Battlefield, and the importance of replay value

How many games keep you playing for years? Kevin Pocock could name one...

There’s nothing worse than feeling cheated by a game. Spending your hard earned cash only to reach the developer credits and think “please don’t tell me that’s it…” No multi-player, no end-game, no alternative play modes. Just a simple story arc which comes to an abrupt thank-you-for-playing. We’ve all been there. Yet, if there’s one good thing about the seeming lack of original gaming properties, it’s the urgent need for developers to improve and tweak their titles. This is traditionally what we see in sports games. These annual releases may be money in the bank, but without added features and addressed feedback gamers would quickly lose faith.

What’s arguably smarter is the the following: offering gamers a reason to keep on playing a franchise they enjoy without having to buy a brand new title regularly. Rewards, unlocks, upgrades and challenges for games which are otherwise out of date when the next season roles round. Do it well enough, and developers might even have players engaging with products for years on end. It’s uncharted territory for most outside of the MMORPG genre. Keeping an audience interested in a single title is almost impossible it seems. Almost, but for the lure of essential replay value, and the offerings a company like Dice is now keen to give.

To be fair, Dice has probably learned this the hard way. Back in March 2010, when Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was released, Battlefield was a half-formed version of its current Battlelog-ed self. It undoubtedly had the pedigree, and in fusing its fans’ love of big, open battles with a hint of added accessibility it managed to capture imaginations in the war against Call of Duty. Unfortunately what it didn’t really do was offer enough to keep people interested far beyond a few months. Personally, as a rank 20 something who unlocked practically everything fairly early (and not through a wealth of skill) I became bored. And when I became bored, along with many others, it was back to another game – Lord of the Rings Online for me.

Fast-forward to 2011 and although Bad Company 2: Vietnam had been released in the interim, Battlefield 3 offered a fresh start. For Dice this was more than just another addition. Jump forward to today and two years on from Battlefield 3’s release the audience for the game is huge – even in spite of some unfixed glitches and problems. Log in and it’s simply not unusual to come across players who have put hundreds of hours in.

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Neither is it unusual to come across rank 100 colonels who have unlocked every bit of equipment, every weapon, every attachment and completed every assignment. Getting players to do that on a rotation of repeated maps may speak of the dedicated nature of gamers, but it also speaks of the work done to motivate them with a good selection of rewards. Frankly it’s huge compared to most games. After all, who’s really going to replay the landscapes of Assassin’s Creed 4 more than a handful of times?

That’s an unfair comparison perhaps. But much like with many MMORPG’s, EA and DICE offered drip fed content with BF3. The players viewed it as an an investment, a just reward for their loyalty. More content would be coming, but more content meant more reason to stick around, more reason to replay maps to rank up. Or to unlock new weapons and items. And there were new visible signs of achievement in the form of dog tags.

The replay value of maps was huge even by the time the first DLC add-on was released. And for those who recently acquired BF3 in a Humble Bundle it’ll no doubt continue to be. But here’s the killer indication of replay value: I’d argue a game done well, like Battlefield 3, becomes people’s go-to game. It has been mine. For the last two years I’ve simply picked it up and played a bit. And then been okay with doing that over and over again. As it stands I’ve put 811 hours and 14 minutes in. That doesn’t look too good in text, but it’s been a bargain. It’s approximately 800 hours for around £50. That’s very roughly 6.25p per hour of game time, and simply has to be one of if not the best cost per hours of gaming to ever exist. Alternatively of course I could have gone out and bought games each with lesser replay value… and have spent hundreds more pounds.

But replay value has to be a delicate balance for players to keep coming back. Long gone are the days where replaying the same thing over and over to capture all of a game’s single collectible item is attractive. If it ever was, Sonic. Equally it’s no good having to simply play the same scenario over and over again for new incentives. The mix needs to be more considered, refined. Players deserve levels of rewards, bonuses and tokens, valued by their playing community. These should be in part delivered through new situations and in part by pure play-time. Doing so provides replay value, builds long-term interest from gamers, and can also breed loyalty. This is good news for developers, who feel they’re on the right track in giving their audience games they’ll continue to enjoy. And if the developer is smart, it’s good for the players too. Spending a relatively small amount of money allows them to play for months and even years to come, without ever feeling they’ve been undersold.

A recent thread on a gaming forum posed the question “Games with high replay value?”. And to be honest the responses were mostly as you might expect. Sports games featured highly, because of course the experiences change somewhat every time (even if the rewards do not). Adventure games were also in the replies, as were racers. But for me, the one person who said ‘Battlefield’ was probably closer to the mark. Especially when the latest incarnation is looking to offer 900 rewards. That’s not bad at all; it indicates more replay value than even the current release could muster. And genuinely that’s no small feat.

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