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DICE Talks Battlefield V Crossplay, Hardcore Mode, And Why The Player Count Stays At 64

by Matt Bertz on Jun 25, 2019 at 03:00 PM

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From its scattershot launch to its unpredictable (and content starved) post-launch strategy and lackluster sales, Battlefield V has had a shaky debut. However, the turbulence hasn't deterred DICE from trying to get the game on the right trajectory. Before E3, the studio announced an aggressive plan to add six maps to the game in the coming months, and as teased the return of some fan-favorite maps like Operation Metro (reimagined as Operation Underground) and Iwo Jima. 

We recently sat down with creative director Las Gustavsson and senior development director Ryan McArthur to discuss where Battlefield V goes from here, touching on topics like the underdeveloped storefront, the still-missing hardcore mode, the heavy emphasis on infantry maps, and Battlefield's esports future.

You heard the resounding feedback from the community regarding the dearth of maps, announcing six new maps that will roll out over the course of the next several months. Moving beyond that, is this a cadence we're going to see more consistently now that you have a lot of the general pieces in place for the game? 
Lars Gustavsson: It's too early to tell where we're going when we move into next year, but we wanted to do a big push since that's what the community has been screaming for. In the future, it might be something else we focus on. That's the beautiful thing with the live service – we can listen in on our players and see what they want. Of course, there are turnaround times on everything, but for now, this was one of the biggest demands, and we also upped the max rank and announced private games, things really high up on the list from the community. That's really what we want to address.

Ryan McArthur: What makes these maps slightly different is we put a lot of effort into making them have their own unique experience. What we see with our players is, the new maps create a lot of excitement. It's the maps that we created that offer different gameplay experiences that they didn't previously have are the ones that keep them warm, keep them sticky. I think that is what we're trying to do with these maps, over the next while, is create those new gameplay experiences that as we go throughout the services, adding new maps that will create new gameplay experiences as the team comes up and creates these new ideas. 

Looking at the new maps, two of them have a more traditional Battlefield scope with vehicles and large spaces. Then you have four maps focused more on close quarters infantry. Explain what the balance is between that. Do you feel like the community's asking for more infantry maps?
RM: Before launch, we didn't have a plan on the first few maps outside of trying to give each one of them a distinct field that we didn't have in the game initially. When you look at the first map that came out, Panzerstorm, the goal with that was to create a map that's awesome to play with the tank and make that the centerpiece of it. That's what we did. We got some interesting feedback from that map, but I think it nails that feeling. Then with Crete, you've got that classic battlefield conquest experience, going a bit more wide open and lots of different opportunities for different play styles. And we were missing head-on infantry clashes, which comes with the Marita map. It was interesting to kind of work our way through that. And then Al Sudan, I don't want to say it just sort of came out of nowhere, but it was one of those ones where the guys just thought it'd be really fun to make, and they thought they could really make it into something special. 

LG: It reminds me of El Alamein. What I like about it, is it's a big map with a lot of land, but also a lot of air, and they get quite tightly connected. For an old man like me, it gives you room to think, which is classic Battlefield. It gives room to think, and it gives room to feel that you're doing smart things. I'm gonna try this since this didn't work. I really like this. And it's on a different scale than Marita where it's tighter. But that one is more of a BF3/Bad Company feel – it's more of a journey. But I think it's big enough to not be something you can lock down. It gives the perception you can lock it down. They deliver on very different experiences. And then we have the two uniquely tailored for infantry.

RM: Lofoten islands and Provence. That one is interesting. The introduction of Squad Conquest in Chapter Two, we were expecting it to do okay, but it became something that a group of players really liked. It kind of gives us the opportunity to look at creating some more maps around that tactical experience, that smaller type of gameplay experience. Those two maps are shaped into a way that really fits that kind of gameplay. What we've seen from the players is the maps that are designed to fit a certain experience, as opposed to trying to build something that kind of works for everything, are the ones that players like the most. The ones that we've tried to make, I guess for lack of better term the "most generic," are the ones that players don't really enjoy because they don't really have something that they can attach to. In the last few months, we've tried to figure out what that formula is. Again, there's still tons for us to learn. But where we're at today, I think everybody, especially in the studio, is super happy about this kind of nice pace. We've got them every month, we've got something different to see what players will jump into, and they can come back to that classic Battlefield experience if they really want.

