DICE On Unlocks And Keeping Games Alive

By Alec Meer on September 1st, 2011 at 3:32 pm.

MAN WITH GUN. MEN WITH GENS. Manshoot captions are the hardest.

I have a frankly frightening amount of interview material from my trip to see Battlefield 3 at EA DICE HQ earlier this week, but before I lower myself into the tenth circle of hell that is transcribing the main hour of it, here’s an interesting side-discussion that came up when I asked Twitter for a few question suggestions. One of the first respondents was Minecraft-maker Notch, who asked us to ask DICE “What are some best practices and lessons learned when awarding long-term rewards in a highly competitive game like Battlefield 3?”

Here’s what BF3′s executive producer Patrick Bach had to say in response – which led to a discussion of best practice for creating in-game unlocks, how he thinks Bad Company 2 got it a bit wrong, and why he reckons devs should try and keep improving and expanding their games for several years after launch instead of putting out annual sequels. Whatever could he be referring to?

RPS: I have a question from your countryman Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, who asks “What are some best practices and lessons learned when awarding long-term rewards in a highly competitive game like Battlefield 3?”

Patrick Bach: Oh… Let’s see if I understand the question. Is he talking about the actual in-game rewards, or the development rewards?

RPS: I’m presuming it’s about the higher-end persistent unlocks.

Patrick Bach: I think the learning we’ve done is that if you make a good game, people spend a lot of time with it. If you make a great game, they will never leave. I think we maybe miscalculated with, for instance, Battlefield Bad Company, with a year. It’s been out for a year and a half, and we thought people would spend probably half a year playing it and then it would start to trend down. We’re actually at the same number of people playing today as we had three months after shipping. So it’s quite steady, how many people are playing the game. It actually went down slightly last Autumn when some other games were released, but it went right back up over Christmas when we released the Vietnam expansion pack.

So people are today playing the exact same amount of games as they did back then. So of course we miscalculated that, because we thought people would stop playing. And then people rank out and they unlock everything, and they start to feel fatigue for not getting more stuff. So I think the challenge is to figure out how long people will play this game for, and then make sure you have enough stuff for you to unlock. Because it’s not fun to have to play for ten years to unlock the last thing – that doesn’t make the game better, it makes it seem that there’s no point to continue. But then again, you still want that carrot, dangling in front of you.

For Battlefield 3, we known that people play even more than Battlefield Bad Company 2, so we’re planning for even longer unlocks, a bigger unlock tree. So I think, to us, it’s understand how long people will play the game for, who will play the game, and how they will play the game. Based on that, which is the only information you can speculate on, try and give as much as you can for that period of time. So what we’re doing is, for instance, is deepening the game, but also broadening the game. Depending on your play style, you can actually unlock stuff based on a specific weapon or a specific class, rather than have everyone unlock everything.

RPS: Do you consciously factor in wanting people to move onto whatever your next game is , rather than stick to the older game, when you plan the length and number of unlocks?

Patrick Bach: But maybe you don’t have to build the new game, do you? If people like the old one, then keep fixing that one, update it and make it even better. I think sometimes it turns too mechanical when people release new games every year, and just focus on ‘how can I sell another copy, another copy, another copy?’ Of course companies need to make money to survive, but you can actually provide for the title you already have out on the market. You don’t have to leave it, just because you’ve shipped it. You can go back to it and think ‘can we add something to this, can we change something, what do people want?’ And then if you keep doing for a longer period of time, why start building something new? Of course you can always plan for the big next step, but if that’s in two years, or three years, five years…

RPS: [About 20 other questions which we'll run next week].

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115 Comments »

  1. Nalano says:

    I hated unlocks. It was a chore to play the game until I got the weapon I wanted to play the game with, and then after that the remaining unlocks were pointless.

    • arccos says:

      Hear, hear!

      I never understood the point of frustrating new players by making them essentially unable to compete on the same level as players who have been at it longer. New players already have a hard enough time competing in a game they are unfamiliar with. This, combined with making the XP based on performance, compounds the problem and means I usually slam Alt-F4 in frustration mere minutes after starting a new online shooter.

      I tried MoH multiplayer last night, and the sniper doesn’t even start off with a proper sniper rifle.

      Lesson: Don’t handcuff players. Period.

    • jay35 says:

      Right. Unlocks and longevity are not the same thing at all. If you have to lock away even mediocre gear behind hours and hours of experience, you’re doing it wrong.

    • zergrush says:

      Remember when there were plenty of Rocket Launchers lying on the floor and everyone could pick them up and blow each other to pieces?

      Good times.

    • grundus says:

      There’s a middle ground between handcuffing players and having everything unlocked for everyone, though. The damage increasing/reducing stuff should just be left out, there’s no need for it at all, and make it so we can unlock sights (which they’ve already said we’ll be able to do) before unlocking like three assault rifles. BC2′s unlock system was weird because you’d unlock two pistols, then loads of specialisations, then some other stuff, then other specialisations, then all the shotguns in a row. It was just crazy, why not mix it up a bit?

      Still, BF3′s unlocks sound like they’ve received some attention, so I hope they’ve learnt some lessons from Bad Company, MoH, CoD and all the others about pacing and structure. I have faith they’ll at least improve it over BC2, though even if it was BC2′s system again I wouldn’t be massively disappointed, as long as they leave magnum ammo out so body armour doesn’t become a prerequisite.

      Also the default weapons in BC2 weren’t mediocre, it’s just that you don’t have anything to boost them with; no magnum ammo, no sights, nothing like that. The other night I used the 9A-91 for the first time since I unlocked the XM8C and I went on an absolute rampage with it, same with the AEK. The M16 is a good gun, no doubt, but just because people use the later weapons more often doesn’t mean they’re better, just that the majority want to use newer shit.

    • Mattressi says:

      I used to like unlocks, but now I don’t think that I do. It was fun to have a goal – to aim for a certain weapon. But I’d be convincing myself that it’ll be so good and then when I get to it, I’m always disappointed. Unlocks have never met my expectations (due to balance reasons, obviously) and have never become the only weapon that I use. I think I actually play games for a longer amount of time when there’s no unlocks, because none of the weapons become overhyped. Also, with unlocks you tend to switch out weapons rapidly as you unlock more, so you don’t end up wanting to stick with the dream gun that you’ve just unlocked, because that’s not how you’ve been playing.

