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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Battlefield Marketing: Why Vietnam is Timed Perfectly (Also, Valve!)

This came to me last night and I felt I had to post it before I forgot about it. As I've said, I watch a lot of YouTube, but not just Call of Duty. I play(ed) and watch Battlefield Bad Company 2 from commetators like DCRU Colin, StoneFaceLock, Swordsman75, jayekaisermistuhed and Benjisaur among the more prominent. In the past months prior to Black Ops's release, there were rumblings of discontent with the state of the Battlefield scene, and for good reason. EA DICE released almost no truly "new" content. They updated maps for different game modes, but the maps themselves never really changed. For the first two or so months of the game's lifetime, this was a complaint to be sure, but not a damning one. As things went on, though, it trotted closer and closer to that point of no return, when even the dedicated Battlefield players withdrew for what they considered greener pastures (Black Ops and, to a lesser extent, Halo).

What I think DICE was well aware of, even back in the March release of BC2, is that their game was not Call of Duty 4, the game that needed no infusion of new content to remain both relevant and prominent for two years and longer. This led them, or at least it led Electronic Arts, to the following strategy based on their knowledge of their game. They knew they had about six months worth of game life ahead of them if they did nothing, and seven or maybe eight if they released different map types but not new maps. Their calculations put the end of their game's relevancy right at the release of Black Ops and the huge rush that the game would surely (and did) bring. They knew also that Battlefield wouldn't die out entirely, but it would begin to fade. However, the second tier to their plan was the coming Vietnam expansion, placed about a month and a half after Black Ops release of November 9th.

The timing of this expansion, and the Map Pack 7, which actually brought new maps, is next to perfect, and ingenious regardless. By allowing the giant push and affair with Black Ops to fade and then shoving a boatload of new content at their faithful consumers, DICE extends the lifetime of Bad Company 2 until the release, or at least the Beta, of Battlefield 3. To encourage their followers to play even more, and this is perhaps the most effective marketing that isn't Team Fortress 2's constant update system and Portal 2's announcement. By asking their players to use 69 million support actions (heal, ammo box, repair, revive, spot) in order to receive a fifth map for Vietnam, they've assured a huge amount of time spent in other things in game. Vietnam has been rumored for several months without a release date, and now that it has a firm December 21st (18th on PC) release, you can bet the dedicated BC2 players will not only be helping their teammates a whole lot more (something that was certainly lacking in the games initial stage), but that Vietnam will get even more orders.

I put Valve in parentheses in the title for a reason: they already do this kind of thing, and the industry is only now catching on. TF2 released and was immediately patched quite a few times in the months following its hitting Steam. Valve has always been dedicated to making their games as playable as possible for as long as possible. But they didn't stop at just game tweaks. They did what more developers need to do, at least from a business standpoint: add new content at all times and take full advantage of their community's own map/content making ability. TF2 as a game on release wasn't really much.  Few maps with only two or three game modes and nine classes when a fairly set playstyle, I would have placed a lifespan of around six months at the very most, even with constant game code tweaking and bug fixing. Valve, as usual, knew how to make their game continue thriving for three years and counting: class updates. Placed around four months apart, Valve had 36 months, or three years if they only updated the classes and added nothing else. They also added new maps, game modes, in-game systems to acquire class items (hats included), community maps becoming official, contests and more. This does not even take into the fact that they haven't yet finished the Meet the Team videos and remain coy on both what those clips will contain and which gender the Pyro is (we want to know, dammit!)

I'll end by saying what I've always said outside of this blog to my friends. The video game industry is reactionary to Valve. They innovate, and everyone else clammers to catch up, even Bungie. DICE and EA took the right rout with the release of BC2 Vietnam, and when Battlefield 3 comes out, I think there'll still be players trudging the rice paddies long into the future.


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