Electronic Arts and DICE left gamers a lot to be excited about when they finally took down the curtain surrounding Battlefield 5 and showed it to the world for the first time. Everything they showed looks great, from a much more physical-playing first-person shooter to a new fortification system that will add new layers of strategy to the action. However, what really left me impressed by the showing was the talk of Tides of War, the new live service that the Swedish studio will be launching alongside the game in October.
The immediate game changer is that Electronic Arts is taking a move away from their traditional model of charging players post-launch for new maps, vehicles, and weapons. The expansion pack and season pass model has been largely criticized for multiplayer titles due to it splitting the user base between those that are willing to pay for new content and those with just the base game. They had previously made a similar move with Titanfall 2, but for one of gaming’s most notorious business-first publishers to step away from a certain profit for a huge hit like Battlefield 5 is a huge statement. It even puts some pressure on Activision to reassess its own pricing structure for Call of Duty and gives Battlefield a huge win in the court of public opinion.
There are some huge advantages to leaving the entire player base intact, and Electronic Arts will reap the benefits. The main one comes in the form of user retention. The launch of new content always generates a ton of interest for multiplayer games, and often serve as a way to get previously lapsed players to go back into the game for a few more rounds. When that content is hidden behind a paywall, it suddenly becomes much more difficult to get them to come back. No matter how cool a map looks, a large portion of the audience isn’t going to pay more money for a game they already bounced off of once.
Of course, Battlefield 5 will hope to keep players bouncing off in the first place. That’s the entire philosophy behind Tides of War. DICE said that they want the game to be “unpredictably surprising,” and what they mean by that oxymoron is that they want to regularly add new content that adds to the game in exciting, fresh ways. They’ve gone on record by saying the essential building blocks to the mode are an evolving narrative, new content, and gameplay that feels new and evolving over time. By pairing new content drops with missions and daily orders, DICE will give even the most casual of players reasons to log into the first-person shooter each day and play a round or two. A live service needs to have quality hooks to appeal to more than the hardcore, and they’ve already shown a great base that they can build upon in the future.
Perhaps most interesting is that DICE is looking to tell an overarching story with the multiplayer mode. This blend of competitive play with a real sort of narrative has been attempted before, but it’s potential has never been fully realized upon. The developer is looking to start the story with the fall of Europe and will use narrative storytelling to increase the player’s immersion. Stories are the driving force behind why many people play and finish games, so Battlefield is brilliantly using that same carrot on a stick to get players to keep coming back.
There are certainly no shortage of stories to be told within a World War 2 setting. It’s a fantastic narrative wrapper to use, and every struggle has many different perspectives to possibly explore. Personally, I’m most interested in seeing how DICE implements real historical events within the mode. They’ve already said that they want to have some historical accurate journeys within Tides of War, and these special events will have restricted rulesets and a guided narrative to them.
One of the first planned events is the Battle of Narvik, and they’ll be able to educate players about the beginning of World War 2. This is a particularly important aspect, as DICE can actually teach players about the atrocities of war. There’s no denying that the ultimate draw of Battlefield is fun action, but if the studio can use that allure to really educate players on important aspects of history then it’ll be a major win from an artistic standpoint.
Tides of War will serve as a completely cohesive wrapper for Battlefield 5, and it’ll be paired with a new progression system that has players creating their own company of soldiers. By allowing players to customize nearly every aspect of the game (from players to weapons and vehicles) they are giving players more reasons to play the game and to continually improve. This is an experience all about getting its hooks into players, and the live service will interact with all three of its pillars: War Stories, Combined Arms, and the competitive multiplayer. It’s a great framework that rewards all types of players.
Whether or not Battlefield 5 succeeds or not as a live service will undeniably depend on the execution of Tides of War, but it’s clear that Electronic Arts has the correct ideas in place. If they can pull off the evolving narrative idea and continually keep the game feeling fresh, then they can truly take Battlefield from being a successful series to one day being its own multiplayer platform similar to a game like Overwatch or League or Legends that doesn’t have to rely on sequels to gain revenue. The potential is certainly there for something special, and this will be the first major test for DICE going forward.