Testy: DICE Considering Early Access For Battlefield

By Adam Smith on June 16th, 2014 at 9:23 am.

In an interview with Game Informer, DICE general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson stated that the beta process for future Battlefield titles may resemble an Early Access release. “We have nothing to announce, but we are having discussions when it comes to [early access]…It comes not from a business perspective, but more from a perspective of if it would help us have a stable launch of the game.” The joke writes itself, of course, given the many complaints about Battlefield 4’s various issues at launch. Is this just a branding exercise that aims to legitamise the unstable first months of a game’s existence or would it be a useful learning experience for the developers. Probably a bit of both.

DICE aren’t the only major studio considering some form of Early Access. Turtle Rock told Gamasutra that Evolve had (ahem) evolved a great deal during development and that they “lamented the fact that we couldn’t take the community along on that ride.” Nex time, maybe.

It isn’t difficult to understand the attraction of Early Access. DayZ, Rust and The Forest have rarely slipped outside the top 10 sellers list on Steam since they launched, or rather signalled their intention to launch at some point in the distant future. Having thousands of people playing a game for hundreds of thousands of hours in total is a fine way to spot bugs and hardware incompatibilities. It’s also a neat way to rake in piles of cash while development continues.

Your personal reaction to the news that 2K and EA published games may take the Early Access route may depend on which of those two things you see as more important. Would you rather have seen Battlefield 4 clearly labelled as incomplete so that you could hold off until it was solid? Early Access might be a good thing. But if you see released yet unfinished games as existing in a sort of limbo where the money rolls in while little progress toward completion is made, the idea of wealthy publishers pushing their products out in such a state might justifiably cause the vein in your forehead to throb unhealthily.

Admittedly, I assume that most Early Access games will either remain unfinished forever or will have many of their promised features cut or radically overhauled over the months. In the vast majority of cases, I’d rather wait and see the finished product rather than the interior of the sausage factory. And if I do have to watch a sausage being made, I’d rather it were a tiny chipolata than one of EA’s honking great overstuffed Blutwurst.

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57 Comments »

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  1. pakoito says:

    And the majority of (uninformed) customers will buy in, then complain. Sad. So sad.

    • dE says:

      Right? As long as we have steadfast people that flame the living fuck out of people providing bug reports and feedback in alphas, all is well in early access land.

    • MkMax says:

      I think the worst problem is that INFORMED ppl are buying into early access, either to support whatever or because “its battlefield, bro”, we get what we buy, and we have been buying a heck of alot of early access

  2. Premium User Badge

    Big Murray says:

    WHY?

    There’s not even the excuse that they need the profits to complete production, like most indies use for releasing their unfinished games upon the world. Is Early Access just fashionable now? For god’s sake.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Why?

      Well, like the article says, it legitimises the first few months of launch being full of bugs. That’s not to say I agree with the practice, I don’t. Very shady.

      • derbefrier says:

        I wouldn’t call it shady. Releasing a obviously buggy game as a complete product is shady. This is a lot more honest actually. I know it battlefield 4 had released under early access I would have saved 60 bucks. If they are gonna release buggy games at least using the early access tag, people will be more aware of it. I would of course rather they just released working products but this is a hell of a lot better than nothing.

        • Baines says:

          Big publishers already do beta releases which you can buy into. Except they tried to turn “beta” into “demo where you are supposed to ignore things that don’t work.”

          Publishers have been releasing unfinished products for over two decades. Sometimes they make a legitimate effort to finish such products after release, and sometimes they don’t.

          Now they want to use the “Early Access” tag, a tag that is already heavily abused by developers that don’t finish their products, may never finish their products, or throw out an in-name-only “release” version when they tire of it.

          • derbefrier says:

            Ehh my point still stands. Think of it what you will but the bottom line is the end result is a little more honesty from the developer about the status of their game and a more informed consumer. Its a win for everyone no matter how cynical you choose to be about EA.

          • nearly says:

            I don’t know if I believe that “big” publishers are or have been releasing betas that you buy into, and certainly not the way indies have been doing it since Minecraft’s big success. The last three Battlefield games have had closed and open betas, none of which required you to buy the game ahead of time. Adding beta access to a different game as an incentive is, I think, a quite different practice intended to move copies of that particular game, if anything. My expectations of gameplay and general experience for Battlefield Hardline, which has a beta I’ve been playing for free, are very different from what I expected of Battlefield 4, which was a “complete” game I paid 60$ for (or whatever I actually paid on Black Friday/Cyber Monday), and those expectations would change if I were to pay actual money for Hardline.