      I find it more fun to have a variety of weapons already available which require you to learn their strengths and weaknesses. It makes your final, decided upon weapon feel much more like it’s “yours” than if you’ve just grinded to it.

    • torchedEARTH says:

      You should only unlock new weapons for the worst three players on each team or something.

      All the good players obviously manage with what they have!

    • Chaz says:

      I can’t stand unlocks either. It makes the game feel more like work rather than fun if I have to keep chipping away at it to get unlock the features I want to play with, i.e. everything. I’ve paid for the game and all that content, so why should I have to wait ages and ages to get my hands on it? Due to the way these sytems work it means that even after 3 months of play there will be a whole load of content that I still won’t have been able to have a play with, that I’ve paid for when I bought the game.

      If as they claim the unlocks are balanced and won’t give long term players an unfair advantage then why can’t they just give people access to all the toys right from the start? Presumably your load out will be limited to a certain number of items and features anyway, so whats the problem?

      What about those of us who aren’t hardcore players and don’t have a lot of time on our hands but still would like to mess around with “all” of the stuff?

    • Milky1985 says:

      The only unlock i thought was really stupid was the defib for the medic on BF2, the defib is part of the medic arsenal, if you wanted to give me a better defib or give hte standard one a “use” timer or something then fine.

      Bt having to shoot stuff to earn the ability to res people just seemed odd.

    • diebroken says:

      I don’t ever think I really used any of the unlocked weapons in BF2; I usually played as the Engineer class, and for most maps I mainly just used vehicles. What type of unlocks will there be in BF3?

    • grundus says:

      diebroken, there’s like, millions. If you go to the Battlefield forum on Steam there’s a thread about the unlocks that have been confirmed by DICE, there’s like, a whole pile of stuff for vehicles alone and some specialisations that affect your squad and not just you, for a start.

    • diebroken says:

      Thanks, haven’t been keeping up to date with BF3 at all really.

      “Each vehicle will have three unlock slots: a secondary weapon slot, a gadget slot and an upgrade slot, and the more you use a particular vehicle (and notch up kills with it), the more of the 80 plus upgrades you’ll unlock for that specific model.”

      It does sound like it’s gonna a lot more fun this time around to focus in the unlock-trees. :)

    • BathroomCitizen says:

      I despise unlocks quite a bit.

      Why can’t everyone start on the same footing? Veterans already have good experience with the game, and they add specialisations to it too?

      Why not just implement a points system where a player can dump points in a tech tree to unlock stuff pre-match? It would not be permanent and last for just a single match, but it would be quite versatile.

      Or better yet: don’t implement a damn tech tree in a shooter and just give everyone the same stuff. Perks are for RPGs, not shooters.

    • sneetch says:

      I preferred COD MWs levelling to unlock weapons and so on to the BF2 grind-up-each-class model for unlocks. That just seemed like a lot of work.

      The decision to give more powerful “more damage” unlocks at higher levels (like magnum ammo x1.25 damage) seemed especially odd to me, the more experienced players tend to be better at the game, do they need a further advantage over lower level players?

      Hopefully the unlocks will be a bit more “sane” this time, you won’t be forced to grind for ages to get a shotty.

      Edit: Or did you have to grind for ages? It’s been a while…

    • Nalano says:

      @ Zergrush

      “Remember when there were plenty of Rocket Launchers lying on the floor and everyone could pick them up and blow each other to pieces?”

      Damn straight. Also, weapon balance. Putting magnum rounds halfway down the unlock path like in BC2 is an insult to everybody who hasn’t unlocked it.

      In MW1, AP rounds and the RPD were available from the get-go, and I never wanted for another weapon in that slot in the game.

    • Askeladd says:

      How about making a game fun without the feeling the need to unlock anything new?
      The Devs should try to give every weapon a particular feel that makes it unique.
      I want less weapons then BC2 but they shouldn’t restrict them to a particular class, some, but not all weapons should be interchangeable between classes with different effects that they have in combination with the kit you choose. Balance it so that there is no real winner.

      And unlock systems should only provide a way to get more diverse in the roles you can/want to fill instead of forcing you in a playstyle thats the effect of bad balancing and planning of unlocks.

    • Jad says:

      I hate unlocks so much. I think they, more than the RPS bugbears of regenerating health and cover systems, are the worst trend in modern shooters, and are defiling a genre that I used to like very much. A developer who talks about increasing the number of unlocks and badges to give people to play more is a developer who is worried about the quality of their game, and players who need “carrots” dangled in front of them are people who actually hate the game they are playing.

      When I go to the park to play basketball with my friends we play because we find basketball an inherently fun activity. We also play for the thrill of competition: to avenge a previous loss or to extend a winning streak, or just to trash talk while pulling off flashy moves (or at least attempt to).

      I have never unlocked a new type of ball while playing. My friend did not get access to the three-point line before I did, for it is a basic rule of the game, available to all, and it is his skill that allows him to take advantage of it. Skill that he naturally gained over the course of playing the game, not arbitrarily handed to him. If we want to add or remove rules to the ruleset of basketball we can, but it is always a balanced, level playing field, equipment- and rules-wise.

      More so, I have never had to fucking bribe my friends to play the game. We have never handed out stickers at the end of a quarter, we don’t keep track of anyone’s arbitrary “rank”, there are no random hat drops. If one of my friends decides not to play, he says “I don’t like basketball, lets play something else”, and that’s fine. He doesn’t say “Well, I unlocked the last hat last game, so I’m not going to play unless you deepen the unlock tree”. That fucker doesn’t like basketball, he likes haberdashery.

    • sharkh20 says:

      Counter-strike doesn’t have unlocks. People have been playing that for 11 years. Unlocks have always been an unnecessary grind. They are there as a trick to get people to keep playing the game for fear of the games own shortcomings.

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      Shark: “If I disagree with something, it has to be evil.”

