"Not a week goes by without us thinking, 'Imagine if we hadn't launched with loot boxes the way we did.'"
It's hard not to join Dennis Brännvall, design director for Star Wars Battlefront II, in his speculation. During our interview at Gamescom, he suggests that both the reviews and the consumers for the 2017 shooter would have focused on the content of the game "rather than the system that connected it."
"We would have been a different place, that's for sure, because we truly believe the game is a worthy sequel to Battlefront 1 and lives up to the legacy of the Battlefront franchise," he tells GamesIndustry.biz.
Sadly, that's not how things panned out. Complaints about the loot boxes that threatened to unbalance the multiplayer beta escalated to the point where EA pulled them from the game just 24 hours before launch, and then later removed the premium versions completely.
"Not a week goes by without us thinking, 'Imagine if we hadn't launched with loot boxes the way we did'"
Moreover, the outcry was heard not just across the games industry, but by politicians and government officials, the consequences of which the industry is still dealing with today.
Star Wars Battlefront II struggled to live up to EA's sales expectations as a result, yet the team at DICE has still be updating the game for two years, with no sign of moving on to another project any time soon. Of course, first Brännvall and his colleagues had to win back the community.
"We really needed to take a step back and do some house cleaning -- not completely dissimilar to Rainbow Six Siege," he says. "They didn't launch the way they wanted, but now it's doing well and I think we're on a similar trajectory.
"We hit rock bottom in terms of player sentiment but now it's climbing every month. We're delivering more content this year than we did in the first year, which is also a sign of a healthy game. The community's happier than it's ever been, especially with the big announcement yesterday. I think we had to take a step back, the team had to look at itself in the mirror a little bit, pick ourselves up from a really rough Christmas for everyone and then just get back to work.
Dennis Brännvall, EA DICE
"Now it's a lot of fun. It wasn't that much fun in the spring of 2018. That wasn't the best time at DICE, that's for sure."
Brännvall refers to the Gamescom announcement of all the new content coming to Battlefront II before the end of the year. The roadmap features everything from new maps, modes and characters, to a PvE co-op mode, the return of the large-scale Instant Action single-player battles, and (naturally) content to tie in with the upcoming film, The Rise of Skywalker.
It's a different strategy compared with 2015's Battlefront, which was expanded with quarterly DLC packs that segregated its multiplayer community. The new cadence of regular, free additions reflects both a renewed focus on the whole community and a change in DICE's approach to development.
"Battlefront 1 felt like we were in the sequelised transition phase, in that we knew the end date of Battlefront content before we launched it," Brännvall explains. "We knew it was going to be one year of DLC in a season pass, and then on to Battlefront II. And we treated it that way, like there was a bookend to the experience. So if there were systems in the first game that might not be working, we could prioritise fixing it for the sequel.
"It wasn't that much fun in the spring of 2018. That wasn't the best time at DICE, that's for sure"
"With this one, we challenge ourselves to undertake big overhauls of systems that aren't doing as well as we hoped because this is it, this is the game we're going to be working on. That's when it feels like more incremental -- there's client patches every month, new features added, whereas in Battlefront 1 we were patching it every quarter with a big DLC and it was mostly for paid users anyway. Yes, there were some bug fixes, but it was mostly for paid users. Now it's always for everyone.