            This is also very different from what happens on Kickstarter: I understand people are interested and hopeful in Star Citizen, but I find it incredibly predatory to start charging incredible amounts of money for in-game items in a game that doesn’t even exist yet. On that note of funding rather than “early development access,” I do think things would change dramatically if games like Battlefield were “kickstarted.” Games with huge budgets have to make that money back somehow, and I’m sure that’s half of the reason we see such a plethora of DLC or paid unlocks. “Vote with your wallet” is a fine thing to say, but it doesn’t communicate nearly as well as some developers do on Kickstarter with stretch goals and just generally talking with the community that intends to play t heir game. The context also creates a healthier environment for conversation very different from the screeching internet masses when something doesn’t work or wasn’t what it could have been.

  3. brgillespie says:

    In any other section of the consumer market, customers paying for incomplete, likely defective products would be insanity. The scenarios are endless.

    TVs that may or may not turn on…

    2015 vehicles filled with equipment from 2014…

    Novels missing entire chapters and/or a plot…

    Incomplete movies that are only half-finished…

    Tools that may or may not break when using them…

    …In the world of videogames, however, one can only assume that most of the consumer base is filled with customers that completely lack impulse control (because they still buy the product no matter how insane they’re treated as customers), and like good addicts are willing to rationalize away any sort of bullshit, abusive behavior from their dealers- I mean, abusive husbands/wives- I mean, uh… what’s the word? Oh, right, COMPANIES. Nothing matters, so long as they get that next hit of their drug.

    • Evil Pancakes says:

      Didn’t GM do something like this?
      “Sir, we have found some technical bugs in our vehicles.” “Just release it, we’ll patch it out later.” *at least 15 deaths later* “We will now apply the patch, free of charge.”
      I am, of course, referring to the ignition switch recall thing.

      • P.Funk says:

        Maybe you’re referring to the Ford Pinto, where when they discovered that there was a flaw in the fuel system which caused a possibility in a collision that the car would BLOW UP they did the math and came to the conclusion that not fixing the problem and merely paying off the lawsuits and settling with the plaintiffs would be cheaper than fixing the problem and doing the recall.

        THAT is some cold blooded shit. At least when your games are defective they don’t KILL YOU.

      • nearly says:

        If you’re talking about the recent thing, my understanding is that it’s caused in somewhat rare circumstances by bumping your knee pretty hard against the key. Not exactly something that should be happening but also not something that’s necessarily easy to happen. As far as I heard, it just meant the engine/electrical system would shut off, meaning no more power steering, which is dangerous but avoidable and not all that difficult to deal with if you know what’s happening.

        The issue with the gaming industry is that computers in general are inherently unstable. Most any major website is constantly being updated and changed by people behind the scenes who work around the clock. If someone creates a computer with the complexity of what we have now that works flawlessly all the time, I’m sure they’ll stand to make a lot of money (either that or we’ll have transcended money)

    • Zaphid says:

      Apples and oranges, only games can be patched in close to real time at no extra cost to the consumer. There’s a lot of shadiness, but in the end it can lead to more stable and more polished releases.

      • Maniac says:

        No. You get that from proper QA testing and playtesting.

        Early Access is fashionable for many big developers / publishers that’re now unwilling to shell out big money to make the game… Well, functional. However, I’d like to point out: Battlefield is already fucking Early Access. BF3 and 4 both needed atleast another year of work on them. I’ll wager a guess and say that it’ll be the same case with Hardline.

      • P.Funk says:

        Apparently console games are much easier to develop than PC games because they dont’ have this need for a paid beta to see a stable release.

        OH RIGHT! Its all bullshit because of the fact that consoles have no such consumer culture in them (they have poor impulse control around other things) and so they must release them at a much more playable level. My friend actually does paid Q&A for the NHL franchise by EA. He told me that this week he was working several 12 hour days.

        If EA can launch NHL without it being a pile of shit why can’t they launch Battlefield? Because the PC gamer has acclimated himself to bugs and shitty product quality and is willing to even invest in his own poor returns.

        What is shady is the DICE guy suggesting that a lack of early access is why their game is bugged. No the reason their game is bugged is because they didn’t do what you should do to get it ready for launch. How will early access change this? Its been how many months since BF4 launched and now they’re finally addressing the rubber banding?

        Nonsense.

    • ThTa says:

      It’s worth noting that none of those products can be updated and fixed nearly as easily as software. And even so, there is a definite market for “unfinished” products, like those magazines that come with a little part of some larger product, to be constructed and added onto over the course of many months/years.

