The Battlefield 3 Phenomenon

Battlefield 3 Screenshot - 867031

Every long-running game series has fans, and those fans want their game to be successful. The upcoming Battlefield 3 has fans too, but more prominent are the taste-makers—journalists, critics, twitter-folk, and born-again Battlefielders—that don't just want the game to succeed, they want it to win. The conflict between Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 is the 90s schoolyard console-war of the modern age. What is it that's ignited this fire in the community?

The answer is a culmination of events. For one, MW3 is already the fifth iteration of a formula that started with the original Modern Warfare in 2007. Weapons, abilities, and the way you unlock them have been improved, mixed around, and occasionally made worse, in a way reminiscent of the yearly updates of sports games. With millions upon millions of people playing, it's only natural that some are starting to want something new.

I've experienced this first-hand in the last few months. I've always been more of a Halo die-hard, so I didn't carry much allegiance for either series. In fact, until Bad Company 2, I never had much fun with Battlefield. If I were going to play any modern warfare shooter, it was going to be Modern Warfare. BC2 changed everything with its immersive warzone and focus on teamwork. When that game launched I fell in love, but I didn't have anyone to play with. Fast-forward to today, and I've converted a solid group of friends from tenth-prestige Duty-heads to an M-COMM-capping bad company.

These aren't the kinds of fans you'd expect to jump ship so easily. In speaking with them, it was clear they saw Bad Company 2 as an upgrade. The large-scale conflicts, destructibility, bullet physics, vehicles, and focus on teamwork were all things that Call of Duty lacked. For them, they wanted something with a bit more depth, they just didn't know it existed.

While Battlefield 1942 was a landmark in PC multiplayer shooters, and Battlefield 2 wowed players at the time, the series had fallen into a niche over the years. Meanwhile, Call of Duty had a steady rise in success with each iteration, scooping up not only millions of fans, but the mind-share of the entire game industry. Bad Company 2 was a surprise hit, but it was also a quiet one. Despite the game selling over 9 million copies since release, it was little more than a prelude to the marketing juggernaut that EA has crafted with Battlefield 3.

BF3, just like Modern Warfare 3, is an iteration on the series' formula, but that formula is refreshing for today's console-oriented online population. It's not even that Battlefield is better than Call of Duty, so much as Battlefield offers a more authentic experience. Getting a killstreak in Call of Duty is amazingly fun, but you better believe that many of the same guys that haven't played a video game outside of CoD will be calling Battlefield 3 the “real” war game to play.

With some online gamers already converted via Bad Company 2 and marketing hype, the game has a built-in following. However, it's been the excitement generated by press coverage that's really ignited the rivalry between the two titles. What stake do we writers and enthusiasts have in the success of Battlefield 3?

To answer that, you have to pull back and look at which each game represents. It's reductive, but Modern Warfare 3 is the rehash that's inexplicably more successful every year. It's the workhorse of Activision, a company that has more or less become evil incarnate. For those that cover the industry, Call of Duty seems to represent everything that is wrong with game development.

On the flip side, you have Battlefield 3. This is a game that rewards teamwork and tactics over pure skill. It revels in deliberate gameplay elements, like lumbering tanks and bullet gravity, rather than the instant gratification of a sprinting dual-shotgun multikill. It looks beautiful. Most of all, EA/DICE have called Activision to the playground after school, throwing out “newsworthy” digs at their competitor. When DICE's General Manager, Karl-Magnus Troedsson, announced their Call of Duty Elite-esque Battlelog service would be completely free, you couldn't smack the smile off of his face. They're loving the direct rivalry, we love reporting it, and you seem to love reading it.

The bottom line is that a large swath of the gaming community wants something new on top, or at least something to shake Call of Duty's yearly grind. Some suggest the series is too far down the e-sports rabbit hole to drastically change, but if that's the case, this Battlefield 3 phenomenon only makes more sense. There's comfort in familiarity, but only for so long. Battlefield 3 doesn't represent a drastic departure from Call of Duty, but that might be exactly what makes it such an appealing rival.

Is there any chance for Battlefield 3 to top Modern Warfare 3? Maybe not on day one, maybe not until the next iteration. Either way the online shooter community will be shaken up this fall, and I for one can't wait to see the results.

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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