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Battle Stations

DICE's Ben Cousins on how the studio has changed and where it's heading next.

In part one of our interview with DICE's Ben Cousins, he discussed his experience of working on PlayStation Home and EA's attitude to new IP.

Here, in part two, Cousins reveals more of DICE's future plans and explains why he believes downloadable content will give more freedom to both developers and gamers.


GamesIndustry.biz: What's next for DICE? The focus has always been mainly on PC rather than consoles - is that likely to change?

Ben Cousins: I think that Battlefield: Bad Company is going to be a really significant title for DICE. That's going to be where they prove they can do console and single player, and I think it'll be a really interesting project.

I see the franchise as having two tracks - one being the traditional PC market, and the other being the console market. It has the potential to become one of the big console francises as well as a big PC title.

What are the special considerations you have to make when you're putting a PC franchise onto console? What factors become important?

One of the things which I think they've done really well, from my observations of the team, is to be very careful to work out what Battlefield means - and to retain those core features but to streamline the rest of it into a console experience.

Battlefield has been a tremendously succesful, hardcore gamer's game but when you translate that to console you have to make things a little bit simpler, easier to understand.

At the same time you don't want to dilute what Battlefield is all about because then you end up making Call of Duty, and you don't want to do that because Call of Duty is already there and very succesful.

How much autonomy does DICE have? How much say does EA have in what goes into the games?

We're an EA studio so we go through all of the production gates and all of the reviews that any other product does. But I think they trust DICE, and I think the reason they acquired DICE was that they wanted the creativity and the new ideas and the cutting edge technology.

They give us a lot of freedom to develop what we think is best. Obviously at every stage we need to make sure that we're going to make money, that it's a wise investment. I don't get the sense of EA glowering over my shoulder as I work. We do our own thing and we have the trust from EA, and we also believe in ourselves that we're going to do the right thing.

Are you going to look at new genres of game in future, or stick with what you know?

It would be great to expand the studio and it would be great to have several different IPs and different genres in development. I don't think there's any closed mindedness about that; we're open to anything.

I think the future of Battlefield is in how the content is distributed and delivered. We've always been on the cutting edge of online and the most downloaded EA links are Battlefield related. We've got a really tech savvy, online aware audience.

So I think it's an obvious thing to start thinking about content being delivered in bite-sized chunks. We can start thinking about new business models and new ideas with Battlefield.

Episodic content, then?

I think that the term episodic is perhaps overused. Delivering content in small units rather than one USD 60, several gig disc that you install is the way forward.

Episodic for me suggests that every month you download a significant amount of content, but I think it's much more interesting to look at the Asian business model where you're microtransacting or personalising your experience with small downloads of content. That's a much more interesting and relevant way of looking at the future of Battlefield.

But will that model work in Europe?

It depends on how you sell this stuff. You're running a business, it's like a shopfront. You have to sell the right things at the right prices and make sure that you target that.

What's interesting about the Korean action games is that you're very rarely buying a gun which will make it easier to kill someone; it's often timesaving. If I don't have time to level up my character to be as cool as my friends I can just buy an item that gives me that level up and save time.

So I think people are absolutely right ot feel uncomfortable with the idea of buying an item which gives you an advantage or being killed by a bought item, or feeling that you have to buy an item to get the full experience. It's about making sure that what you sell is compelling and interesting enough.

The subscription model is pervasive in the West because there hasn't been anything significant which has taken that micro-transaction idea on, and had it as a central model, I think that all it would take is for one big brand to to do that.

The Battlefield brand, perhaps?

It could be Battlefield. We're well positioned, it could be any of the big EA franchises - Need for Speed would work, Sims would work, Spore would work. SingStar is doing that, PlayStation Home is doing that I think we'll start to see that happening a lot more in the West.

We need to learn that it's not sleazy - it's actually quite a liberating business model. Gamers won't be having to stump up USD 60 before they can explore a game and see how much they want to play it.

Ben Cousins is creative director at DICE Sweden. To read the first part of this interview, click here.

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.