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Easy Company

EA's Ben Cousins on the free-to-play revolution

In recent years, EA's encroachment into Activision's dominance of online shooters has been fuelled much more by the success of the Battlefield series than the once primary Medal of Honor franchise. Once a pure, multiplayer PC-only design, that property has evolved to embrace consoles and more light-hearted branches such as Bad Company and the free-to-play browser title Battlefield Heroes.

Now, it's ready for another phase of expansion and diversification, with the launches of Battlefield: Play4Free and Battlefield 3 - a swing back to grittier realism launching on the twin fronts of traditional and freemium business models. While at GDC, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with EA Easy studio general manager Ben Cousins to talk about his plans for Heroes' natural successor, Battlefield: Play4Free.

GamesIndustry.bizSo, Battlefield: Play4Free has taken assets from a lot of other Battlefield games - weapons and animations etc - is that indicative of a lack of financial commitment?
Ben Cousins

Well, it's got weapons from Bad Company 2, maps and vehicles from Battlefield 2, but all new character animation and all new audio. It's really to give people the opportunity to revisit those spaces from the games they've loved in previous games.

We were constrained, but we weren't constrained by costs. We were constrained by speed to market. Battlefield Heroes has been a success, we now understand the business model, but we wanted to take the next step to a bigger audience as soon as possible, because this market is moving so very fast.

We're paranoid - in this sort of business you have to be very paranoid. We wanted to get something out as fast as possible, so that's why we used those assets. But like I say, there's a reason for using those features which is giving people familiarity.

The business model, free-to-play with this RPG element, is new. Weapons are familiar, vehicles are familiar and the levels are familiar.

GamesIndustry.bizAnd it's purely multiplayer - there's no single player campaign at all?
Ben Cousins

No single player, no story, no justification of why the US and Russia are fighting in the Middle East. It's all about action.

GamesIndustry.bizThe free-to-play experience at the minute is very much a PC only thing. The console platform holders aren't on board with it at the moment, which in some ways is to protect their business model. Is that frustrating for you?
Ben Cousins

I have to choose my words carefully, I don't want to bad mouth the platform holders. At the moment the only viable platform for free-to-play is PC or Mac and I feel like maybe there's a missed opportunity there.

What I understand about console is that because these are big platforms, open to piracy, they have to be very careful about what software they allow to run on those machines. We're releasing three updates a week for Battlefield: Play4Free at the minute.

For those to go through the sort of rigorous testing that they'd need on console, it wouldn't be viable, it'd be too expensive to test with the rigour that they'd need to make sure that it doesn't open up the platform to piracy.

So I understand why they're in the place that they are.

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