      I always enjoyed unlocks. I played the hell out of DOA for the Playstation back in the day, and I did the same thing with Battlefield: Bad Company 2. If a game is fun and well made, and offers consistent rewards for playing, what is the problem? Seems like a glass half-full/-empty thing.

    • Barnaby says:

      Because so many people feel the need to rant about how bad unlocks are I just wanted to point out that not everyone hates them. I enjoy the unlock systems in games like this, and I don’t really think the handicap is that severe (if anything I find the challenge rewarding to a point).

      In BFBC2 for example they didn’t have nearly enough unlocks. I finished the Medic tree very quickly and had no interest in any of the other trees. I found it incredibly boring after I got all the unlocks. Then again, that boredom might have been rooted more in Rush being a very unbalanced game type and Conquest being a straight clusterfuck.

      So in short, all of your opinions are wrong, I love unlocks, and I wish Origin didn’t exist so I wasn’t conflicted about buying this game!

    • Jad says:

      @Barnaby: I found it incredibly boring after I got all the unlocks

      This just says to me that you do not like the Team-Based First Person Shooter named Battlefield: Bad Company 2. You like the game of Grind Out Level Progression and Loot Drops.

      That is not in of itself a bad thing, there are a lot of games that are largely based around the GOLPaLD mechanic like Diablo that I and a lot of other people enjoy as well.

      It is also okay to not like Team-Based First Person Shooters. For example, I do not like racing games and I would find it insulting and a waste of time for racing game developers to try to shoe-horn in some kind of shiny rewards system to trick me into playing a game that has core mechanics that bore me, rather than just make the best racing game possible for racing game fans.

      Or perhaps, as you note, it is not that you dislike Team-Based First Person Shooters (have you enjoyed such games that do not have unlock systems in the past?), but that Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is a bad game. If so, why are spending any time with a bad game? Why not play a game that can fulfill your unlocking and grinding desires, like Torchlight, in a much better and focused way?

      Because those of us who enjoy Team-Based First Person Shooters for their intrinsic, basic mechanics, like racing game fans enjoy racing, unlock systems are at their best unnecessary and irritating bullshit, and more frequently are actively harmful to our enjoyment of the game.

    • Barnaby says:

      @Jad

      Let me first say that I’m an eclectic gamer for the most part. I’m willing to try lots of different types of games and can appreciate them for different reasons. I don’t like a game just because it fits into a genre, I like a game because it’s well executed and fun to play. I don’t generally like “grind-fests” especially not solely because the game is a “grind-fest”.

      I think Call of Duty 1 and 2 are good examples of team based FPS’s that had no unlocks that I absolutely loved. Unreal Tournament ’99 is my all time favorite game and what got me into PC gaming and it has no unlocks. So, do I like team based shooters? Yes, but not simply because it has unlocks or doesn’t.

      The flaws with BF BC2 are many, and the redeeming qualities weren’t enough to keep me going with it. I played it until it bored me to death and then I stopped. Unbalanced/laggy servers, frustrating maps with narrow corridors, too many players abusing the Engineer class, etc.

      The unlock system certainly wasn’t what made or broke BC2 imo, but if you are going to make an unlock system at least make it fleshed out, or don’t make it at all. The idea that an unlock system subtracts from experiencing the game’s core mechanics I don’t really agree with or understand. If a game has good mechanics it just does, regardless of whether unlocks are present, it just means you might have to wait to use some of the weapons. Sure a developer COULD use unlocks as carrots to compensate for shitty gameplay, but in the end (once you have the unlocks) it will be clear that the game has poor gameplay.

      I really think gun balance issues are more of a problem than unlocks ever will be for FPS games, BC2 being a relatively good example of this. Either way, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    • BoZo says:

      I wish companies would stop obsessing about unlocks. It would be so great if you would be given a humongous arsenal of different weapons and gadgets within the same power bracket as soon as you start the game, and have an inventory system as in X-Com 1 or Planetside. Well, we can only dream…

    • Hastur says:

      @Barnaby,

      You wrote: “The idea that an unlock system subtracts from experiencing the game’s core mechanics I don’t really agree with or understand.” Here’s an example of how it subtracts, for me:

      I pop over a ridge and i’m toe-to-toe with another player, both of us surprised to see the other. In a split second I evaluate what class he is, what weapon he’s carrying, and whether I can stand and duke it out or I need to get out of Dodge.

      In this split second I determine that he’s a wimpy class carrying a pea-shooter, so I decide to duke it out. I take three shots, he takes three shots, yet somehow he kills me and runs away unscathed. WTF?

      Here’s TF: it turns out he had unlocked some body armor and magnum bullets that I didn’t even know existed. That’s how unlocks mess with core mechanics: they cause me to lose information about gameplay, which turns out to be incredibly frustrating.

      TF2 taught me these lessons, and then forgot them itself.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Just cancelled my pre-order based on this article.

      Basically punishing those people who won’t be able to play 24/7, or who aren’t that great at online FPS. If they had a TF2 style drop system, fair enough. But they don’t, and if Black Ops was anything to go on (yes, different franchise but same concept) then it breaks the game IMO. As someone below said, in that game, the sniper didn’t even start with a proper sniper rifle. I tried online once in Black Ops, saw they basically handed you water pistols to start with, and never went back.

      And when I cancelled my BF3 pre-order I explained in the little box to Amazon exactly why. Maybe if people did that and made enough noise this asinine design decision would go away.

      That’s two big games I’ve cancelled pre-orders for this year now based on design decisions. (The other being Arkham City and its “Ongoing DLC”)

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’m not a fan of unlocks etc. But remember that BF2 had unlocks, and they required an absolutely phenomenal amount of grind to unlock, and some of them were just flat out better than the standard guns.

  2. SaVi says:

    Updating the older game doesn’t have to mean making a loss, with DLC done right.
    Something I prefer more than a sequel which wouldn’t even count as an add-on in the old days.

    • JagRoss says:

      Like TF2?

    • Stupoider says:

      TF2 feels more like a marketing tool with all these glaringly out of place preorder items.

    • Schelome says:

      It does feel like a marketing tool, but like a good one. It is also incredibly fun to play and switching around your arsenal can really suit you to any specific task.

