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Editorial: The broken, sputtering launch of Battlefield 3 online multiplayer


Let's play a little game, folks. Here are three separate quotes from EA/DICE, each given soon after the launch of a major Battlefield. Can you tell which is for Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which is for Battlefield 1943, and which is for Battlefield 3? No Googling!
  1. "Despite having a major infrastructure in place, the peak traffic ... has been huge, 400% higher than any other Battlefield's peak simultaneous users. The teams will continue to monitor the services closely. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and will provide further updates on the latest developments as they are relevant."1

  2. "In terms of the network services, we have had unprecedented and historic peaks in terms of the activity that we're getting from the Battlefield community and players, and it's caused parts of our networks to experience some outages."2

  3. "We have full support of EA to add as many servers as takes and then some so that everyone can play. This work has already started and servers will be added around the clock with teams working to cover this 24 hours a day so not a moment is wasted. You will be able to play this game and play it lag free!"3
If you weren't able to distinguish them from one another, I forgive you -- they all sound remarkably alike, don't they? That's because, for three Battlefield games in a row, the same scenario has played out at launch: gamers purchase said Battlefield iteration in great numbers, resulting in no one being able to play the game due to overloaded servers.

Gallery: Battlefield 3 (10/24/11) | 16 Photos

After years-long anticipation for Battlefield 1943, players overwhelmed the game's servers for weeks at launch. And for the first, digital-only console iteration of Battlefield, many players (myself included) were willing to excuse that. At the time, EA and DICE claimed to be working "24 hours a day" to add new servers. When things stabilized, fans (again, myself included) were willing to let bygones be bygones. We were having a great time, playing Battlefield online with friends -- could you blame us?

But when Battlefield: Bad Company 2 launched a year and a half later, players were met with the same crummy situation. After weeks of playing a mostly functional multiplayer beta -- one that EA and DICE cited as intended to test server loads -- the game's online multiplayer was broken at launch. BC2's creators and publisher once again took the "more players than we could have ever expected" route, only the execs at EA were singing a different tune before the game's launch.

"We think we've got an advantage over Modern Warfare 2 with our multiplayer," EA CEO John Riccitiello stated just three months before BC2's March crossplatform release, kicking off a two-year-long chest-pounding competition between EA's execs and Modern Warfare publisher Activision. So when the game's launch was fraught with connectivity issues, not only did EA and DICE's excuses no longer hold much water, but the game's publisher looked worse for the wear.

Unfortunately, the missteps that DICE and EA took with the past two Battlefield launches -- namely failure to actually work as multiplayer games at launch -- haven't been fixed. When Battlefield 3 launched this past week, its much touted "dedicated multiplayer servers" lasted about five hours, during the middle of the day when peak markets were at work/school, and began to crash and burn as the day went on. By 6PM ET, players on Xbox 360 and PC were both hitting a wall when trying to connect to EA's servers.

EA and DICE's response? Another repeat of the same old excuses we heard for Battlefield 1943 and Bad Company 2. Only this time, those excuses held even less weight. The past two games gone through ostensibly identical server issues at launch, casting suspicion on EA's "more demand than we expected" excuse.

In fact, EA specifically broke down the numbers of pre-orders for the game and the number of people involved in the game's multiplayer beta, and outright stated sales expectations. While EA assuredly had a metric for measuring expected player numbers in 1943 and BC2, with Battlefield 3, the company released estimates. In other words, it's unlikely that EA was fully in the dark about its upcoming server load. EA did know, and for reasons it's not saying, it was once again unprepared for player demand. When asked for comment, an EA rep told me this:
"In a nutshell, the game is spectacularly popular. We've shipped 10M units, sell-through is good and we are already receiving re-orders. The key feature for most players is the incredible MP experience. The response has been unprecedented. We have experienced historic peaks, across the board, during this launch. With unprecedented consumer demand, even with a successful beta, systems under load will reveal new opportunities for optimization and improvement. When we see those opportunities, we would rather move immediately and create short-term inconvenience (maintenance period) to improve the long-term experience for all players.

That said, since launch, a few people have had a sub-optimal experience and they've gotten on the forums to express their concerns. We are gamers too and understand their frustration. Fortunately, we have seen a marked improvement in the last 12-hours. I wish I could tell you the problems are fixed, but we are working on it and we hope that the major issues are behind us."
Juxtaposing that sentiment, the official Battlefield Twitter account is a testament to the game's online issues. Rather than acting as a conduit for the exciting experiences players are having with its latest game, the Battlefield account has been relegated to a support team for players' connectivity complaints.

Meanwhile, during EA's investor call yesterday evening, the company announced that Battlefield 3 has, thus far, shipped 10 million units of the game to retailers. Success?%Poll-70300%
Source 1: Battlefield Blog
Source 2: CVG
Source 3: EA UK Forums

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