Battlefield Franchise Undergoes Major Shake-Up

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Electronic Arts is making major changes to its development structure as it focuses on growing and expanding the Battlefield series following what has been a challenging launch for Battlefield 2042.

The future-set military shooter launched in November and was swiftly criticized for a lack of features found in previous games and for its many bugs, some of which–including the infamous “unable to load persistence data” bug–prevented users from playing entirely. Perhaps the biggest change being announced today is EA is formally announcing the creation of a Battlefield universe that will seemingly span multiple games and offerings, which will be developed by different studios across North America and Europe.

Now Playing: Battlefield 2042 Video Review

Additionally, DICE GM Oskar Gabrielson is leaving the company to pursue a new endeavor outside of EA. The shake-up also includes Respawn’s Vince Zampella taking on a bigger role as the new overall boss of the Battlefield franchise, while Halo designer Marcus Lehto is building a new development team in Seattle focused on injecting more storytelling into the Battlefield universe. Ripple Effect, the developer of Battlefield 2042’s Portal mode, is developing a new Battlefield experience in the Battlefield 2042 universe.

In the immediate future, EA told GameSpot that DICE, Ripple Effect, and Lehto’s new Seattle studio will work together to expand upon and improve Battlefield 2042. The other Battlefield games and experiences in the works are meant to serve as extensions, to a degree, of the new Battlefield universe that EA is trying to create. There are no specifics available about the new games and experiences that EA intends to create or when they will release, as of yet.

As for Lehto, the man who designed Master Chief and played a major role in making Halo what it is today, he is heading up a new, unnamed studio in the Seattle area. It will collaborate with DICE and Ripple Effect with the aim of expanding the narrative, storytelling, and character development opportunities in the Battlefield series. There is no word yet on what this means in terms of specific products or strategies, however.

In a big shift, Battlefield 2042 did not have a single-player mode, instead opting to focus on three main multiplayer pillars: All-Out Warfare, Portal, and Hazard Zone. Lehto previously started an independent studio called V1 Interactive that made a sci-fi shooter called Disintegration. The game failed to find an audience, and V1 closed its doors. Lehto was hired by EA earlier this year, but it isn’t until today that we’re learning what he’s working on.

Byron Beede, the longtime Call of Duty veteran who EA hired earlier this year to grow the Battlefield series as the shepherd of its long-term strategy and business decisions, said Lehto and his team in Seattle will expand Battlefield 2042’s narrative across a “variety of experiences.” These will lay the foundation for “storytelling opportunities now and well into the future,” Beede teased. Whatever Lehto’s team creates, it will show up in “later seasons” for Battlefield 2042 and “beyond.”

“While he and his team in the Seattle area are just getting started on building the Battlefield world of tomorrow, their work will shape later seasons for 2042 and beyond,” Beede said. “This new studio will act as the driver for narrative in tight collaboration with DICE and Ripple Effect Studios to help build great player experiences in the Battlefield universe.”

In another big move, Battlefield 2042 Portal developer Ripple Effect will continue to support Portal while it gets to work on a “new experience” in the Battlefield 2042 universe. Ripple Effect boss Christian Grass told GameSpot that he’s unable to comment on what Ripple Effect is developing outside of Portal.

Zampella’s new position is on top of his existing managerial responsibilities at Respawn, which includes overseeing the ongoing efforts for live-service title Apex Legends and the studio’s other unannounced projects, one of which is rumored to be a sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. EA chief operating officer Laura Miele sung Zampella’s praises, saying he is the right person to lead the Battlefield franchise into the future, building off his past successes with Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and Apex Legends.

“He creates culture-defining entertainment that resonants beyond games. We are bringing one of the most influential and talented individuals in entertainment to a franchise that is ready to be unleashed into the modern era of gaming. It’s an extraordinary inflection point in game history. His ability to lead studios and bring developers together so they can create world-class experiences is unmatched,” Miele said. “I believe the structure, process, and vision he brings will enable Battlefield to excel like never before. No one knows shooters and live services better than Vince.”