      Additionally, any programmer knows that the only software that doesn’t need to be updated at all is software that isn’t used. This is just pushing how many issues and incomplete features people will accept.

      That said, I don’t think this is a positive change, I do appreciate a certain amount of quality and the assurance that features will work as intended. (Which is also why I’m not bothering to play the alphas and betas of some games I’ve backed. I’d rather wait for something more complete.) This is removing responsibility from the company and developers, as well as allowing for predatory tactics like “Ohhh, maybe we’ll have that feature, who knows? It’s still in development, after all.”

    • Crafter says:

      Development is a completely different field in that matter though : it is one of the only one where the work you do one day is the basis of what you will work on tomorrow. For cars, any improvement can only be applied if all models are recalled, for development, anyone can benefits from updates.

      I also think that having early access for an AAA game is ridiculous but the car comparison is not very relevant. IMO, the problems with early access for an AAA game are :
      -I doubt that there is much place for change in the development cycle of such a product, which is the main point of early access.
      -I don’t mind early access if it means that a small indie team will have the budget to develop that ultra niche title.. this is the exact opposite of a Battlefield game/dev.
      -It can be very interesting to interact with the dev(s) of a game, discuss of the technology, the game design choices, the future evolutions, … I know big software factories and I doubt that the devs will interact in that way with early access gamers (I would not mind being wrong though) instead they will probably get a PR manager with little access/influence to the dev.

      • P.Funk says:

        You’re missing the point. Its not about development, its about the consumer culture. That gamers are so willing to buy incomplete products but then appear so upset about it.

        Gamers are just really bad consumers and early access is another way that bad consumers get their money taken. The flexibility of development affords them this opportunity, just like digital billing allows for F2P games.

        Now are all F2P games sin? No, but mostly yes. Mostly they’re there to get bad consumers to make poor value judgments for the purposes of immediate self gratification. I love paying my bills from my computer, but it also means I have to watch a lot of good games go down the drain for a billing model that guts the game.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          No, YOU are missing the point. Either you are extremely ignorant, or you are deliberately trying to make this sound much worse than it is by comparing the selling of an incomplete product that is impossible to make complete, and where there is literally no upside to buying it, to the selling of an incomplete product that can easily be made complete, where the expectation is that it will be, and where the purchaser can have an effect on its development.

    • Tei says:

      Software is different. Software is never finished, and even if you finish it, since the world change, the software must change with it.

      Your printer don’t need to change, but you can’t run the same drivers you used with Windows 3.1. Why you updated your windows from Windows 3.1?

    • TechnicalBen says:

      So in other words, exactly as the current markets operate?

      (Very much so from my vantage point… though I really disagree with such practices, I’m only left to be buyer aware…)

  4. armchaircowboys says:

    Why does everyone lose their shit over EA games? An EA game from EA, ahahah, ehem, anyways..
    I don’t see the problem with EA games, since it is the buyer’s responsibility to inform himself before he makes a purchase. Besides, if EA decides to releases EA games (I know right?) and they make those games available for less than the full price which is kind of what most EA titles do, than really, it’s a win/win when it comes to games like BF Hardline.

    • subedii says:

      Indeed. “Raar Electronic Arts making BAJILLIONS off of this cynical move!” is kind of pushing it a bit for me. It’s likely to be an extremely costly project (El-Ar games usually are) which they cannot release console-side until it’s complete. Much as we’d like to believe it, PC sales alone aren’t likely to be enough to make profit on the game, even on the crazy assumption that Early Access makes up the vast majority of people who would eventually buy the game

      Now here’s the thing, Early Access can just as easily backfire. Horribly. For them. Instead of the combined hype of a simultaneous mass market release, a lot of that buzz is going to be going well before the title can even hit the stores.

      Hype can dissipate quite rapidly. Especially if the audience deems the the game to be not all that worth it. Unlike (to pick a recent example) Watch Dogs, they won’t be able to depend on an uninformed public picking up the game in droves based purely on the performance of their huge marketing machine. A bad EarAcc (Ear Ache? Man we need new acronyms to discuss this) will drive people away, and regardless the press will be reporting on every flaw that’s in the game that wouldn’t have been noticeable within the first 24 hours of play (or however long they get to play games before a review is due. And for something majorly hyped, I suspect they need to be done faster).

      The positive side to this is that it could very well prevent another debacle like the launch of BF3 or 4. The people super jonesing for it get to play it and give feedback that has an actual effect (as opposed to the frequent 2-week marketing “betas” that companies typically do, which are effectively timed demos) on gameplay mechanics and systems at a point where those can still be altered. And everyone else can (and SHOULD, I feel like I need to emphasise this every time Early Access crops up) simply not buy until the game is released.

