Q&A: EA Games' Patrick Soderlund recaps the debut of DICE's latest first-person shooter, addresses launch hiccups, the purpose of the beta test, and where the game goes from here.
Yesterday, Electronic Arts engaged in a ceremonial postlaunch victory lap, heralding the news that its first-person shooter Battlefield 3 sold 5 million copies in its first week on shelves. As part of the process, EA Games executive vice president Patrick Soderlund spoke with GameSpot about the successes and slipups the DICE-developed title experienced out of the gate.
GameSpot: So you've shipped 10 million and sold through 5 million. Meaning there's another 5 million left on shelves. Is 50 percent sell-through what you'd targeted for the first week?
Patrick Soderlund: That's a massive number for the first week. We're really happy about that number.
GS: There have been some issues reported from players. What's at the top of the priority list to address with updates and patches?
PS: It's actually a continuous effort. We've been working on trying to [resolve] all the small issues--or in the beginning, larger issues--that people had to play the game. That's now been to a large extent resolved. We're still seeing some minor problems that we're dealing with, but people over the weekend seem to have had a great experience for the most part. And we're following up on every instance of problems we find and hear about. Fortunately, a lot of the problems can be fixed on our end, without having to go through extensive certification processes with console manufacturers.
On the hardware and server side, we can fix a lot. Our focus is to continue improving the experience for people, and at the same time, we're always working on improving the product as well. Last week was the start of Battlefield 3, if you ask me. We're looking at this as a service. We want to continuously update and improve the product so that consumers get a more compelling experience, even more compelling than what they have today.
GS: The past three Battlefield releases (Battlefield 1943, Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3) have all had server issues at launch. Why does this problem keep surfacing?
PS: I think that's a very valid question. The way I look at it, most big online services will have issues when they launch. Maybe we've been having more than we should have had. I think if you look at the user value from Bad Company 1 to Battlefield 3, it's just an enormous amount of [additional] players coming in to play the game. I'm so glad we had the beta. It didn't catch all the problems, but it certainly caught a lot of problems that we managed to correct. In a perfect world, I'd want a completely smooth launch with 100 percent up-time on every single service. I think very few online businesses will have that. Look at World of Warcraft when it launched. You see every year even Call of Duty will have issues in certain areas. It's not an excuse; it's just an explanation. We take it extremely seriously, and we're doing everything we can on our end to make sure people have the experience they deserve, having bought our game.
People need to understand that the beta was a true, real beta in preparation for launch.
GS: Battlefield 1943 being pulled from the PS3 version of the game was realized only when the retail copies of the game hit stores. Why wasn't this change communicated to customers earlier?
[An EA PR representative stepped in to address this question]: We announced this on launch day, communicated through our community channels. In lieu of Battlefield 1943, we wanted to give them something new, which was one-week early access to the Battlefield 3 expansion packs, including the Back to Karkand digital expansion pack.
GS: The Battlefield 3 beta featured the map Operation Metro (with Caspian Border becoming available to PC users only in the final weekend). The map lacks vehicles and large open spaces, two of the hallmarks of the Battlefield series. Why did EA/DICE choose to spotlight a map that doesn't embrace the elements that distinguish the series?
PS: The most important thing for us when we picked the beta map was to find a map where we could gather enough data as possible. So we played through all the maps and decided that we needed specific data on an industry-intensive level. Those are internal, tactical testing things we needed to get sorted. And I'm glad we did, because we found a bunch of issues and managed to correct those before launch. We also didn't feel we had enough data on something like Caspian Border, so we decided to open that up the last weekend to PC players so we could gather more data.
But people need to understand that the beta was a true, real beta in preparation for launch. It was all about what information we had to gather. I realize some people felt this is not what they anticipated of Battlefield, but when they played Caspian Border, they got that. But we also have to realize that the game is more than a vehicular shooter. Some levels are infantry, some are vehicle-heavy, some are more open, some are more dense. That was the reason we picked that level.