    • Warskull says:

      Love or Hate it, TF2 is still probably the best multiplayer shooter on the market. The maps are good, it has a lot of little features that are excellent, and new players aren’t crippled with inferior equipment (the default stuff is most of the best stuff.)

      I do find this trend of grind in shooters extremely annoying. Alright, you need unlocks to motivate bad players, trick MMO/RPG players, and keep noobs around. Focus the unlocks on things that don’t impact gameplay. Instead of a better gun, offer a new skin/outfit. TF2′s hat system give players the uniqueness and customization they crave without overly impacting gameplay.

    • Barnaby says:

      Couldn’t disagree with you more about TF2 being the best multiplayer FPS game. Since the Mac release and hat store the game just hasn’t run the same, not to mention the complete lack of weapon balance. Game takes forever to load, practically any server is laggy, and most of the player base has NO idea what is going on (esp in CP maps).

      While I don’t think the hat store itself broke the game, lots of changes that have come about because of it have. I used to love TF2, but now every time I play the shortcomings are all the more glaring. The only reason TF2 would be considered the best multiplayer FPS game is because there’s no worthy competition. My vote would go to CSS, but just because there are so few other good games in the genre right now.

      I’m just disappointed that TF2 has turned out like it has, because I once enjoyed the shit out of it.

    • DrGonzo says:

      You may want to check out your pc, maybe reinstall Windows or something. I’ve had no impact to performance or load times.

  3. Shooop says:

    What they really mean is, “We’ve learned that selling a half-assed job at retail and then selling you the rest of the pieces works great!”

  4. Carra says:

    When starting BC2 I hated the unlocks:
    - I pick a medic.
    -> I cannot heal my team players, I have to play for an hour as a useless medic to unlock that? WTF.
    -> I cannot revive my team mates, I have to play another hour to unlock that? WTF.

    -I pick an engineer.
    -> I cannot repair vehicles until I played for an hour? WTF.

    Giving slightly different but roughly equivalent weapons to players who spend a lot of hours with your game is fine with me. Not giving them the basic functionality their class requires is just a nono.

    • anothermike says:

      So, probably going for flamebait here, but as I understand it there is a logic to having the kit unlocks be fast but initially hidden.

      I joined the BF series at 2142 and had no idea what I was doing. The first hour or so it was kind of nice to not be overwhelmed by all the equipment crap – just run and gun like I was used to. When it unlocked after, what, 1 session? I was able to more easily process what it meant and how it affected things. (“Oh THAT was what the medics were throwing out!”)

      That said, it does bite as a BF veteran, but it unlocks pretty damn fast, so nbd. Plus you can always swap kits on the field of battle to get the better gear someone else is/was using (after you kill them of course). It’s like Kirby. Kill a sniper, become a sniper.

    • Devenger says:

      Only it’s not like Kirby, because you don’t have to swallow the enemy soldier whole to steal their abilities. Thankfully. Since that would be terrifying.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      “What have we learned from BC2?” “We need more unlocks!”

      Once you drive away all the people who don’t like unlocks (for example, people who poured over a hundred hours into BF1942… not that I’m naming any names), I guess all you have left are the people who want more unlocks?

      Man, I miss 1942. The community was shit (camping planes? Standing on runways to get ‘team-killed’ by planes, so the accidental TKer would be penalized and/or booted?), but it was a great game despite that. But the market demands console ports and unlocks, so that’s all we’ll get.

    • lasikbear says:

      The problem I had with the BC2 unlocks was mostly with the sniper class. Every other class has a much easier time earning points in ways that aren’t just killing people. I also am miserable with the starting sniper gun.

      While theoretically this might encourage me to follow another sniper and wait for them to die to take their stuff (ideally also demonstrating to me how to play better), instead I found it much easier to simply run around with a shotgun. Essentially the unlock mechanic functioned in such a way that it encouraged me to play in the complete opposite manner of my class, and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t gotten past level 3 in the sniper tree.

      The unlocks are a nice idea, but I think they need to be sure you have enough functionality to actually play with the bare minimum. I’m not really sure I can say that the sniper lacked this, it might just be I am just rubbish at it, but it should be something the developers keep in mind.

    • Vagrant says:

      I THINK they patched it in where you start off with some of the class kits. I created a new character at one point, and had some of the class specialties (probe, medkit, etc) enabled at level 1.

      Also, if you can’t use the starter sniper rifle, they give you the alternative of using the all-class weapons, such as the Shotguns or the M14. But if you can’t use the M24, then maybe you’re using the wrong class…

      EDIT: whoops an M40 is definitely not a sniper rifle.

    • Askeladd says:

      The M24, the SV98 and the GOL are the best sniper rifles in BC2.
      What you need to learn is this:
      Dont camp with sniper rifles. Get into the battlefield, throw your little ping-thingy and cap locations.
      Try to overlook the routes the enemy likes to use to flank your team mates. Make them visible and hold then off. Don’t go rambo on them with the sniper but sometimes rush into them and make then regret.
      On maps that arent designed poorly there will be enough cover so you dont have to try play the infinite countersniper, which is lame, cuz the class is supposed to be recon.

      If you play like that and you reaction time is good enough you should improve with that class.
      All of these snipers oneshot everything without body armor in less then 10m.

      BTT: I can confirm that all unlocks are rubish compared to the magnum ammo or the body armor in particular of BC2.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I always felt the best sniper kit in BC2 was a pistol, shotgun, C4, and motion mines. As long as you have some buddies to tag along and throw ammo your way you’re an unstoppable short range infantry and vehicle killing machine.

    • MDevonB says:

      Lasikbear, if you want to get points as a sniper, spot and motion-mine like a motherf**ker. If you die and still have motion mines in your pocket, you’re doing it wrong. It was what, +10 for a spot assist, and +5 for a motion-mine assist or something. If you’re playing a defensive role near the objective, or doing actual recon, the points just keep pouring in.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’ve always been confused by this. I loaded up BC2, picked medic and had the health kit and the paddles straight away. I did then ‘unlock’ them but I already had them anyway.

  5. metalangel says:

    Keeping games alive is greatly helped if your evil publisher doesn’t keep turning its goddamn authentication servers off, rendering games (FIFA and Tiger Woods a year or two old) mostly worthless.

