The secret of Battlefield's success

DICE chief Karl Magnus Troedsson on 20 years of success as a studio and 10 years of Battlefield games.


Battlefield 3

The Battlefield series has gone from strength to strength since it started with Battlefield 1942 in 2002. That success peaked with the most recent game in the series, Battlefield 3, which has sold 15 million copies to date, and surpassed 1.3 million paying subscribers for the Battlefield Premium service. DICE's general manager, Karl Magnus Troedsson, attempted to explain the secret behind the studio's success to the attendees of GDC Europe 2012 today.

"We still run DICE as if it were a separate company--from our financials to our office to our people," claimed Troedsson, emphasising that though owner Electronic Arts uses a lot of its technology such as the Frostbite engine, DICE itself still works independently. He also claimed he's keen for the studio to be known as more than just a one-game outfit.

DICE general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson.
DICE general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson.

"DICE is dedicated to the fact that we shouldn't just be a Battlefield studio," he said, following a question about other games that may be underway in Sweden. However, he was coy on the details of any upcoming titles. "If you want to see other games from DICE, you will have to wait and see," he said.

The main thrust of the seminar was to explain how the studio uses three metrics to determine success: quality, innovation, and fun. On quality, Troedsson said, "We are very competitive. We always want to win. We always compete with ourselves."

However, this can sometimes have bad results, he claimed, with Battlefield 1942 being "a textbook example of over-scoping," with the team trying to cram too much into the game. He claims DICE needs to focus on the core elements of a game and not try to dress them up. "Don't put diamonds on the coke can," he said, using the soft drink as an example of something that is good enough as it is.

In terms of innovation, Troedsson dismissed the idea that it is impossible to innovate on an established franchise. "People talk about sequilitis--I think that is a cop-out argument for people lost in the debate about what innovation is. If innovation means that there has to be radical change [to be innovative], then I think we're talking about it in the wrong way."

Troedsson pointed to Mirror's Edge, a game where, "We set out to redefine what's possible with first-person movement." He pointed out that from that game the studio took the idea that the player character has legs, and put it into Battlefield 3. He also pointed to the addition of unlockable items and upgrades back in Battlefield 2 was a small innovation on paper, but a major innovation for those players who moved from Battlefield 1942.

The final yardstick for the team at DICE is fun--both for the player and the production team. "The game needs to be fun, but the creative process isn't always fun. Life is too short, [so] work on something you're passionate about. We strongly believe this will show in the product. We also feed off the community. It can be a bit of a harsh relationship, but we do listen."

Troedsson also bemoaned the media's obsession with platforms, stats, and trends. "Why are we so obsessed with the boring parts [of the games industry]?" he asked. "Business models will come and go, and consumer patterns will change. It doesn't matter--if we create great games, it will span all that," he rallied.

"Swedish climate truly inspires game development."

He also emphasised the role that fun plays for both developers and players. "If you have a fun game, it will work. You need other elements as well. But fun is where it starts."

Finally, though Troedsson wouldn't be drawn on specifics in terms of the studio's upcoming projects, he did drop some hints as to what the studio would like to be working on. "We still want to stay in [the shooter] genre, and Battlefield 4 can live in this space and be successful," he said, referring to the recently-announced game.

"That doesn't mean that there might not be a Bad Company game in the future," he teased, but he reiterated that "the core of our games will always be the multiplayer." Troedsson also said that the modding community will have to wait a bit longer before support is offered for future Battlefield games.

"We're afraid of hacking--and I'm no way saying modding is the same thing. It's a huge undertaking to make mod support work, and we are not ready to do that yet."

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