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Paris GDC: DICE's Cousins Talks Battlefield Variety

In his Paris GDC keynote, EA DICE executive producer Ben Cousins revealed that the studio is currently developing five titles for the Battlefield series, also discussing development methodology and web games' eventual dominance.
Delivering his Paris GDC keynote on 'Scenes from the Battlefield: The Present and Future of Core and Casual', EA DICE and Battlefield franchise executive producer Ben Cousins revealed that the studio is currently developing five titles for the Battlefield series. With Battlefield Battlefield Heroes already announced and Battlefield: Bad Company scheduled for release this week, that leaves three unannounced titles, one of which Cousins hinted would be a traditional console title aimed at core gamers. He also disclosed that one of the other unannounced games would be specifically for the Korean market, co-produced with Neowiz and separate from Battlefield Heroes. Cousins continued the keynote with details behind Battlefield Heroes’ development and inspiration, describing the game as “a ‘play for free’ cartoon shooter service, PC only, with low system specs.” Inspired By Korean Games Referring to Battlefield Heroes’ mix of microtransactions and website advertising for its business model, Cousins explained, “The idea came from South Korea. DICE visited Seoul, in summer of ’06 ... That was the inspiration – make a Korean-style free-to-play shooter for the western market.” According to Cousins, EA DICE approached Seoul-based online game developer and provider Neowiz with their plans, eventually buying 19% of the company. They are creating a separate, more realistic Battlefield title for that market. Nonetheless, with the free-to-play plan on Battlefield Heroes, the studio realized that it would have to increase the number of users and cut costs to make a profit: “These two goals drove the entire development of the game. It drove the art direction. In order to have more users, we needed to have lower system specs, and that inspired the cartoony graphics.” He also discussed the concept of giving the game 'true mainstream appeal', quipping: "We looked at all the competitive products, and as you can see they’re all brown. We wanted to do something different." Of course, for that, the art had to be different to the other Battlefield games "...because as you can see, we’ve gotten into the habit of making brown games too." Thus, the team at EA's Shanghai office worked with Cousins on several iterations of the game's look, including Gorillaz-style initial inspiration, and as he explained: "We decided to make a game that looked like a holiday resort. Blue skies and towering cliffs." But how about the gameplay? Cousins discussed some of the 'iron gates' that keep casual gamers out of the regular Battlefield games: " First, you’ve got high system specs. Then there’s first-person. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anyone who tried to play a first person game for the first time, but they’re looking at the sky, running into walls." He continued down the list - skilled opponents, which kill you right away, matches that are hard to find, difficulty learning how to play the game, and high skill levels required. Their answer on Battlefield Heroes is cartoony graphics, a third person customizable character, a good matchmaking system “which ensures you only play against people of your skill level.” In Terms Of Deployment Dismissing the idea of a set release date for Battlefield Heroes, Cousins discussed the company’s deployment plan: “We go from beta to open beta, and eventually we’ll start opening items. From a finance point of view, the time when we start making money is 6 months to a year after the developers release the game.” He noted that with this plan, they can gauge what players like, and respond to it. Similarly, they can fix problems on the go: "This also means you can’t bugger off on holiday after you release the game. The analogy is like building a hotel and then opening the doors. After you build, it the work begins." Interestingly, Cousins also noted that, alongside microtransactions, the game is part funded by ads only on the front end of the game, explaining: "We expect people to spend more time on the website than in playing the game, as that’s where you do all the social networking." Looking at the launch of the title, Cousins suggested there would be no big 'splash' debut of the game, noting: "Does anyone remember the 'launch' of YouTube, MySpace, or Wikipedia? You heard about these things over time." Instead, they’ll be spreading the word via the Internet and virally. He noted: "Marketing guys like to give snappy names to market segments, and the one they gave us was 'frustrated restricteds'". That is to say - people who want to play games, but don’t have the time, or the money, or new gamers who want to play but are scared of the skill level. Web Games Are The Future Cousins closed his keynote by arguing that, like MP3’s popularity over high-fidelity and expensive audio formats such as DVD audio, PC web games will eventually dominate the industry. He noted that PC gaming is not 'dead', suggesting that when people say that, they just mean the packaged goods market: "That’s not a declining market, that’s not a dead market, it’s just a market that is changing." He explained it with an extended metaphor the rise of television and the cinema, noting the impact of TV earlier in the twentieth century. In the 1930s and 1940s, cinema was the prevailing technology for motion pictures, with a seemingly unassailable position. TV was low-resolution, with smaller budgets, but the concept of television took 30 years to take hold - from 1928 til the 1950s. It became popular because it was mainstream, convenient and cheap. Cinema took a hit. Many theaters closed, but cinema and TV now co-exist. Television didn’t kill it, but it took a big chunk out of it. Cousins suggested: "I think we’re somewhere in our own 1940s then. I think many people are underestimating, or they're ignorant of these web technologies here... It is here, and it will become mainstream because of the same reasons as television." In fact, Cousins suggested: “If you ask me, the future is web games, and I don’t think many people will see it coming.” He concluded: “So what’s the future of core and casual? A new market on the web. We can go broader demographically and geographically, because there’s no packaged game. It can go deeper with core gamers, because they can play them anywhere, since they’ll find ways to.”

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