EA's learned a whole lot from Battlefront II's PR nightmare controversy, and now the company seems to be heading towards a new layered strategy with Battlefield V.
Earlier today EA and DICE confirmed that Battlefield V's premium pass has been abolished. EA, like other publishers, typically monetizes its biggest games in a two-pronged approach: microtransactions in the form of, say, lootboxes and piecemeal one-off cosmetic skins, and macrotransactions, which typically include season passes like Battlefield's premium pass. So if EA is eliminating one prong, it strongly hints that the other prong will be sharpened to a fine point so as to skewer as much recurring revenue as possible. Given everything DICE's panel of devs said at today's Battlefield V reveal event we think that cosmetics will be monetized. This lines up with previous reports.
Here at TweakTown I talk a lot about engagement and how it has transformed the games industry--games are now longer, multi-year affairs with tons of in-game purchases and other options that provide millions--or in EA's case, billions--in revenue over time. Publishers not only use this money to fund free content updates--which is what EA is doing with Battlefield V--but also use that cash to fuel stronger development cycles, buffer earnings, and continually churn the wheelhouse of their business. There's just one big catch: it all depends on how the game is monetized. Lootboxes carry a strong stigma of gambling and after Battlefront II, EA is eager to push away from all that flak. And if there's one thing I learned from the reveal it's that Battlefield V is aiming hard at engagement.
So let's break it down then, shall we?
First we know Battlefield V won't have a premium pass and that post-launch DLC will be free. What this means is that every single user will be on an even playing field. No longer will gamers be splintered into paying and non-paying demographics.
As a publisher this is typically what you want insofar as long-term revenue: if everyone is on the same field that typically means more engagement, as gamers will likely play longer if they have a wider pool of users to play against. And, of course, there's no frustration of being locked out of content because you didn't pay extra (aka "player sentiment" or "community sentiment", yet another big metric that determines how publishers plan engagement strategies.)
Now our players are engaged with the core content and there's no fracturing of the userbase. How do we monetize our game successfully and fund new content for free? After all, engagement via live services doesn't amount to anything if you can't successfully monetize it. But like Activision, EA are masters of monetizing their live service games: in fact the company earned $2.196 billion from live services last fiscal year.
There's a few options here: pay-to-win a la carte purchases from a storefront, randomized loot via that same storefront (lootboxes), or offering cosmetic skins at a flat rate without any randomization at all. We're betting pretty strongly the last one is the right answer.
DICE has confirmed that Battlefield V won't offer pay-to-win options.
"You can't play to get an unfair gameplay advantage," Andreas Morrel said at the reveal. "In Battlefield it's always been about balance, rock paper scissors gameplay. And it still is. You really have to play the game to earn new gear. And skill is really key."
The Company - a hub for cosmetic monetization and progression
Battlefield V should be monetized via its new "The Company" customization hub, which essentially allows gamers to fully deck out their characters with lots of extras while plotting out key progression points. Now a lot of this will be progression-based and actually have an affect on gameplay, ie perks, but a portion of it will be cosmetic and alter the way you actually look in-game.
This could translate to everything from character attire (the Death Dealer jacket in the screenshots seems to be a big example) that differ based on character class and worldwide background to weapon and vehicle skins.
"The Company allows players to create and deeply customize their soldiers, weapons and vehicles that will evolve as they progress, covering everything from the way they look to the way they play," EA wrote in a recent press release.
At the same time, however, I'm thinking all of this content will be fully unlockable in-game. It's possible the game will reward you with randomized content after every level up or every match, etc, but gamers will also have the opportunity to buy the outfits and customizations they want right off the bat.
Here are some things that DICE said about The Company that offered major clues on how the game will be monetized:
"The Company is the heart and soul of your personal experience, and the choices you make here for your company actually matters. Not only will your choices affect the way you look but also how your weapons and vehicles play," said Nathalie Ek, UX designer at DICE.
"The Company is something we're super excited about. For the first time you can now create your own personal experience with the soldiers you take onto the battlefield," said DICE senior producer Andreas Morrel. "It's really up to you to decide how you want them to play and how they look. As you keep playing and getting better, your soldiers will get better with you."
"So if you take your support class and you start playing with that soldier you're going to unlock a set of new abilities, new perks, sort of these new exotic ways to play the game as a support class," said DICE Senior Development Director Ryan McArthur.
"Then you'll unlock new weapons for yourself, when you take the machine gun and level it up and make the choices that matter, and then you decide that it needs its own custom paint job so you take that gun and really make it your own. And then you go in and grab that iconic support outfit you really wanna wear going into battle."
"Part of the tactical gameplay is that we want to give you the opportunity to create your own identity. So no more anonymous soldiers--these are your soldiers in their own boots going into battle. Their own weapons, customized the way you wanna do it, the gear you want them to wear, this is going to feel like it's your own personal arsenal," McArthur continued.
Tides of War - an evolving engagement-driven playground
Let's say that Battlefield V is successfully monetized via cosmetics and that EA/DICE offer a huge plethora of skins to choose from. What's it all leading to? Tides of War, of course, aka Battlefield V's new huge live-based theater of war that should be a veritable playground for WWII chaos across multiple periods.
Here's how EA explains Tides of War:
"Tides of War is DICE's new approach to live services, where players will set out on an epic journey with their Company in unexpected battles throughout World War 2. In Tides of War, their journey through World War 2 will grow through themed experiences that will include events and all-new ways to play like Grand Operations, while also unlocking the latest themed rewards such as weapons and vehicles to further shape their Company."
Tides of War will be seasonally-based themed events that are aimed at engaging the current playerbase, attracting new players, and pulling potential lapsed players back into the fray. Battlefield V's first such event will be the Fall of Europe, which chronicles the Nazi war machine's crushing blow across the region.
The real goal is to keep players active, because an active player is much more likely to buy extras than a lapsed user. EA and DICE may incentivize in-game purchases via simple measures like daily or maybe weekly promotions, as well as organically via gameplay. Let's say you see someone in-game with a fancy bomber jacket that you just have to have, or an awesome weapon skin. You're more likely to buy it or keep playing in the hopes of unlocking it.
All in all, everything I've seen so far strongly reinforces the idea that Battlefield V's monetization will be cosmetic-based. Whether or not there's a premium currency remains to be seen, and we probably won't be sure until the game launches in October.