    Unlocks can take a hike too. This is the military, you are issued a weapon based on your skill and training, that is appropriate to your current mission.

    • Calneon says:

      And your skill and training in this context is the amount of time you have played the game.

    • metalangel says:

      Oh, you’re clever. They don’t keep several dozen completely different rifles and machine-guns around, the logistics of supplying ammo and parts would be mindbending.

      I preferred the old Battlefield system where you had a standard issue weapon based on your class. You learned to use it, and use it well. If you wanted something else, you had to scavenge someone else’s standard issue weapon.

      This nonsense about the rank and file soldiers being given access to completely customise their already non-standard weapon is just due to EA’s ongoing and ill-advised attempts to appeal to CoD players.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Referencing the military, it would be interesting if a BF-like game had requirements for unlocking different classes. Everyone could start out as an infantryman, but to get access to vehicles or other kits you’d have to demonstrate proficiency with certain skills.

    • metalangel says:

      I think America’s Army is structured a bit like that… you have to undergo training and show proficiency to get anything beyond the standard rifleman roles.

      Contrast with me playing ArmA2, where I have my first go as a squad leader with ARPS and get killed trying to raise command to warn them about the approaching enemy vehicle that’s shooting at me. :p

    • DrGonzo says:

      Again, BF2 had unlocks. I think 1942 was the only game that had a standard loadout that wasn’t changeable.

  6. Tams80 says:

    “Whatever could he be referring to?”

    Some type of fish from what I understand. I hear it goes well with chips.

    Back on topic. I think the best design for unlocks is one where there is room for further unlocks to be implemented in the future without compromising gameplay. As in designing the game to have more unlocks, but releasing them later. Having too big a range in the beginning probably puts people off. The best way to do this would probably be through paid for DLC/expansions (as in not just a DLC of unlocks) so people who buy the game after release don’t have a huge daunting final goal hanging above them, as they will probably buy the DLC later.

    Ah, such a nice run on sentences.

  7. Dakia says:

    The main thing that I hated about the unlock system in BC2 was that some of the core abilities of a certain class (ie medic) where locked at the outset. Not ideal, but understandable. It was unlocked with relative ease.

    What I would really like to see is that a player can unlock the different weapons with relative ease, early in the leveling process. From there, the remaining unlocks should be upgrades for those weapons. Weapons should, ideally, be relatively equal with no clear “best” weapon for each class. Those additions should be what makes the weapon better. I know, not realistic, but much more clear for an actual game.

    • Joshua says:

      That is actually how it is done in BC2 and Modern Warfare, although the system needs some work in places. I actually love MW’s unlock system, as the rifles you start with are just as good as the weapons you ‘end’ with. Oooh, I do remember that player who just owned everyone with the M16…

      I like it, actually. It gives you an incentive to try everything, instead of just finding something ‘good’ and sticking with it (which is what happens in Counter Strike).

    • Howl says:

      There’s nothing more annoying than a medic that revives you when the person that *just* shot you is still breathing. Giving them nothing but a light machine gun for 30 minutes when they first play the game is a good way to teach them that their core role is actually to “stop reviving me and shoot the f’ing bad guys first”.

    • sharkh20 says:

      @Howl
      They do it for points, not because they don’t know better.

  8. Veeskers says:

    “But then again, you still want that carrot, dangling in front of you.”

    The saddest thing about this quote is that it actually appears to be true for so many people playing these games. Craving to be manipulated with meaningless shiny “carrots”- the unlock grinding, achievements, etc.
    notch is clearly very eager to jump on that boat.

    No thanks, I don’t want that carrot.

  9. Fede says:

    “Whatever could he be referring to?”

    Of course he’s speaking about EA’s sport franchises! :D

  10. LuNatic says:

    Instead of just pointless rank pins for hours played, I’d love to see useful icons next to players name. If someone has a history of getting lots of team points (healing, resupply, etc), perhaps they should have a golden thumbs up as their icon, and I’ll know to squad up with them. Someone who gets lots of objectives might have a golden flag. Someone who sits in a bush, 2 miles from the action and snipes map after map might have a picture of an arse.

    • Devenger says:

      Such a system would probably be far too easy to ‘game’, and hardly representative of actual good play (in the same way that even scores have to be treated with extreme scepticism). What’s the statistical difference between the person who risks life and limb to save teammates whenever possible, and the fool that revives people just before a tank drives over them, before they can stand up?

    • sinister agent says:

      That’s a pretty good idea. I’d be interested to see a game using a system like that. It should probably ignore your first, say, three hours, though. Otherwise every new player will have a gravestone over their name.

    • godwin says:

      Didn’t Kane and Lynch 2′s multiplayer have something like that? A kind of trustworthiness rating. It could work on percentages and habits – just an open graphical representation of stats that the game is already capable of tracking.

    • LuNatic says:

      Devenger: No system is perfect, but even so, I think it would be better than nothing.

  11. Symbul says:

    “But then again, you still want that carrot, dangling in front of you.”

    No, no I don’t. Please stop it. Give me the game out of the box and don’t make me grind through nonsense before I can play with the toys I want.

  12. DarkByke says:

    2142 did it the best. hands down best unlock and awards.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I thought so too, but then 2142 is the only BF I’ve ever played. But I thought the system worked well. I especially liked being able to pick up other people’s kit after they died, so you could get stuff you didn’t normally have access to. (although maybe you couldn’t, it’s been several years)

  13. Pathetic Phallacy says:

    So in order for Battlefield to have longevity there must be a certain amount of grind or choir to the game. Funny, I thought the key to a game’s lifespan was ensuring the game is fun to play.

    I guess all those unlocks you get in Counterstrike are the reason it’s been so popular all these years.

    • trigger_rant says:

      Mod tools be damned, who needs them anyway? Right? Its sad when PC gamers dont care about mods anymore, just another step towards the consolization of the PC market.

  14. db1331 says:

    In BC2 the unlocks were over extremely fast, but the ranking up took forever. I’m rarely out of the top 3 in scoring on either side after a match, and even with something like 360 hours played I’m still only rank 46 of 50.

