In holiday 2011, while fans of both the Call of Duty and Battlefield series were gearing up for virtual war, the publishers behind each megafranchise were gearing up for a different type of virtual war. With the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Activision's in-game social network -- dubbed "Call of Duty Elite" -- went live. Just prior, alongside the launch of competing title Battlefield 3, EA introduced its "Battlelog" system. And thus began a parallel virtual war for fans' loyalty, battled via user numbers and engagement metrics. It's a pretty boring war, but its armaments are the games many of us know and love.
The first-person-shooter social network war continues to this day (in silence, of course), with EA recently stepping up its rhetoric surrounding this October's entry, Battlefield 4. Since E3, where some new Battlelog features were shown for the first time during EA's presser, the company's released its first big Battlelog marketing video (seen below). But we wanted more details about what the first next-gen version of Battlelog will look like, and what EA's DICE studio has been able to accomplish with new hardware.
We spoke with Battlelog assistant producer (and one of the guys in the video) Jesper Nielsen, an affable gentleman who openly discussed Battlelog's trajectory since launch in late 2011. "When we set out to build this [Battlelog in Battlefield 4], our biggest goal from the start was really to bring a better Battlelog to the console players," Nielsen said. In Battlefield 3, PC players launched the game from a Battlelog portal on the web; that led to much higher engagement numbers on PC (despite initial resent from longtime PC loyalists). Battlelog's Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 experience was...lacking. It didn't feature the server browser functionality that the PC version did, nor was it even functional for the first few weeks of the game's life post-launch.
Though Battlefield 4 doesn't launch from a Battlelog portal on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, it does have feature parity with its PC squadmate. That includes Battlescreen -- the tablet / web interactive minimap touted in EA's marketing. Sadly, the feature won't make it to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, just next-gen consoles and PC. That's due primarily to Battlelog's new platform base on next-gen and PC: the web. "Battlelog is powered by the web, and that has a lot of implications. There are a lot of different things you can do, things you can do faster, rather than building stuff in native code," Nielsen told Engadget.
One such implication? "It's going to be a lot easier for us to actually update things from the in-game Battlelog than would otherwise be the case. You'd have to do patches normally; here we can actually do things almost by the flick of a finger," he said.
The other big issue with Battlelog engagement on consoles was ease of use. Simply put, EA's required Origin login was too cumbersome a barrier for many players to overcome. As Nielsen put it, "At some point, maybe half a year before, they connected their Origin account to this email address and now they forgot what it is. And they tried, they can't remember it, so they give up." That sounds about right. In order to get around that issue, the Battlelog mobile / tablet application has a built-in QR code scanner, which players can use in-tandem with their console to log in (we're hoping just once). "It might sound trivial, but it's actually making something that might be problematic for people super simple," he said.
While second-screen functionality in Battlelog is currently limited to Battlescreen (the minimap), stats, loadouts, and server browsing, Nielsen said EA DICE is still very much experimenting with other ideas. His team even explored Xbox One's "snap" functionality for use with Battlelog, to no avail. ("It's definitely something we looked at, and we are interested in that type of functionality. For us, it's still too early to really gauge the kind of opportunities there. It's something we've been keeping a close eye on and have been since we learned about it.")
All that said, Neilsen's looking at DICE's first forays into second-screen gaming as "a learning experience." Following our interview, he sent over the following statement, which reflects his studio's relative newness to the currently hot gaming fad:
"Creating a second-screen experience during gameplay is something completely new for us, so we're definitely treating it as a learning experience. We're super intrigued by these possibilities and early tests have showed that we're going in the right direction, but to be frank, it will stand its real test once we get it out to the players and see how they use it, both when they play and don't play. That will teach us a lot and help us innovate even more in this field. We don't have the answers to all the questions in this space yet, so it's definitely a bit of an experiment, but we're very confident with some of the steps we've taken to provide a truly meaningful and valuable second-screen experience."
Nielsen himself admits that using a second-screen while playing a high-intensity shooter can seem a bit counterintuitive at first. "It's something you have to get used to a little bit," he told us. "There are a lot of these small pauses during a match, where you're trying to get to a certain place or figure out what's going on and you're far away from the battle that's going down. And then it's actually quite helpful just looking a little bit to the left or where it's positioned, and knowing 'Oh it's over there [the battle].'" We're still not totally sold on the concept, but we'll have a chance to give it a closer look as the year goes on; Battlefield 4 launches on October 29th, with or without next-gen consoles.