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Battlefield V interview: dodging the lootbox question, and why battle royale "would really fit the universe"

Suppressive fire

Featured post Battlefield_V_RevealScreenshot_12_no_logo

I came away from my Battlefield V first look surprisingly ready for another tour of the Western front – prosthetic-armed Cockneys and all – but with a number of nagging questions. Firstly, how exactly is EA DICE approaching monetisation right now, in the wake of the uproar over Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s rubbish launch-day microtransactions? I was treated to an hour-long presentation on the game’s service elements, but the in-game purchases this service will facilitate were conspicuously absent from discussion – it felt a bit like the part in the bombing run before the sky lights up with flak. And secondly, does the developer have any plans for a battle royale mode, given Call of Duty’s recent jump upon that bandwagon? Because if any existing shooter is built for Fortnitey/Plunkbatty shenanigans, it is surely Battlefield, with its giant maps and headcounts.

Burdened by such thoughts, I sought out senior producer Lars Gustavsson and tried to get a clear answer out of him. The results, which include a discussion of what I suspect will prove a controversial squad focus, are below.

RPS: How have your problems with Battlefront’s microtransactions influenced the design of Battlefield V?

Gustavsson: I think for me personally, and primarily, I’ve been with the franchise since 1942, and we’ve continued down the path we set out a long time ago, which is that Battlefield is all about rock-paper-scissors – there shouldn’t be a superior weapon on the battlefield. You can extend your arsenal but there’s only different tools for different situations, and for your playstyle rather than better weapons [per se]. I think the big way forward here for us is what we’re doing with Tides of War, in removing the Premium Pass, as that means we unify the community and everything gameplay-related, and the only way of progressing is through play. That’s important to us, it’s always been that way for Battlefield – we live and die by our rock-paper-scissors guns. And then of course we add a layer of customisation and portraying yourself, which you can earn through playing the game and getting rewarded for special events in Tides of War, but also the opportunity of paying for what you like.

RPS: So the microtransactables will all be cosmetic elements?

Gustavsson: Yes.

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RPS: And will there be lootboxes?

Gustavsson: I mean, cosmetic is the short answer here. We want to allow players to portray themselves the way they want, and first and foremost we want a fair Battlefield where we have everybody with us, instead of splintering the community.

RPS: So you can’t say whether there are lootboxes specifically – as in, randomised collections of rewards?

Gustavsson: I think if there’s anything we’ll get back to that later.

PR: Stay tuned!

[An EA spokesperson has since told IGN that you’ll only be able to buy items directly in Battlefield V. –Ed]

RPS: What do you think of randomised lootboxes in general, as a practice? There’s been a heated discussion around them in the past few months.

Gustavsson: I have two kids at home playing games, so both as a developer and a father I follow the industry, in terms of discussions like that and where it’s going [more generally] – people talking PUBG, people talking trends, so it’s super-exciting times. Being there and listening, trying to assess where the market is going, what is the right way forward for us. All in all I think having been there from the get-go, Battlefield is a strong franchise – the core essence of that sandbox, the possibilities of player agency are something we’ll constantly want to build on. So we definitely take in what’s happening in the world and listen, set out a course, and sometimes you need to course correct, but in general I think we stay the course – if you run a race you need to look at your own tracks, look at other people’s tracks too much and you might stumble and fall.

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RPS: Are you planning to introduce a battle royale mode to Battlefield? It feels like the two would work well together – you’re already a big team game.

Gustavsson: I mean, we definitely see what’s happening there. I have two boys at home waiting for me, again, and we play those games. There has been tonnes of talking in the corridors, you know, ‘this would really fit the Battlefield universe’. The dynamic world, the vehicles, you name it. Lots of talking, lots of thinking around it, but nothing for us here to talk about today.

RPS: I like how the new squad focus departs from lone wolf play. Where did those ideas come from?