    • Howl says:

      I don’t know why they chose to stop it at 50. Rank is simply a measure of experience in playing the game. There should have been no ceiling.

  15. gwathdring says:

    My primary concern is that the unlocks might be based on points and time spent in game as opposed to specific types of achievements and objectives. I remember working very hard in BF2 for some of the badges. The Veteran Knife combat badge inspired some great gaming moments for me, for example, and I wished the game had integrated it’s unlock system more elegantly with the badges and ribbons and such as that would have made it feel more valuable and attainable. As things stood, I spent years playing the game and was unable to unlock about half the items in the game. I simply didn’t play the game enough–and I played it a fair bit. It was my go-to game all through high school and I had a lot of free time then. I was also in the top quarter of most servers I played on, and usually got a “best in class-x” award, and while I’m sure there are far more competitive servers than those I happened to stumble across it says to me that the unlock system was utterly out of reach to the below-average player who spent most of their time in the bottom half of server scores. I understand that Bad Company did things a lot differently, but it sounds like that system had it’s own set of issues.

    I do like the idea of weapon and class specific unlocks being related to usage of those classes and weapons. It was a mistake to have players unlock globally in BF2 as it meant longtime single-class specialists didn’t get to rank-up quickly when playing with a rarely used class. Heck, the whole exponentially difficult upgrade idea was pretty awful. Playing for a hundred hours to do what initially took one or two gameplay hours is completely absurd.

    I also hope none of the unlocks are stict upgrades. The best weapons in TF2 are the ones that are more interesting that the originals, that provide unique functionality and offer a few drawbacks as well as benefits. I understand it’s harder to provide unique functionality in a semi-realistic shooter than it is in a cartoon world, but I think it is important that players don’t necessarily feel required to upgrade their weapons to be competitive. They should feel required to upgrade their weapons to have more options and more interesting content. There should be incentive without punishment.

  16. Ginger Yellow says:

    “For Battlefield 3, we known that people play even more than Battlefield Bad Company 2, so we’re planning for even longer unlocks, a bigger unlock tree. ”

    Aaargh no. Shooters are not MMOs. People play for the shooting and/or teamplay, not for the progression. The progression is (or should be) a way to draw people into the game and teach them how to play (a la the original TF2 achievement system). And, yes, they may be a way to keep playing a bit longer, so they don’t resell within your critical sales period. But they are not what keeps people coming back to a shooter months or years after they’ve bought it. On the contrary, as exemplified by BFBC2′s ridiculous early game gimping, they can put off new players from ever carrying on.

  17. SirKicksalot says:

    I loved how Black Ops handled unlocks.

  18. deadly.by.design says:

    I liked the BC2 unlocks…

    They gave me goals (aside from winning & squad work) and challenged me to use weapons I wasn’t as comfortable with. Lo and behold, when I was getting bronze stars on all of my weapons, it made me a more versatile player in every class.

    Every ‘noob’ gun was as deadly as the higher-ups, so that wasn’t the problem. My main gripe with BC2 unlocks was not giving noobs access to their core class items until level 2. So, you have a difficulty ramp that can be initially harsh, all the while not letting players get easier points with squad heals, repairs, motion spots, etc. The only way they could make points to get those healing kits, ammo packs, etc, was to point and shoot… basically ignoring their class for a level.

    I think it should encourage players to play their class, rather than making them get generic kills for the first level of each class. It teaches players how to play the game, rather than just encouraging them to participate in generic manshoot gameplay.

    • DarkByke says:

      You just described Brink’s XP system.

    • deadly.by.design says:

      @DarkByke
      That can’t be right. I hated Brink when I played it during Steam’s free weekend…

    • Carra says:

      I agree with you. Give all classes their must need items.

      And just unlock a few slightly different but roughly equivalent weapons as you level. I never felt out of league with my starter sniper gun or soldiers machine gun. But playing a medic without a healing kit just sucks.

  19. rocketman71 says:

    Given their track record in these last years, I doubt anyone at DICE has anything of value to say about doing sequels right (previous title)

  20. kevmscotland says:

    Back in my day they used to call this sort of stuff he’s talking about here “Expansion Packs”

    Then this DLC bollox happened……

    • Shooop says:

      Why work on fresh new content that fundamentally changes the game when you can just leave your game unfinished and sell the missing pieces to your dumbass customers?

    • Gundato says:

      And back in the day, people bitched about those too.

      Neverwinter Nights 1: People bitched that Shadows of Undrentide was too short and was the same thing as just downloading a few modules.

      Neverwinter Nights 2: People bitched that Obsidian “purposefully witheld content” so they could “sell the missing pieces” to us in the form of epic levels in Mask of the Betrayer.

      Also, the Battlefield series is probably the worst example of arguing for expansion packs over DLC. A couple new maps and a couple new guns for 20 bucks. Every few months. That sound familiar to you? :p

      The point is, you can find whingers (NWN) and examples of getting screwed (Battlefield) no matter what. So why not actually examine everything as it comes out, and decide accordingly? Rather than just taking the easy way out, picking an absolute stance, and complaining about everything?

    • deadly.by.design says:

      I am saddened by the use of NWN2 as an example of “back in the day.”

    • Gundato says:

      Well, seeing as how we had expansion packs as the default up until very recently, it felt appropriate. Plus, it helps to remind people of context so they don’t just say “People were different back then, except for how I think we still should be” :p

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  22. Mungrul says:

    I personally think unlocks are a pustule on the face of first person shooters that just gets in the way on me playing with an otherwise attractive game.
    If I want to grind for stuff, I’ll play an MMO, and even there, thanks to Guild Wars, I can’t stand unbalancing grind.
    Take me back to the good old days of Quake 3 and RtCW BEFORE Enemy Territory.
    It should be about the kills, the objective and your ability.

  23. vodkarn says:

    Here’s a crazy idea for your unlocks – don’t make people unlock the fucking thing that makes their class unique. Trying to explain to my friends why they were a medic that didn’t have a healing kit NOR defibs was… difficult. It was stupid and insane. Though I guess it came from the same minds that put body armour and magnum rounds halfway down the levelling path.

