You might have seen it hit the news: Battlefield 2042, the latest in the Battlefield series, has lost over 70% of it’s players on Steam in the first two weeks of its release, and only going down. This was a 60$ game, and that’s a huge deal. What happened?
Pre-order sales are often made with a lot of promises about the game that don’t get delivered on. There’s been more and more push back against preordering games after multiple non-refundable disappointments have hit the gaming sphere: Anthem. CyberPunk. No Man’s Sky (although that did eventually become good). Fallout 4. And, most recently, Battlefield 2042. Triple-A studios and pre-orders seems to be a recipe for a mediocre-at-first-launch game at best, and a total disaster at worst.
However, pre-orders are not the cause of the issue, they’re merely a symptom of a wider problem with Triple A studios – they’ve become complacent. They assume that the customers will simply hold on for a few more months as they assemble a working game out of the stuff they pushed out on crunchtime. Realistically, most of the time, they’re right. Refunds are rarely offered by preorder vendors, the games do tend to work eventually, and the customer has likely fallen into sunk cost fallacy with all of the time they spent waiting. Plus, if the game isn’t totally broken, they’re probably not annoyed enough to really kick up a fuss about it beyond the typical memes and forum posts those big studios already ignore.
The pushback is more bark than bite, and it means they have no reason to stop operating as they have: make an announcement for a game. Announce the deadline a little too ambitiously. Showcase one part of the game by forcing the devs to work out of order and polish one specific mission first (which the Spiderman game for PS4 and 5 did, although that game turned out alright) creating unrealistic expectations. If they delay, they don’t delay it nearly long enough to sort out anything but the biggest of bugs. Push producers into hours of overtime, sometimes unpaid. Release a mediocre product after promising the world. Ignore most complaints, announce fixes publicly as a form of advertising. Finally, if player counts are still high, have a functional game with a lot of players who have forgotten that the game sucked on first release. Repeat, because you need the cash for the next game.
Easy! However, this works best on campaign games, games where the unpleasant bugs and issues can be ignored, or the player can reset back to the last save point and troubleshoot it themselves. Battlefield 2042 is not a campaign game.
Big Studios and Their Games
Battlefield 2042 is not a campaign game – it’s purely multiplayer, a divergence from the Battlefield games of the past where there was some imagination of a single player campaign, even though that was also vestigial at best. Battlefield 2042 intended to completely rely on new and exciting modes of multiplayer battle, including Hazard Zone lobbies and lobbies that could cram massive numbers of players into one map. However, as you could guess from the opening title, this didn’t revive the aspects of Battlefield that players wanted, and the playing experience (according to IGN, Metacritic, and many Google reviews) was lackluster at best, something that those players could have gotten out of the last game if they wanted. But they wanted a new game.
The game suffered from pre-order syndrome as well, leaving players with bugs like disappearing loadouts, game flaws like unbalanced guns, vulnerabilities to hacking, and more. Once players got fed up with it, they left – there was no single player mode to bide fix-time in like there was for the last Battlefield game. When players don’t know when the game’s been fixed via Tweet or Steam page update, they don’t want to go through the effort of booting it up (especially with how massive updates can be now) and getting into a match only to discover the latest bug patch didn’t fully fix the issues. They’d rather just play a substitute.
It Will Not Work Forever
It used to be that you could buy a finished game, and it would only need patches or rebalances for stuff the dev team didn’t test for. Now, players have to balance their expectations for both when and if the game is going to be good enough to be worth 60$ if they want to pre-order it. Games that don’t promise the moon on pre-order day seem to be less prone to failure; games that do incentivize preorders with in-game loot, so players keep coming back anyway, assuming (or blindly hoping) this time it will work out, especially when it’s a big game. Battlefield has made a name for itself, so it’s probably going to get at least a few more of these pre-order bombs in before enough of their consumers wise up to it – there’s a chance that the next game will be worth 60$ at launch, maybe, or it will eventually be worth 60$ within the first two weeks.
Maybe. But, this poll run by IGN with nearly 20,000 votes shows that Battlefield is running out of ‘next-time-it’ll-be-good’ chances. I don’t think many more people are going to buy 2042 now unless there’s some huge promotional event – 70% of the player base has stopped signing on, meaning games take longer to load and the odds of running into the same few players over and over goes up. Customers want to get 60$ worth of entertainment out of their game, and they can’t do that in a multiplayer game if all of the other players are leaving, hacking, or trolling. If the pool is already cold, and it only seems to be getting colder, why get in at all, when you could just… not, and save yourself the price of entry? There’s pools in other places, even Olympic ones like Call of Duty and PUBG. The next game they make may start cold, and even if the one after that is good, their reputation is not going to serve as positive marketing by default anymore.
How Would You Fix It?
Firstly, I’d say to stop preordering games, but you’ve already heard that one from better sources than this blog. Any other fix besides voting with your money is going to have to come from the game studio themselves – perhaps the poor management that leads to crunchtime catastrophes and releases riddled with bugs could reign themselves in, given the customers support the devs and not the game.