You threw a curveball with the Operation Metro redesign, is it taking place in Vienna?
RM: I don't think it's set particularly anywhere, I think it's been inspired by Berlin, specifically, and then the guys just took a bunch of different pieces and kind of put it together and sort of just homaged it to the subway.

LG: The map is a passion project from the group. They've taken inspiration from right to left, everything from how there seem to have their factories underground during the war to influences from cities and so on to create something that feels unique. It's interesting to see how it kind of clings to the crew when we playtest at home. People are starting to learn to master the universe with new flanking routes and ways of getting around. As you say, it's not a remaster, it's reimagined, which kind of liberated the team to take what they like from Operation Metro and see if they can take it one step further.

RM: It's the first one we did where we didn't pick a place, we just took a thing and said, "let's make this experience." They just kind of pulled together what they wanted to make, and it's just come out this way. You can see it when we play it in the studio, just how excited they are that they get to make this thing. I think this one's going to be really special.

I figured the first BFV map throwback you teased would be one of the beloved maps from 1942 like Iwa Jima, Stalingrad, or Wake Island.
LG: We did hint at Iwa Jima on the EA Play stage.

RM: The formula we have looked at is trying to find that right balance between new, never-been-seen before maps, those elements of nostalgia as you said with Iwo Jima and Operation Metro, and then also making sure we respect and honor some of the more classic elements of World War II – the locations we have in Provence, and Arras, and these places that people know. Those are the three levers we want to constantly try to pull. Bring players into the world of history that we've created, give them something they don't expect, but also take them back to a place when they played Battlefield before, that thing that they love.

One of the elements you need to think about when reimaging classic maps is adding fortifications. You chose not to add it to Firestorm. Will all the new maps moving forward support it?
RM: We find it a really powerful feature. From a multiplayer perspective, the goal is to have it in as many places as they possibly can. It also adds a very different dynamic to the way that maps play. It's never a mandatory, but it's up to us as a team to find ways to use it to make it interesting. Because it's one of the things we talked about even back when we revealed the game back in London, one of the most important features of this game is to give players more choice and control over how they can impact the battlefield. The fortification system is one of those tools. For every map we create, we want to try and maximize the use of that as best we can.

Are you happy with like how that system works right now? Are there any planned tweaks?
RM: As a producer, I want as much out of that thing as I can get, and I think there are so many opportunities for that type of stuff that we can do. Lars and I talk about this constantly. But obviously it comes down to what do we do first and when, but I think overall as of today, we're really happy with the way the feature turned out. Because it turned out so well, you can see the sky's the limit.

LG: It has a huge potential. I love the fact that with Battlefield, we've gone from the static 1942 maps where the dynamic action came from the interplay between the vehicles and soldiers to Frostbite and destruction, weather, and then the fortifications. The battlefield becomes so much more interactive and dynamic.

Is cloud technology going to be the thing that allows you to preserve the same fidelity of destruction but increase the number of fighters in the war? Battlefield has been sitting at 64 for a long time. 
LG: I have the old design documents from 1942 back in the cupboard, and I think it even says 128. Then we settled for 64, and then after that, we introduced the squads, squad spawning, and the different spawn systems. I think the density per meter of soldiers appearing is probably 10 times higher these days than in 1942. We all have dreams of where we want Battlefield to go, whether it's higher player numbers, bigger worlds, or all of that.

MR: It's natural to sit there, even for us in the studio, to go "128 is exactly what we need." I think the most important thing is, does 128 make it more fun? That's one of the big questions. Sixty-four players in Battlefield today, it's fun, it's chaos,  128 – ah it all must be more fun and more chaos. But from a gameplay perspective, I think there are some some challenges there. Naturally we want to constantly push those boundaries, but I don't think, I don't know if it's the technology holding us back in that regard as opposed to making sure that when we make something like that it's not just a number on the box. Someone needs to play it and say this game is actually better because we have 128 players as opposed to us going, "Look at us, we made a number go up."