Gustavsson: I think a big part of it is, Battlefield has always been about the possibilities of teamplay. In 1942 that was encouraged but not forced, and over time I think we lost a bit of that, and we really wanted to push for that. Especially now that we can offer you Combined Arms – playing together, having a few laughs together and overcoming problems together means a lot in Battlefield. So that’s where it came from, listening to the community. And the destruction, fortification elements, we talked about war of attrition and scarcity, the possibilities of dragging people and so on and so forth, I think all of these elements in the end, the different initiatives and clarities – teamplay is really the unifying factor, together with the element of connection, that I affect the world and it affects me. I think all of it feeds into teamplay. You shouldn’t be worse off for playing on your own, if that’s what you want to do – it’s Battlefield and you should do what you want to do, but there’s a joy of coming together, like playing a band when you finally get the tune to click.

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RPS: Have you thought about how the squad emphasis might lead to a more abusive community? If you’re all-but insisting on squad play in life-or-death situations I can imagine a lot of toxic behaviour arising from that.

Gustavsson: Yeah, it’s a very fair point. First and foremost, this time around we have a lot more possibilities in terms of tweaking and tuning the backend, so we don’t go too extreme – we don’t want to be so hardcore that we alienate players. A big part too is the squad leader – the leader is now empowered to build up those squad points that go into calling in resources. And whether you want to spend them on the supply drop or go for the big rocket, it depends on the situation and how you want to play it. To your point, things don’t always go as you want them to go online, and you might not end up in the squad you want. You can definitely leave and join another squad you want, we just put you in a squad to start with to get you into the system. But then of course if the squad leader is running the war on his or her own, you can request orders and if they don’t comply we have the same system we have today, where the one who requested them and didn’t get a response will take over leadership. We’re doing everything we can do to not make the system turn against us. And as always it will require a lot of testing, all the way up till launch.

RPS: Is there a Commander player in this one?

Gustavsson: No, what we’ve done is there are a lot of things built into the game, like the reinforcements rewards, that in previous games were given to the Commander. From that we hope to get more players to experience the joy of leading the team.

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RPS: How will you reinvent WW2, the way Battlefield 1 tried to reinvent WW1?

Gustavsson: When we did 1942 none of us were Second World War buffs, we’d seen all the movies and we wanted to recreate that, all those locations. This time around the hard stop would be if we didn’t feel we had a new angle. We learned a lot from doing Battlefield 1, where from the get-go we were challenged with a lot of preconceptions – can you really make a game about a war that was “only trench warfare”? But then as we dug deeper we came to realise that it was so much more, it was really land, sea and air and a lot of different experiences. The story that always comes to my mind is what I learned about the Harlem Hellfighters, it brought a different angle to the war from my perspective. And those are lessons we’re taking with us when we dig into the history books this time round, to find different angles and different angles to the war that get us excited.

The War Stories campaign is really the place in the game where we have an opportunity of taking a step back and getting more of a feeling for and perspective on the war. Combined Arms is a bit more of a [buddy adventure], and multiplayer is that wonderful creative sandbox where anything can happen. But here we have the players attention and can surface those stories. I think one of the key learnings is that we can be a bit more consistent this time around, capture the different sides of the war, and also of course there are the core gameplay improvements – we learned a lot from what resonated with the community, the slightly larger maps, the greater freedom, the Nothing is Written mission with Lawrence of Arabia. Untold stories, and the possibility of getting a bit more up close and personal and putting the war in perspective. I was born closer to the Second World War than where we are today, so it is a question of recent memory that shouldn’t be forgotten.

RPS: You have a level set in Norway, which very quickly became part of the Nazi empire in 1940. That must be quite an unusual setting for a WW2 game.

Gustavsson: Yes it is – it’s a neighbouring country to Sweden and my father lived there for 30 years. Travelling the country you can still see the marks and the memory of the war. It is a big part of our history, and it definitely adds a different angle. And I think the uniqueness of those locations, the Norwegian fjords, there’s a lot we can get across there.

Battlefield V is due for release on October 19th.

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Who am I?

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

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Writer, critic and academic, based in London. Fond of Overwatch, trifle and experimental poetics, usually not at the same time. From Yorkshire originally but sounds like he's from Rivendell.

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