    Thanks for doing well, here’s stuff to make you do even more well and kick the crap out of those you’re already kicking the crap out of.

  24. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    So, am I right in concluding they’d rather focus on unlocks than making a game with a good and lasting multiplayer component?

    Because to me unlocks aren’t a necessary part of the latter. They can easily take away from the fun especially if the unlocks give direct advantages rather than more options. I mean, they don’t even expect it to last.. they seem to design the game with that in mind, even.

    That doesn’t mean BF3 will be a bad game, but I wonder whether they’re not selling themselves short (and deny potentially better multiplayer experiences from gamers.. in a sense).

  25. Bobtree says:

    I played more than 400 hours of 2142 and I still don’t have all the unlocks (46/50)! I’m 100% ready for online action games to ditch these lame progression systems. If anything, round or campaign based progression is much more interesting (ETQW), but players will whine and mess it up (XP SAVE for W:ET).

  26. Rhynri says:

    I personally miss the unlock system from Enemy Territory (no, not that one, the RTCW MP expansion), a game made before it was necessary to spam the screen with shinys to reward you for killing someone. There was a game that forced you to play as a team to do well. Your unlocks assisted you as a class, and were wiped at the end of the 6 map campaign, along with everyone else. They had an even more novel idea that would solve this present issue entirely: they made the option to wipe unlocks a server variable. Now there you have the best of both worlds!

  27. Megalodactyl says:

    To all the people saying unlocks hobble new players, you’re wrong, solid tactics will always trump unlocks, new players are simply that, NEW!

    • Salt says:

      Level 1 players in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – Dice’s last major Battlefield game – would disagree with you.

      As has already been said in these comments a squad of level 1 players cannot: Heal, revive, use motion sensors, use smoke, and probably plenty more that I can’t remember. Of course there is more to tactics than just using those abilities, but a squad of level 1s (without pre-order bonuses, or paid-for unlocks) will have extremely limited tactical options.

      BF:BC2 didn’t limit new players to just one choice in each perk slot, but forced those slots to be empty until they had leveled up. A player that had unlocked the increased vehicle armour perk was just flat out better equipped to deal with a situation than the new player.

    • vodkarn says:

      “As has already been said in these comments a squad of level 1 players cannot: Heal, revive, use motion sensors, use smoke, and probably plenty more that I can’t remember.”

      Give ammo, repair vehicles, tracking dart vehicles, etc.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Absolutely right. Map knowledge is king.

  28. shoptroll says:

    I know his statements are representative of EA, but it’s hard to read that last response and not be cynical. Smart man, just a shame there’s not more people like him at the company.

    Maybe then we wouldn’t have to worry about matchmaking servers getting mothballed on a yearly basis, or games would actually get long term patch support, etc. Games like Spore, Dragon Age II, SimCity 4 shouldn’t have been left on the vine to wither and die. (Yes I know DA2 is probably fine since they’re still pushing out DLC. But unless that game was spitshined to perfection I don’t see any patches past the first one or two).

  29. Shortwave says:

    Not paying for new maps and having mod support helps keep games alive.

    Actually.

  30. Hatsworth says:

    Well, that answer further fuels my indifference towards BF3.
    The best practice is obviously to omit unlocks entirely. In a competitive game everyone should be on equal grounds period. Of course that won’t make it very popular; inexplicably people like grinding and getting fed progress even though they might not be getting better at all. At the very least they should include some kind of competitive mode. Personally I really liked the mutator system of the Unreal Tournament series.

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  32. Fudge says:

    I actually maxed the Recon first in BFBC2, I just loved posting up, getting a couple of kills defending an MCOM, and then switching to the mortars to destroy cover for the attackers, making it easier for me to snipe them.
    I still use the M24 as much as any other rifle for the Recon, if I’m not using a shotgun and rushing.
    Recon, then Medic, then Engie, then Assault.
    I really struggled with the Assault unlocks, I like to move around the edges of maps, so getting points took longer for me, plus I sucked with the first few ARs, I ended up just using the M1A1 until I got thr M4, AN94 and M16

  33. blackjackshelak says:

    Honestly if you’re going to do unlocks at all, it needs to be something that follows your player’s preferences more than their “progress”. Unlocking attachments in MW2 seemed to make a fair deal of sense to me (aside from the requirement for extended mags). Though I never played it myself, the unlock system in Black Ops seemed even more an improvement. If the game would simply give you access to all of the weapons and all you unlocked were addons for them, then that would be great. Combine that with the ability to chose what order to unlock them in and you’re set. Somebody who wants a red-dot sight will only have to use a given gun for a short time for access to that attachment and they’ll never have to use a gun they don’t like to get access to one that they do.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      I agree. I do play Black Ops, and I can say that it was the best unlock system around – but what it really needed was to let me choose when to unlock what I wanted. If the guns are designed and intended to be balanced (which they actually are, thank god), why do I have to unlock a FAMAS I don’t want before I can have the FAL I do want? I’ll get to the FAMAS eventually, especially with the classified unlocks that only become available once you unlock everything in that category.

      EDIT: in fact, blackjackshelak, if you want a red dot sight when you unlock a gun, you can have it right away if you have the cash. If you have sufficient cash, you can unlock every attachment for a gun you unlock without using it at all beforehand. However, you still have to have gun A at level 8 and gun B at level 27. That’s really the only problem for me.

      BFBC2 unlocks grate, partly because for all I hear people saying that the unlocks aren’t better than the defaults, just different, I still want certain guns and not others, not because they are better, but because they suit what I want more closely. I want an AN94 for controllable bursts and an SVU for a semiauto sniper with a decent reticle, but I have to tolerate being presented with an XM8 and a SV98 first, guns that play fundamentally differently. So do I stay with the defaults and ignore the new ones, or do I play in a way I don’t enjoy to unlock fun?

      I ‘ll agree with the people saying they want class abilities to be gratis for new players – but to me, that’s the problem with classes. Either have classes and that’s it, the class gets gun X and gadget Y, OR have unlocks and let players define roles by picking equipment, not classes.

