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I won't buy Battlefield Hardline at launch, and neither should you

I once ran a Battlefield 1942 league in college, complete with squads, scheduled practices, a ranking system and tiered communications. It was a pain to set up, but it was a great time.

Battlefield games all but defined my group of friends as we grew up and played through every sequel, and one thing stayed constant throughout our youth: The games never worked well at launch.

The problem with the franchise goes deeper than a long history of terrible launches, however. Whatever culture kept the quality of games up and tried to preserve the value of the franchise is long dead, as evidenced by the current reality of the industry and past quotes from developer EA DICE itself. It's perfectly fine to still be a Battlefield fan, but buying Battlefield Hardline at launch is one of the worst bets you can make in gaming in 2014.

The days of free content are long gone

The culture behind DICE and the Battlefield series has been eroding for some time. "We don't ever want to charge for our maps and insisted to EA that this attitude was crucial when it came to keeping our community happy and playing together," DICE senior producer Patrick Bach told Xbox World 360 magazine, as reported by CVG back in 2010. "We're owned by EA but we're still very much DICE."

Battlefield 4 has five paid add-on map packs. Whatever part was "still very much DICE" and not EA is long gone. There are 19 pieces of for-pay content for Battlefield 4 on the PlayStation Store.

Today, all manner of DLC, including maps, is par for the course of the Battlefield franchise. Selling new content has become big business; why play the game when you can just pay $15 to unlock all the weapons? Purchase all the shortcuts on PC for $40! Subscribe to the expansion packs before you even know what they'll include!

Free DLC and content as a pillar of the game is gone. What replaced it is the knowledge that gamers can and will be asked to pay for as much as possible.

The annual franchise is here

DICE's Patrick Bach once talked about the reasons behind Battlefield's lack of an annual release, the strategy that Activision has used to great success in bringing a new Call of Duty game to market every 12 months. This interview took place in 2011.

"To us, we need the time to be able to create the next game that consumers will hopefully like. If we were to release another big Battlefield title next year, that would mean that we'd have less than a year to build it, and that would mean that we'd have to have another studio building it for us, which would mean it wouldn't have that DICE seal of approval, which would mean they'd just have to release a copy of the game we just released," he said in an interview. "Ugh, no."

"EA would never force us to release a game every year," he continued. "I think that would dilute the vision of the franchise, and you will eventually kill the franchise by doing that."

Battlefield Hardline is coming a year after the disastrous launch of Battlefield 4, and is being created by Visceral Games, the studio behind Dead Space. According to Bach, the franchise is now on the road to be "eventually" killed. His remarks are prescient, but sadly they're falling on the wrong side of history.

"EA would never force us to release a game every year," he continued. "I think that would dilute the vision of the franchise, and you will eventually kill the franchise by doing that."

Everything that was supposed to define the culture and level of quality of Battlefield has been taken away, and what remains is a giant, lumbering franchise that is focused on maximizing revenue and shortening production cycles.

EA's goal as a publicly traded company is to maximize value for shareholders, and not even Patrick Bach can stand in the way of EA getting every dollar it can out of a successful franchise to make that happen. EA is claiming that it's doing all it can to make sure Hardline has a successful, stable launch, but it said similar things before the launch of Battlefield 4, and the company is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly hiding the true status of the game from shareholders.

So what's the point of bringing this all up now?

Ben Gilbert wrote an interesting post about the terrible launch of Battlefield 3 back in 2011, and he's another writer who has gone through many of the typically terrible launches of the Battlefield games. Here are three quotes about the launches of Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield 1943:

  • "Despite having a major infrastructure in place, the peak traffic ... has been huge, 400 percent higher than any other Battlefield's peak simultaneous users. The teams will continue to monitor the services closely. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and will provide further updates on the latest developments as they are relevant."
  • "In terms of the network services, we have had unprecedented and historic peaks in terms of the activity that we're getting from the Battlefield community and players, and it's caused parts of our networks to experience some outages."
  • "We have full support of EA to add as many servers as takes and then some so that everyone can play. This work has already started and servers will be added around the clock with teams working to cover this 24 hours a day so not a moment is wasted. You will be able to play this game and play it lag-free!"

It's hard to tell them apart, isn't it? Battlefield games are going to launch with the same issues, it's going to take a while to fix them and the same excuses will be trotted out as an explanation. Keep in mind that article, with those quotes, was written before EA and DICE dropped the ball for months on the Battlefield 4 launch. The series had a terrible track record even before Battlefield 4 fell as it left the gate.

To say that these problems now come as a surprise, or that any of the companies involved don't see them coming, is folly. It's become impossible to pretend that this isn't a trend, or to become hopeful the problems will go away.

We've taught EA how to treat us, and this is the result

Hardline may have had a good beta, but Battlefield games always do. There may be good explanations for why this won't happen again, but that happens before the launch of every game.

EA continues this because the Battlefield franchise is profitable; we as players have taught them that we'll buy anyway, and continue to support games that don't work at launch. To quote terrible daytime television therapy: We've taught EA how to treat us, and this is the result.

"Calendar year-to-date, FIFA 14, Titanfall and Battlefield 4 were three of the top five best-selling titles across all platforms in the Western World," the company's earnings report stated in May 2014. Why ship working products when the market says you don't need to do so in order to succeed?

How to fight back

This is my advice: Don't pre-order Hardline. Don't give EA a dollar for the game, no matter the incentives and "free" guns or whatever. Don't buy the game at launch — wait until the servers are stable and you know it works.

I'm not saying boycott EA, or the franchise; if Hardline comes out, is stable and is fun to play, my friends and I will be in the back of the line to throw our money down for copies. But that's the place to be for this game: the back of the line. Let everyone else test things for you.

I hope EA has learned its lesson, but we have no reason to believe any of these promises. They come with every game, and every game has a rocky launch. If Hardline enjoys strong pre-order support and strong day-one sales, the message will be clear: It's okay to ship now and fix later.

Let's send a message that we haven't forgotten, and hang onto our $60 until the company has learned its lesson. Every dollar that's spent on Hardline before the game comes out is a vote for things continuing down an anti-consumer path. If the game is a hit before its launch, that sends a message that we're OK with business as usual, and business as usual has become pretty terrible.

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