      All in all, if DICE / EA decide to go that route, I can’t really say I’ve got too much issue with it, depending on how well they go about it. I don’t believe it’s as good a fit for a large budget title (although this kind of feels like more of a side-project for DICE than a fully fledged release), but I do think they (and the eventual buyers) can gain some benefit from Early Access if they’re willing to engage with the process properly and not just treat it (as is being suggested) as a means to ‘launch a broken game’.

      Note to self: Use fewer parentheses.

    • Baines says:

      and they make those games available for less than the full price which is kind of what most EA titles do

      Wait until they catch on to the idea of premium pricing for Early Access, as used with games like Planetary Annihilation.

      Then you can pay $100 for a version of Battlefield (or $200 for the Premium edition) that won’t officially release for at least another year (for half the price) and still won’t work for another year beyond that. You’d better buy in early though if you want to play, because you never know how long an online game community will last.

      And after that catches on, wait until Ubisoft does multiple version Watch_Dogs 3 Early Access. Followed by additional versions with new content when the game actually sees legitimate release.

      Then we can see the continued erosion of how much content a “release” game actually releases with, with more material shunted to DLC (and pre-order/store bonuses). After all, it becomes harder to judge just how much you are getting when the game is delivered in pieces. Perhaps post-release support will shrink as well, except for the games that try to get another year or so of DLC out the door before moving to the next version.

      • subedii says:

        Planetary Annihilation was released at that price to match with the Kickstarter tier where Alpha Access was awarded.

        The alternative (giving access at standard retail price) would have been a freaking terrible idea. They’d be basically shafting everyone at that supported the game through KS (arguably the core fans of the game) at higher tier. Every major gaming website from here to New Zealand would have ripped them apart them for basically ripping off their KS backers, and for good reason.

        The complaints seem to come from the idea that Uber MUST have made tonnes of money by charging such a high price, but the reality is that they probably made far less by doing so as compared to releasing at a normal price, and they knew that going in. It was a decision based around being fair to their KS backers, not a purely financial one. If they had made the logical financial decision, they’d have likely made more money on EA launch, but they’d also have been complete horrible jerks to a large number of their original backers.

        Personally I’m of the opinion that they shouldn’t have put the game on Early Access that soon to begin with. But I don’t have issue with the price decision in itself. Heck, Prison Architect also launched at a premium (though not nearly as high), and this was to keep the testing pool small, and with a more hardcore group that’s more likely to give some kind of feedback and make full use of (and break) the product. Not that interested, so I’ll wait until release and see how the game turns out. But I’m sure not going to blame the devs for doing so.

        • HadToLogin says:

          Planetary Anihilation Steam Alpha price was BULLSHIT and LIES. In Europe it costed more than Kickstarter while in Russia it went for around $40 (as opposed to Kickstarter $90).

          • subedii says:

            Reading around, the price in Russia was actually around $80 (2499 pуб, approx $78. Or maybe it was rectified to that after a mistake, I’m not sure). IIRC the differences after that were to do with Steam handling VAT / Tax (higher taxes in Europe, lower in Russia).

            As far as I’m aware everyone going to the main Uber store could buy the game with Alpha Access for the literal $90 regardless of region. Perhaps I’m mistaken. If they were charging different prices on their store for different regions as well, then that’s dumb. Although in general, game on its own with no Alpha Access was always available from their site at standard retail price if I’m not mistaken.

            That said it’s hard for me to check up on since they left Alpha a long time ago, and the $90 price point with it.

  5. xcession says:

    I think it’s safe to say that no developer ever *wants* to launch a game that is knowingly shit. As much as I want to hate Dice, I’m fairly confident the blame for BF4’s launch state lies entirely at EA’s feet. It it wasn’t ready, it shouldn’t have launched and no developer would want it to.

    My guess is that early access is something Dice have actively sold to EA as “a good thing” and as a way of getting a game out whenever EA want it, without Dice being dumped with all the agro for it’s quality.

  6. fatgleeson says:

    Even knowing what goes into a sausage cannot prepare you for seeing one being made

  7. Bull0 says:

    The real story here is that DICE have already crossed the 11th parallel into selling average-quality mods as full price games, putting the lie to the idea that they dropped mod support in battlefield for any reason other than to stamp out the competition. Even putting the bug-riddled nature of their games aside, this is fucked up, don’t give these people any more of your money.