LG: What does it enable you to do? What can I do or experience that I couldn't before? 128 players in the underground doesn't necessarily sound like fun.

No, but what about storming the beaches of Normandy?
RM: From a gameplay experience, you look at something like that saying, "For underground, 30 players might be right, but Normandy can you do hundreds," whatever that would be. What you want to do is create new experiences for players. For us, is it 128 players or 60 tanks? Because that would be crazy as well. We need to figure out the gameplay experience we want to deliver.

How happy are you with the game performance right now and what do you think are the most pressing issues facing the game still?
LG: We're in a constant hunt for improvements and quality of life. We're constantly looking into the pacing, since it's always hard to see the wider community. In certain forums you get the very hardcore community, and then how do you balance it for a wider group? Those are definitely communication discussions. We have in the studio looking at what are the next steps forward. When you launch a game, people adapt to the new world, and they start to learn it for what it is. We're looking at what are the best ways of trying new things. We sometimes try things and will move away from it if it doesn't fly. I think we owe it to our players to always listen and dare to try things, not be paralyzed.

RM: We're happy with where the game is, but we're never happy enough. The game can always get better. I think the team has really adapted to this new way of thinking where we can always push for better, we can always push for different, we can always try new things. They're never sitting down and going, "We're done." We're never done. There are some really nice learnings from Firestorm as an example. A lot of Firestorm was trying new things. You've got the slower pace of play, you've got the tractor and the helicopter, and really interesting surprises. Then we start to look at how do we get that same level of enjoyment and fun and that sandbox experience and those elements into the game we have in the core multiplayer experience. Those learnings have pushed the guys in other areas of the game as well. You see that with Al Sundan, which I think is a good one. Those long travel distances and the different experiences around the map are really going to create some of those lulls in the pace that it's going to allow players to do things that we didn't expect. 

Battlefield 2 had a lot of that.
LG: But you still have the village, for example, so if you're an infantry player, you can still be there. I think it has something for everyone. I always get really happy when the team manages to get kind of that interplay between air and ground so they're not disconnected. 

Let's talk about Firestorm. What's the player split? When you look at the data, are more people playing conventional Battlefield or are more people playing Firestorm?
RM: Firestorm's built up its own group of players. The great thing for Firestorm is it brought a bunch of players back into the game, giving them something new to try out. It gave us a lot of a lot of opportunities to try things that we wouldn't have been able to try before with those core multiplayer modes. Firestorm has been really good for us to use as a place to try out new things, to push the boundaries, and to see what the players like. You've got a core group of community really dedicated to things like Conquest. Conquest is always king in Battlefield at the moment, but Firestorm is a healthy place for us to try things out, as well as shift players into an experience they haven't had before.

Looking back, do you feel like it was the right call to launch a battle royale game within a $60 experience when every other competitor in that space is free-to-play and can draw in so many more players from the get-go? 
LG: For us, it's been a huge learning experience and given us as developers new perspectives on Battlefield. We've done conquest 64 players for so many years, and this was something people really wanted to do. We've learned a lot from it, which as Ryan mentioned will trickle into everything we do. For me and for many who have been building Battlefield for a long time, it's about challenging ourselves with new perspectives constantly and getting those new learnings so that we can mix and match and come up with new combinations. As Ryan says, we have players who play nothing but Firestorm, and then we have those to do some Firestorm, some traditional modes. So there's all types of players.

Speaking of traditional modes, what's the status of hardcore mode?
RM: Right now, we don't have anything. We've not committed yet to the roadmap of where we're going to go. But the big thing with the launch of private matches is giving players those tools to sort of create those experiences. We're always trying to find and pursue those types of things that the players want. As we go into private matches and start to frame out what that initial packaging is, if that's the way the players want to go, we'll look at going that way. The great thing with private matches is we set this up as our first community development initiative. We really want to build that feature with the community. If that's the direction they want to take those features and make sure that the settings are in there, we want to work with them to create that, because the feature really is for them.

LG: To me, that is important, and I think it's been all through the years. It gives more grassroots building to our community, where people are liberated to do what they want instead of us telling them where to go. It's important, and I wish we could have done it earlier. But I'm really happy that we do it now. There is no shortage of the things we want to do. 

