EA Hesitant to Annualize Battlefield

EA Hesitant to Annualize Battlefield

Although its main rival Call of Duty enjoys yearly releases, EA remains skeptical of the wisdom of annualizing Battlefield.

While the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation played host to a number of successful franchises that look likely to continue on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, two in particular stand out from the crowd: Activision's Call of Duty, and EA's Battlefield.

Regardless of your stance on the actual game content and whether they're something that you, personally, would want to play, there's little denying the fact that these two series have had a huge impact on modern gaming. Call of Duty in particular has shown the good business sense of large publishers annualizing popular franchises -- the release of a new Call of Duty is a significant event in the gaming calendar, and each installment has made an impressive amount of money, though with Ghosts it does finally appear that the allure of the series is waning a little.

Call of Duty's main rival Battlefield, meanwhile, has taken a more cautious approach. Although the Battlefield series has been around in one form or another since 2002, it's arguably only since the release of Battlefield 3 in 2011 that it's been butting heads directly with Activision's behemoth -- and EA seems somewhat hesitant to jump all-in and make it an annualized franchise like Call of Duty.

Speaking at the UBS Global Technology Conference (transcribed by SeekingAlpha), EA's chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen pondered the wisdom of moving to a yearly release schedule for the Battlefield series.

Jorgensen noted that the development of a new Battlefield title was typically a two-year project, much like Call of Duty. However, unlike Activision, which has had Treyarch and Infinity Ward working on alternating installments staggered a year apart, EA doesn't have the luxury of having two studios to devote to the Battlefield series. Previously the plan was for EA to alternate new Battlefield releases (developed by DICE) with its other military shooter franchise Medal of Honor (developed by Danger Close), but the poor critical and commercial reception to 2012's Medal of Honor: Warfighter seemingly hit that plan hard; we haven't heard a peep out of the series since. While this doesn't necessarily mean that EA is ditching the original plan, it'll be hard for Medal of Honor to recover from last year's disaster, while Battlefield is still a well-established and positively regarded series despite its flaws -- one that would make more sense for EA to focus on.

Jorgensen has another hesitation when it comes to annualizing Battlefield: he doesn't want to eat into the long tail of the previous installment.

"Battlefield is a product that doesn't just sell once," he said. "It sells for 24 months associated with not just Battlefield, but all the additional Battlefield Premium activities that the consumer wants. So you've got to be careful that you don't destroy some of that tail that is on the Battlefield product."

Whether consumers really "want" paid-for services like Battlefield Premium is perhaps debatable, but EA and DICE certainly continued to support Battlefield 3 right through the year following its release with five expansion packs, and it looks set to do the same with Battlefield 4. Were they to, say, release Battlefield 5 next year, that would disrupt that schedule significantly, and potentially fragment the player base across two fairly similar games. Leaving it a year for players to digest and enjoy all of the add-on content that becomes available seems to have been working well so far, but it leads to another problem:

"If Battlefield does well this year, you've dug a hole for next year," Jorgensen says. "How do you fill that hole?"

He proposes that the "hole" left by the absence of a full Battlefield release next year will be filled by the new UFC game and Dragon Age: Inquisition -- plus there's Titanfall, too, of course, though that's coming in March and thus may itself cannibalize Battlefield's audience relatively soon after release.

There's something to be said for allowing a series time to breathe for a year or two, anyway -- good games don't just suddenly stop being good games after a year, and spacing releases out a little more also helps combat the cynicism that comes with annual installments. It takes a few years for franchise fatigue to set in, but it seems that Call of Duty is finally starting to hit that saturation point, so it's encouraging to see that EA is taking this into account and questioning whether we really need a new Battlefield game every year.

What do you think? Do you enjoy having new installments in your favorite franchises each year, or would you rather they get a break every so often so you can see some original, new IP?

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