the kind of soft and joyful feeling that makes you think each battle is between the US Airborne Barbie regiment and 8th SS Teletubbie division . God bless microtransitions, soon the US dollar will be BF Heroes biggest player killed followed by a triple tubed Panzershrek.

D-Camo
D-Camo

I hope they make it for the consoles as well.

atopp399
atopp399

Ugh..microtransactions. Unfortunately this means I will not be playing this game. I hope this type of business model for gaming never makes it.

Pete5506
Pete5506

I like free, I cant wait to try it out

EE2lemmonhead
EE2lemmonhead

i hope microtransactions dont give you that much of an edge...

mark_c_128
mark_c_128

Hope the open beta start soon, i love battlefield (however bf3 would have been so much sweeter.

Tjeremiah1988
Tjeremiah1988

I , personally, cant wait for this game. Been waiting all summer. Hopefully, its released before school starts.

Civfan333
Civfan333

can't wait to play! hope the open beta comes out soon!

THORINATOR
THORINATOR

I have to say it looks cool...like a cross between team fortress & warhawk! The fact its gonna be free to play is also cool! Just a shame it won't be out on consoles!

Agent00X
Agent00X

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Agent00X
Agent00X

I agree Raverrozzazazazazazazazazazaza. Good interview with a lot of honest answers not just the usual, you'll have to wait until the game is out mu-ah-ha-ha. But when will the open beta be opened? How am I supposed to get a Beta Key of they are all taken in the first 5 minutes? I am but only an impatient Battlefield Fan i suppose. And when will the open beta be opened!!!!????!?!?!?!?!?

drewciferpike
drewciferpike

Raverrozza: You summed that up very well. I like to see devs that respect the work of others, and recognize that it takes effort to make something that "truly works".

lafigueroa
lafigueroa

best free TPS out thee, Bar none!

raverrozza
raverrozza

its refreshing to have an interview where another game not made by their company is complimented rather than just being ignored and continuing to talk about their product. renders the rest of the interview with much more honesty!