Analysis – Opening BF4 Balancing To Player Voting Could Backfire

by Matt Bertz on Jan 27, 2014 at 08:32 AM

Given Battlefield 4's rough launch, DICE has spent the majority of its time since Oct 29 scrambling to stabilize its servers across five platforms. The urgency of this workload required an all hands on deck approach, which meant the typical post-release balancing that inevitably happens for every shooter was delayed. Now that the server woes are largely behind us, DICE is finally turning its attention to tweaking the gameplay. However, the new approach it's taking - polling players about balancing - may not improve the game at all.

Reading the Battlelog forums, legions of armchair generals with Battlelog accounts have grudges against particular weapons or vehicles being too over- or underpowered. These posts provide great insight for DICE into what the preconceptions are on the battlefield, which it can then check against the telemetry data it receives for each match played online. If it finds an imbalance, DICE can then discuss ways to address the issue. Sometimes, however, the data rebuffs the claims made by players.

This was the typical merry-go-round of balancing conversations for most of the previous Battlefield games. Now, however, DICE has made the bold step of putting the decision making for some issues directly into the hands of the gamers. Last week on Battlelog, DICE put five proposed changes up to votes. In theory, this seems like a smart decision. For years, armchair generals have said DICE doesn't know how to balance its own game. This new approach provides the community a chance to put their money where their mouths are. If the game is worse off after the changes, DICE can put its hands up in innocence. After all, you had the chance to exercise your vote!

The dangers of this approach are twofold. First, the voters are given no information to base their decision upon. DICE has loads of data on these topics, but since players aren't given access to it they have no way of knowing the full picture. They must rely on their own personal experiences to make these decisions. This leads to the second problem - entrenched subjectivity.

Not everyone plays Battlefield the same way. Some players excel with air vehicles, spending the majority of matches piloting jets and helicopters raining death from above. Others prefer commanding tanks and LAVs. A third contingency would rather forgo vehicles altogether and focus on infantry combat. Given the different roles players may gravitate toward and lack of hard evidence to sway the balancing discussion in either way, nothing is preventing players from voting with purely their own self-interest in mind. If an engineer doesn't care about driving tanks, of course the FGM-148 anti-tank missiles should receive a damage increase. If a player feels most comfortable in the cockpit of a stealth jet, then from his or her perspective the 20mm cannons shouldn't be nerfed.

Actively seeking player feedback is wise, but having players vote with only their subjectivity to provide guidance is could yield unforeseen consequences. If DICE wants valuable input from its community, better options are available. It could use these polls to solicit feedback, but only use the community opinion as one of many data points in the larger discussion of the balancing. A better option would be to create a player council of jack-of-all-trades hardcore fans who know the ins and outs of every gameplay system. This group could propose changes, and if DICE were so inclined, perhaps even test them out on a private server to give real-world feedback.

DICE has been making Battlefield games for 12 years, and no matter how entrenched a player is in the game, his or her opinion cannot outweigh the expertise that comes from a team that has produced high quality competitive multiplayer games over such a long stretch of time. Creating a dialogue with a player council would offer DICE a chance to paint a picture of its past lessons learned and provide valuable data-driven insight, which could then be held up up against feedback. This transparent conversation would prove the studio is eager to embrace the opinions of the community without subjecting its game to the whims of uninformed votes.