There's a part in the Wizard of Oz book when Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard of Oz, he tries to put them off. Toto accidentally tips over a screen in a corner of the throne room, revealing the Wizard to be an ordinary old man working his ass off at trying to maintain a grand illusion of something he is not.
I get the feeling that something similar happened with EA in regards to the latest release in the Battlefield series of games, Battlefield 4. I talk a lot about Battlefield on here, probably more than I should but as a massive fan of the series I feel like I've been betrayed by something I've held in very high esteem for a long time.
Its no secret that there are a lot of unhappy BF4 players at the moment currently venting gallons of venom on Battlelog, EA's dedicated Battlefield blog, what should have been EA's sensational COD killer has in effect been rather a damp squib in terms of quality and functionality.
The pomp and splendour not to mention the Hollywood inspired trailers certainly suckered a few people into parting with cash but its release has been plagued with more bugs than David Attenborough's back garden, on top of that constant crashes for PC users weren't helped by a recent distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack). The DDoS attack no doubt cultivated by a disgruntled PC Jedi who decided that if he couldn't play it as intended no-one else was either.
"I already sold my copy :( its a shame a 60 dollars game on a 400 dollars console wont work for what its intended for. I couldn't play anything but team deathmatch but that only last maybe 10 minutes before crashing."
The biggest issues for me was the server freezes,crashes and game quality. A change of control system which enabled DICE to introduce commander mode for next gen and thus required a change in joypad layout didn't go down too well either. Veteran and Legacy controls are offered as alternatives to the default system in place but still change the control systems for vehicles from the triggers to the analog sticks. Another gripe is the inability to customize your soldier from the main start menu as in BF3, instead you have to burn up vital gameplay seconds to customize your player or migrate to the test range to equip your player, why you have to enter a training scenario to customize a loadout is anyone's guess.
When matches start with no sound which is absent for anywhere up to five seconds, guns spawn in with blocked up iron sights not to mention the countless server crashes.
If you are spawning in to the south East side of the Rogue Transmission map just behind the Delta objective and jump on a quad bike half of the vehicle disappears into the road.
Operation Locker suffers from severe lag when a firefight breaks out in the central section of the map to the point that its totally unplayable.
All this ranting aside it underlines the bigger problem that development teams are being pressured into delivering ambitious projects against marketing deadlines, There were 400K PS4 consoles launched day one in the UK market and 470K Xbox One consoles, add to this the need for DICE for hit day one release for next gen and supply current gen owners (its biggest market for Battlefield) a similar product you're going to need to cut corners if you can't deliver the quality.
However,people expected a robust multiplayer system that EA's marketing division had plastered everywhere it could to anyone that would listen, the fact that BF4 sales were 68% down on last years BF3 numbers is either testament to the fact that next gen consoles have left many people undecided or they've moved on. For Battlefield to make up the shortfall it has to rely on a 70% attachment rate for BF4 on XboxOne and PS4, in my book that's a lot of pressure for a sales team trying to cut through the swathe of negativity for such a bugged product.
Sure fixes can sort a lot of those things out, some balancing and tweaking is par the course for the games industry, guns will be nerfed, servers will be balanced and the delicate massaging of player egos will continue.
For most people though I'm sure I'm not in the minority of people who expect more, who had a level of expectation where lessons should have and would've been learned long ago. EA's decision to release a Beta of BF4 only a couple of weeks prior to launch must have factored into this, DICE simply haven't had the time to sort through the issues hence the need for A 256mb patch recently (which I might add still didn't fix sound issues). Any new launch has its niggles but what we are seeing here is a complacency that as a gaming industry we'll all put up with shoddy half baked products that we can fix as we go along rather than deliver a compelling and robust player experience that supports the brand and creates a dedicated following of supporters and fans.
EA's EVP Patrick Soderlund wants to break Electronic Arts 2 year running streak of being voted the worst company in America. In a recent MCV article Soderlund mentioned that "when something like that happens, you have to sit down and ask yourselves Why people are saying these things". I'm sorry, what? - if you have no idea why people are saying things like that then clearly you are not playing your own products. You shouldn't have to sit down and wonder about it, just play and experience how utterly broken BF4 is on current gen, go on your forums, hell, go an any forum its pretty much widespread, its not just EA haters who have nothing better to do with their time, it's players who love your brands who are now putting the knife in Patrick.
Simple CRM rule - a great CRM strategy builds brand loyalty and improves your business' reputation. Satisfied customers who feel as if their needs are being met will return.
People aren't expecting perfect, they just want workable, they want to pay $60 for a game and get a $60 game. I used to play Battlefield3 every single night, I loved it, its only the second Xbox360 game I dropped cash on for all the DLC. After BF4 soured things I've never gone back to it, which, for me is pretty serious because I loved the balance and the group of guys I played with were a damn good laugh. I just felt I'd been let down by the sequel I simply lost the enthusiasm to put up with it anymore. The brand in my mind had lost its appeal almost overnight and I cannot be bothered with night after night of raging at the TV screen for a crashed server or latency issues and a wasted forty quid.
Even DICE Q&A has admitted on Reddit it can't cope with the testing schedule, on top of that you have EA senior management pushing for at least a weeks clearance over Call of Duty at launch. If anything BF4 needed 3 months work, it certainly required more lead time on Beta testing and it sure as hell deserves a better reaction.
Its funny, but when I play a Free to Play game that cost me absolutely nothing I have none of these issues, yet when I pay for the privilege I get no end of crap. I figured out that there's actually a reason for that, when games are free they rely on retention more than anything else, retaining players is crucial to the free to play business model so the player experience has to be excellent and nothing less. For a paid title you've already committed your cash at the till, you're in, the hook is already there until you've got the shrink wrap off at home, the money is in the account. It almost feels like there's a level of complacency with the consumer where the focus is on the pre-sell and the sale and the consumer takes second place beyond that because by the time you've put that disc into your console nobody cares what you think.
EA has a problem with its brand image it needs to fix, essentially that can only be achieved by improving the quality of the core product. Games are a competitive industry and $100 Million dollar investments, so surely that level of investment means getting it right sooner than later.
EA needs to stop dicking around trying to dethrone COD and beat release dates at the expense of product quality, unless of course it wants to continue being something it is not.
But then again, as Dorothy said "We're not in Kansas anymore".