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Has Battlefield V Already Lost the War Against Call of Duty: Black Ops 4?

by Jordan Peters

Battlefield might not be too big to fail.

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All things considered, Battlefield V feels like a pretty familiar entry for the series.  Having a chance to play the Alpha version of the shooter, I came away with the same sentiments that we wrote about here.  It feels like a Battlefield game that has made some adjustments in terms of gameplay.  The “historical accuracy” stuff that people have been shouting about since the game’s reveal didn’t seem to get in the way of that moment to moment gameplay that has made the series great for the last decade.

Regardless, it’s sounding like many people are taking a more cautious approach to pre-orders when it comes to Battlefield V.  Has historical accuracy and a developer who said they have no plans to cow-tail to the wishes of a vocal sect of fans led to these lower numbers?  Or could it be that the 2017 release of Star Wars: Battlefront 2 has soured people to the point of taking a wait and see approach for Battlefield V?  While it could be a mixture of both, it sounds like Electronic Arts is in a predicament when it comes to the upcoming release of one of their most popular franchises.

Analysts are pegging Battlefield V to be the “most likely casualty” of this year’s crowded fall lineup.

Call of Duty vs Battlefield

Electronic Arts and Activision have been warring with each other over the shooter audience for a decade.  Call of Duty and Battlefield are essentially vying for the same entertainment dollar, releasing within weeks of each other during the crowded holiday season.  Activision has managed to hold off Electronic Arts over the years, seemingly having more mass-market appeal than its competitor.  EA has gained ground in recent years, due to a misstep by Activision in the selection of releasing Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare to compete with Battlefield 1.  According to pre-order numbers, it had seemed that EA was finally closing the gap.

Activision is taking its own risks with this year’s entry in the Call of Duty series.  They’ve removed the single player portion of the game to focus solely on multiplayer content. Like EA, Activision is also dipping their toes into the Battle Royale genre with a mode of their own.   The removal of a single player campaign is a big risk for Activision, but one that they’ve seemingly walked through unscathed if pre-order numbers are indicative of the final sales for the two franchises.  With progress made in Battlefield 1, how did EA lose their momentum?  Enter the year of the loot box…

Did Battlefront 2 kill Battlefield V?

2017 will go down as the year of the loot box.  Electronic Arts reaped the financial rewards of this predatory practice and their stock price soared on the back of microtransactions and digital distribution.  Have those very practices that have enriched shareholders killed one of EA’s most beloved franchises?  We’re not hammering the nails on Battlefield’s coffin just yet, but it’s entirely possible that the Battlefront 2 pay-to-win fiasco of last year has seeped into the psyche of consumers when looking to place their money down on EA’s next shooter.  Doug Creutz of Cowen suggests that Battlefield V is trailing behind Black Ops 4 by more than 85% in terms of pre-orders and that games like Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 had only trailed its competitor by 20-40%.

When you have to reveal your game by emphasizing the fact that there are no loot boxes, you know you’ve gone wrong somewhere along the line.  That’s exactly what EA did when they revealed Battlefield V.  So much of the focus was placed on a new progression system that did not include the types of things that were included in Star Wars Battlefront 2 at launch.  These are “pay-to-win” systems that have been completely removed from that game and took the better part of a year to be implemented.  Star Wars Battlefront 2 should have been a great boon for EA and function as a gateway into their other shooter products, instead it shined a bright light on some of the worst practices in the industry.  It could’ve turned off not only their fan base, but other, more cautious consumers.

Historically Accurate

The same die hard Battlefield fans that are willing to blindly put money down on their favorite franchise are likely the same ones that have been raising concerns regarding the historical accuracy of Battlefield V.  To which DICE has said, effectively, “Deal with it.” If you’re not up to speed on this controversy, it effectively boils down to women and their level of involvement in World War II and how DICE is portraying them in the game.  Some believe it’s over the top and twisting the narrative of history. It’s a stance that any developer has a right to take, but has this caused a perfect storm that could see a numbered Battlefield game being considered a financial failure?  It’s really hard to tell whether this is having a material impact on pre-order figures for Battlefield V.  The most vocal parts of the internet have been censored from talking about this controversy, on places like Reddit for example.

People appear to be taking EA’s advice

“Accept it or don’t buy the game.”  These are comments from Patrick Söderlund, an executive with EA who recently announced that he is leaving the company.  Söderlund said that he’s fine with people not buying the game and that DICE was standing up for a cause with their actions.   People appear to be taking Söderlund’s advice, and that advice happens to come at time when there is a perfect storm of circumstance:  A crowded fall line-up (Black Ops 4, Red Dead Redemption 2), a game that is currently captivating a large part of their audience (Fortnite), their normal competition which they were already behind (Call of Duty), a previous game that had already soured fans on the developer (Battlefront 2), and an attitude of we don’t care may very well likely push these analyst projections to become a reality.

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