      Imagine a game with 30 guns and 30 various bits of equipment. When you start off, you are given, say, six unlock credits to get basic kit including one that’s only for guns and one that’s only for equipment, preventing dire mistakes. Killing people and doing team stuff gives you XP. Every 1000 XP points gives you another unlock credit. Each unlock credit lets you choose any of the guns or bits of equipment. You get your advancement dangle-carrot, you get your unlock, but you also get loads of player choice, a feeling of agency and instant gratifications for new players, and a simple to understand system. Icing on the cake: when you have your 60,000 XP and have unlocked everything, you could maybe start giving it to other players.

    • blackjackshelak says:

      Yeah, the way that the weapons were balanced in BC2 is very good. I like the idea of “options, not upgrades” when it comes to weapons. Your comment about the problem with classes reminded me a little bit of Killing Floor. Technically there aren’t any equipment unlocks, though each perk does get some specialized abilities. I like that in that game you have no restriction on the equipment you can use, choosing a perk only makes it more affordable/effective. On top of that, experience isn’t locked by what class you’re playing. Healing people makes a better medic, even if your current job description is “burns things”. The idea of a single XP pool used to unlock things a la carte definitely has some promise behind it. There are definitely good ways to go on either side. Restricting weapons/abilities to a class or level of experience is fine, so long as the stick your hanging that carrot from isn’t too long. Even better if you just hand your players the carrot. Progression in FPS games isn’t anything I reject outright, but there are good and bad ways of doing it. The whole idea itself is still fairly new, and I think a lot of developers are learning their lessons from eachother about now. Newer games will continue to have better systems based on those lessons.

  34. Blackdawn451 says:

    I have played over 150 hours of bad company 2 because I was able to unlock everything after 20hr. Conversely, I have only played Black Ops 20 hours because it takes forever to unlock the best rifles. And then there is prestige…

    • YourMessageHere says:

      How? I’ve played for at least 25 hours and unlocked only a few things – I wanted an SVU for ages but only in the last 5 or so hours of play time did I get it. Black Ops unlocks were just a matter of ranking up, much quicker and simpler. I got to rank 50 in maybe 40 hours.

    • wengart says:

      Since BC2 has class based unlocks what you need to do is just play that class for the 5ish hours you played and you’ll get nearly everything if you aren’t absolutely terrible at it. I got all my engineer stuff by level 8 I think and I’ve seen guys between lvl 5 and 12 with top tier gear for a specific class because that is all, or nearly all, they played.

      If you split your time between all 4 classes your unlock rate will less.

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  36. My2CENTS says:

    Oh god , the day DICE bankrupt will be a happy day, they make nothing short of unpolished, untested demo engines that are so far from complete game as it can possibly be. They don’t support modding, lock their files, ban the researchers, they don’t let the community mappers do their magic. Honestly BF3 is the most hyped game for this year, so in the end it should suck – sorry but you know the rules of marketing – if something is being heavily advertized then even the company that makes it does not believe its good.

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  38. 1q3er5 says:

    I’m probably going to buy BF3 but the no mods policy is a real let down. Gaming is going backwards. Most of these “great” ideas are coming from console gaming – miss the good ol days wheres maps and mods were free. You want to give the game longevity – give the people an SDK

    • Shooop says:

      Sadly, any game with EA’s filthy mitts on it will never have any outside support from modders or map-makers. They’re the same as Activision.

  39. Leo says:

    Yup. The more you ‘incorporate’ the game industry the more money hungry the lawyers and executives get.

    Gaming used to be good because gaming used to mean experimentation. New genres were being invented and new ideas were being tossed around in a coffee shop. Now it’s board meetings, profit margins and ideas on how to better appease the sheeple. Demographics end up designing games, rather than dedicated innovators.

    How depressing.

    I’ve already pre-ordered BF3 because I don’t really game as much as I used to, and I’ve decided that if I pay for anything, might as well be that. If I’m disappointed then it’s on my own head for falling into the proverbial pit of hype. I did really love BF2 and enjoyed BFBC2 for hundreds of hours (over 300 I think). Whether Dice is riding on the coattails of its previous titles … we shall see.

    P.S. I love the BFBC2 unlock system. Yes, I’m one of those who doesn’t mind chasing the carrot in front of my nose. BUT, it’s based on completionist compulsions, and not assumptions that unlocks make me better – they didn’t. When I first started playing BFBC2, the idea of most people being ahead of me, with body armor and magnum ammunition equipped actually felt like a challenge, and not something to go cry to mommy about. Crazy, I know … a challenge in a modern FPS.

    • Shooop says:

      Well see Leo, it’s really just the nature of an entertainment industry. Making video games is now like making movies – you need a full crew of programers, artists, and now voice actors, motion capture specialists, sound techs, etc, etc.

      When you’re spending that much money on a game you NEED it to sell really well or you could put your company in a financial sinkhole. So if people are buying the same thing like solid gold hotcakes you make more of it. Take a risk with something totally new and unheard of and you could loose sales of people who just want fundamentally the same thing as everything else.

      An indie developer who doesn’t have the ability to make photo-realistic graphics and massive-scale destruction therefore is more free to make the game itself intuitive. Because it’s not as big a risk for them if it fails to sell.

      In the end we customers share the blame for having 5 Battlefield of Duty games every year as much as the studios because we’re buying them.

  40. Wraggles says:

    I personally, like the idea behind unlocks, but often dislike the way it’s done. First up the reason I like them, is because when implemented well, they make me change the way I play, stops the game getting stale. I’ll play with X shotgun, because I want to unlock X attachment for it. I’ll stop playing as a medic, and start playing as an engineer, just because I’m a completionist.

    Not everyone’s this way. Which is why i think games like MW2 and BF BC2 get it half right. I think all weapons should be available from the get go. If you’re going to have purely positive modifications to raw stats,damage/resistance to damage/accuracy, these should also be available from the get go. If you’re going to have classes, anything that class needs to do it’s job, should be available from the get go. From that point onward, let people unlock attachments for their guns/classes by using them. In fact, I’d dearly love a system, that let me select the unlock for a weapon i wish to work towards. Then just took X kills to get (or something of that nature).

    I think that system would allow the completionists to have their fun, and people who just want to select a style and play can do so in a balanced fashion.

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