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Battlefield 4 spotlights EA's inability to launch games, treat players with dignity

There is no sin greater in gaming than wasting the player’s time.

We can earn more money, we can buy more games, we can forget about the bad experiences playing certain titles, but time is irreplaceable. Once spent, it can never be returned.

If nothing else, Battlefield 4 has wasted the time of many, many players.

The game was released on October 29 in North America and it still doesn’t work. Certain issues on certain platforms have gotten better, but we're now a few days into 2014 and events are still being postponed. Issues are still being reported. My Twitter feed is littered with reports of players being booted from online games or their progress in the single-player campaign being deleted.

There is a class-action lawsuit alleging that EA oversold the strength of Battlefield 4, allowing the company's stock to rise and "senior executives to sell their Electronic Arts stock at artificially inflated prices." The idea in the lawsuit being that EA couldn’t have been ignorant of the fact that Battlefield 4 was barely functional at launch, and statements claiming the game would do well amounted to a high-level "pump and dump" scheme.

Law firm Holzer Holzer and Fistel, LLC is also investigating EA to determine if there’s merit for another lawsuit due to misleading statements about the game’s health and possible performance. These lawsuits may address the complaints of investors, but they do nothing for the players who have actually spent $60 on a game that, in many cases, simply doesn’t work.

Battlefield 4 remains happily on store shelves despite its many problems, and EA has since ceased production on expansions until the game is made stable. There is an issue tracker for the game to give players updates on what’s being fixed and when, but the language certainly doesn’t inspire much confidence.

"We at DICE have a long tradition of supporting our games and our community well after the release of a title," the statement reads. "While millions of players are enjoying Battlefield 4, we are aware that some players are experiencing issues with the game."

Well, as long as they’re aware of it.

This wording makes it sound like squirrels have chewed through the power cables. As if these problems were out of DICE's control, instead of the result of launching a product that was clearly nowhere near finished. Let’s be 100 percent clear: EA and DICE are charging full price for a product that they very likely knew didn't work at launch. They continue to sell copies of the game despite admitting that it's still broken in a number of ways.

There are very limited, if any, mechanisms for returning the game you bought, despite the fact that it hasn't worked correctly for months.

"While some platforms have had only minor problems, others have had more than their fair share of issues. Resolving the launch issues is our #1 priority," DICE CEO Karl Magnus Troedsson wrote in a blog post. "In fact, we are so serious that we have the entire team working to stabilize the game and we will not move on to other projects until we are sure that Battlefield 4 meets — and exceeds — your expectations. It is the right thing to do."

This sort of wording — the way DICE distances itself from the issues and doesn't take responsibility for the problems — should make your blood boil. They’re not fixing the game, it wasn’t in a car accident. We weren’t driving it recklessly. They are finishing the product they shipped in a non-working state. We’re expected to take the news that work on other games and expansions has stopped until Battlefield 4 is working as a kind of favor, instead of the truth: They are fulfilling their obligation to deliver a functional game months after we paid for it.

Is there any possible reality where EA and DICE didn’t know that the game was non-functional when they shipped it? Can you imagine any other industry that allows products this hobbled to be knowingly sold months after release?

There are no recalls, no refunds being offered. Instead we’re given strained acknowledgements that a problem may exist, and the promise that it will be fixed. DICE may enjoy taking little jabs at the more popular Call of Duty series from time to time, but maybe it’s time for them to grow up a bit and realize releasing a game that works will lead to stronger competition than cheap shots on Reddit.

The reaction of EA and DICE hasn’t just been inadequate, it has been infuriating. The attempts to hide behind corporate speak and mealy-mouthed pseudo-apologies completely fail to address their customers, who have spent $60 or more on the product, as human beings. You can argue about the validity of EA being the worst company in the world, but it’s clear that their marketing department has a tin ear when it comes to owning up to its own mistakes.

Why is this OK?

It’s been fascinating to talk to the players about this situation, because so many seemed resigned to broken games as a state of normalcy for EA products. When I asked if there had ever been a launch this poor, most told me SimCity was just as bad, if not worse. They also brought up the long history of Battlefield games suffering less severe glitches at launch.

This is a fascinating situation to be in: EA doesn’t cause outrage by selling broken games because they have successfully trained the market to expect inept launches. A popular attitude among players is that people are wrong to be mad, as they should have known what they were getting into.

The Battlefield 4 twitter account seems to think that if it doesn’t mention any of these problems, they will cease to exist. I’ve moved past the point of expecting a sincere apology, and would instead be impressed by the account admitting that the game may have a problem or two. Instead we're treated to bland pronouncements and tepid "polls" about the game.

This arrogance and lack of humanity is why people hate EA. The inability to take the complaints of their players seriously, or to appear to be anything other than an uncaring corporation, is almost as insulting as the issues themselves.

EA and DICE had a monstrous challenge with Battlefield 4. The game is monstrous in scope, and launched across two brand-new consoles as well as the current-gen systems and PC.

Finishing in time for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launch clearly wasn’t easy, and we can say that with authority because the game wasn’t finished in time for launch. It was shipped anyway. The companies responsible seem to find the fact that we noticed an annoying distraction.

Pushing the game back may have impacted EA negatively in the short term, but there are analysts already discussing the long term damage this ongoing fiasco is dealing to both Battlefield as a franchise and EA as a company. Battlefield has been a successful series for a long time, and the game's players are enthusiastic buyers of post-launch content. Kicking them in the teeth for months as they try to play the latest installment isn't the best way to keep them away from Call of Duty.

This behavior isn’t OK, even if it’s become common from EA. We need to get rid of the idea that players were "asking for it," by buying a Battlefield or EA game at launch, and instead deal with the idea that shipping broken games has become a normal thing for the company.

The easiest way to improve your ability to apologize is to release games for which you don’t need to release the "I’m sorry" form letter. EA has failed at that goal, over and over, and the failure extends to how the situation is still being handled, months later.

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