    • Wauffles says:

      THIS

      I’m really surprised that RPS of all places aren’t highlighting this more, the debt that PC gaming’s popularity owes to the modding scene is immense.

  8. Murmur says:

    So basically… business as usual, nothing’s changing?

    • Baines says:

      Now, instead of denying that a game isn’t working properly, they can just say “Of course not, it isn’t finished yet”.

      And they can sell a game for a year or more before people realize/accept it isn’t going to be better than mediocre, or that it will always be buggy.

  9. Premium User Badge

    melnificent says:

    If the games are going to be sold as Early Access that means retail can’t stock them until it’s “gone gold”. Remember the disc version has to be final code as the user won’t necessarily connect to the internet

    The cynical side of me thinks this is a method to sell digital only games without upsetting Retail too much.

    • P.Funk says:

      Thats not true at all. Plenty of games clearly state on the box “Internet Connection required for activation”. This only applies to console games, and even then for how much longer?

  10. Maniac says:

    Wait, you’re telling me it isn’t Early Access right now?

    I thought BF3 and 4 were still alphas, damnit!

  11. Turkey says:

    Unless it’s a return to a PC-centered Battlefield game, I don’t see this going too well. The reason people flock to games like Day-Z and Rust is because they’re the kind of experiences EA and other big publishers have neglected for almost a decade now.

  12. Blackcompany says:

    After Sim City and the last couple of Battlefield games – not to mention that most recent mobile…debacle – the fact that there are people still buying EA Games at all is news to me.

    Sad, depressing news.

    Why, folks? Just…why?

  13. Tom Walker says:

    Would you rather have seen Battlefield 4 clearly labelled as incomplete so that you could hold off until it was solid?

    Still waiting on a patch for BF3 that’ll make it run for more than about an hour without crashing. If their games need to be solid before they leave early access, they’ll never make it to release.

  14. NothingFunny says:

    Why pay to betatesters when we can make the betatesters pay!

    • MkMax says:

      No no no, that was 10 years ago

      Today it is “Pay us for alpha (beta is feature complete, this will not be), pay extra, we know its broken, you know its broken, it will be broken, well try to fix it a bit but its highly unlikely we will ever get out of early access before the next year game is out and by then well tell you to go screw yourself, dont forget to buy DLC and season pass!”

  15. Dave Tosser says:

    Welcome to PC gaming in the future. Enjoy your stay.

    • Tei says:

      I don’t think this is something that will be limited to the PC.

      The popularity of Destiny (that feels like a finished product) say otherwise, console gamers also want to be near the sun, even if they die of the burns.

  16. MkMax says:

    early access needs to die, now

  17. steviebops says:

    Hardline isn’t much fun. It feels like a mod more than anything.

    • derbefrier says:

      Yup it just felt like another battlefield game. I never once felt like I was a cop or a robber.

      • subedii says:

        I get the feeling someone at EA saw the success of Payday and took away the wrong ideas.

        • steviebops says:

          Pretty much. I think things like this would be better done as community mods, but then they couldn’t be charged for. I miss modded BF.

  18. Wauffles says:

    Hardline is really rubbish.

    Thanks for letting me play a demo and figure that out, I guess. I don’t think that Battlefield has been good since Bad Company 2 though, and even that wasn’t a patch on BF2

    • Bull0 says:

      People keep talking about how good bad company 2 multiplayer is so I reinstalled it thinking I’d try and get a game… couldn’t find any. Lots of servers, 0 players. I’m not organised enough to do more digging.

      • Wauffles says:

        Eh, that seems to be the way with the franchises, unfortunately. You’ll still find people playing Enemy Territory, but I think that the gradual exodus of the majority of players of a game to the next in the series regardless of its relative quality is a bit of a kiss of death.

        I’m in the closed beta for Dirty Bomb though, that new shooter from the guys who made (say it quietly) Brink, and to my surprise it’s really bloody good – proper old-school stuff with some great new ideas in there too.

      • GameOverMan says:

        I’ve just checked and the server browser shows more than 100 populated servers, a few of them full. You must update the game with a 2.6 GB patch and use the correct filters: ranked and punkbuster must be on, password and empty should be off, don’t tick EA Server (leave it blank).

  19. SkittleDiddler says:

    Great. Being the unoriginal copycats they are, now we can look forward to Ubisoft and the other bigwig AAAs doing the same thing. Thanks a lot, Valve.

  20. bangalores says:

    So, no difference from a regular Battlefield release then? Splendid.

  21. Shuck says:

    So “Early Access” is now a synonym for “public beta testing”? Ok.