Together with Beede, Miele believes the right team is in place to help the Battlefield franchise grow and thrive. Miele went on to say that EA now has people with “strong operational experience” running its studios across North America and Europe who are contributing to the newly established Battlefield universe.

Zampella said EA plans to “grow significantly” in terms of the number of developers working on the Battlefield franchise across the company, and he called on developers to have a look at EA’s open positions and consider putting in an application.

Zampella wouldn’t comment on specifics as it relates to the new types of Battlefield games that EA might develop in the future, or the cadence for when they might be released. However, he teased that Battlefield’s universe is “rich with opportunity, both from a storytelling perspective and as a universe where our teams can create innovative gameplay experiences. Truly, anything is possible.”

EA CEO Andrew Wilson has said the company may eventually develop a free-to-play Battlefield game, and while Zampella stopped short of confirming this, he said the company is “exploring every possibility” as it looks to grow Battlefield to help it reach its full potential.”

Beede said EA has devised a “long-term plan” to support Battlefield going forward, but before the company gets into specifics about where the series is headed next, the first job is to support Battlefield 2042 and expand it through its live-service offering.

“From that foundation our teams will create new experiences that expand the Battlefield universe. So I wouldn’t say there is a cadence or deadline, we need to do what is right for our players and our game,” Beede said.

Not everyone is staying on board through this transition, however, as Gabrielson, DICE’s current GM, is leaving the company at the end of the year. In a statement, Gabrielson said leaving DICE and EA entirely was among the most difficult decisions he’s had to make in his life. “It is hard to put into words my passion for our studio, our teams and the Battlefield franchise. The last decade with the team at DICE has been nothing short of amazing. From the debut of Battlefield 3, to Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefield 1, and of course the return of all-out warfare with Battlefield 2042,” Gabrielson said. “There’s just been so many great memories working with our teams. DICE has some of the best talent in the industry and the team is in great hands.”

“As a whole, we’re all-in on Battlefield. It is one of the most important and valuable franchises in the industry. Collectively, we are out to unlock its enormous potential.” — EA COO Laura Miele

Rebecka Coutaz, the former studio director at Ubisoft Annecy, is taking over for Gabrielson as GM of DICE going forward. Gabrielson is staying on with DICE and EA for the rest of the year to help Coutaz with the transition to the role of GM. Gabrielson said he’s leaving to start a “new adventure,” but it remains to be seen where he might be headed next.

Although Battlefield 2042 might not have enjoyed the strongest start as it relates to player reception, Miele tells GameSpot that Battlefield 2042 is trending in the right direction already since launch. She said players are responding positively to the changes DICE has made so far, though there remains plenty of negativity online. The newest update, which is the biggest one for Battlefield 2042 to date with more than 150 fixes, went live today, December 2.

“We are lucky we have such passionate fans, and I am confident we will continue to do everything we can to meet their expectations. We believe in 2042 as it is the cornerstone for the future as we begin work to expand the universe,” Miele said. “As a whole, we’re all-in on Battlefield. It is one of the most important and valuable franchises in the industry. Collectively, we are out to unlock its enormous potential.”

It remains to be seen what these changes mean for DICE’s other big series, Star Wars: Battlefront. The 2015 and 2017 games combined to sell 33 million copies, making them massively commercially successful, but it was recently reported that EA rejected a pitch for Battlefront 3, citing licensing costs.

EA’s new statement about being “all-in” on Battlefield suggests that no further Battlefront games are in the works at DICE, though this is not strictly confirmed.

Coutaz, as GM of DICE, will work alongside a number of veterans to define her leadership team.

What this all means for EA, DICE, and Battlefield remains to be seen. While the publisher is positioning the news as an exciting future for Battlefield, there’s no way to know at this stage just what the outcome will look like–will we get annualized Battlefield releases? A free-to-play battle royale game? Will DICE have the opportunity to work on non-Battlefield games? The announcement raises more questions than answers at this point.

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