RM: Yeah, we learned a lot with Battlefield 1. We discussed a lot of this after BF1 around private matches and RSP. The big piece of feedback we got from the community after BF1 was, "When you're going to build that service for us, it needs to be right." We took that to heart and decided that if we're going to do this, we're going to do it with the features that the community wants, so we're going to have to take the time to do it properly. We all wish we could have announced it sooner for the community. They're happy that it's coming, but also they're going to be really happy with the result in the end because they're going to get the service that they wish they'd had since BF1.

Battlefield is a long-running series that has developed several useful features like playtest servers or the rent-a-server programs. But whenever you launch a new game, they're not there at the beginning. Are you investing in an infrastructure that can be carried over to future experiences so you don't have to start over with this functionality every game? That way you could avoid the problems you had the first couple months of BFV with over-corrections and recalibrations?
RM: If you look now at how BFV is different from every other game we've created from a live service perspective, it's the investment in the live services. We see a lot more value in those types of experiences – in the CTEs and things like customer private matches. It's becoming so much more important for us to do these things. Everything we do now is designed in a way that we don't have to build it, we can keep evolving it. My goal in life is to never make another Battlefield as an example [laughs], to keep Battlefield V rolling and just keep evolving and keep tuning it and building on top of it so players are constantly getting better versions. Keep building so that it lasts forever. That's the mentality we want [the developers] to take because it's so easy for people to just decide to move on. With the feature sets we build, with the systems we build, and the services we build, we've really got to treat it like it's the last time you're ever going to build it. That's the direction we've gone with Battlefield.

One of the areas that seems really underdeveloped in BF V right now is the storefront – you have a lot of things to spend currency on in the company menu, but not the actual store. Are you looking to redesign the storefront to make more items more visible?
RM: The big initial push for the store was to create a place where it's constantly fresh, constantly rotating, and then players use their company to find deeper dive stuff. We're constantly trying to figure out what's the right amount of stuff. There's a lot of learning in that particular part of the game that we can do, and the team is spending a lot of time figuring out what's that right experience. The great thing we're happy to see is the community has a desire to customize themselves more so than we thought initially. It's become one of those things where we're starting to invest a lot more time and effort into figuring out what's the right amount of stuff, because there is demand from the community.

One of the things you teased at the London reveal event was the company system allowing you to create multiple loadouts for roles. For instance, you could save an outfit so you blend in better in the Hamada and equip a bolt action rifle for the medic class to deal with the longer distance skirmishes, and when the map rotates to Twisted Steel I could choose a custom loadout with green camo and a different gun. Are you still working on that technology to allow us to save multiple loadouts?
RM: We can't commit to when stuff like that's going to come, but I can say the inventory management and company management are a big part of the game and a big part of the future of Battlefield. We're going to constantly continue to invest in that. 

Let's talk about esports. You developed Incursions for BF 1, and it clearly didn't resonate. Are you looking at any other sort of esports initiative for Battlefield?
LG: We did that one and learned a lot. We're taking those thoughts and seeing where we go next. It's not anything we have here today to talk about. But it's something we've followed with sincere interest. 

The 5v5 format seems like a weird fit for Battlefield. Have you ever prototyped a larger-scale mode? Instead of trying to be the basketball esport, go for the football-inspired design where you pit large teams of specialists against each other. One team may have better tank players, but another has air supremacy because of quality of its pilots. Have you thought about opening it up like that so it's more faithful to the large-scale Battlefield experience?
LG: It's feedback we get every now and then when the topic comes up. You know, it's always the difference between the ease of doing tournaments, for example, and traveling with the team compared to being true to the Battlefield experience. So these are questions and conversations we have with people constantly.

Let's talk about a hot topic in the industry right now – cross-platform play. Fortnite has it. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare plans to add it. Will it come to Battlefield as well?
RM: Crossplay is a game-changer for the industry. Right now we don't have anything to announce for Battlefield. But again, we're constantly looking at how we can make the best product we possibly can and looking at every possible opportunity. 

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