The Battlefield franchise has been something of a fixture lately, despite not being an annual release as its main competitor, the Call of Duty franchise, is. The Battlefield brand that has been reinventing itself since the first game (Battlefield 1942) launched 14 years ago. While its chief rival has continued to expand into futuristic sci-fi settings, Battlefield has experimented with various spin-offs that take advantage of large-scale combat, including the urban Cops-vs.-Robbers theme of last year’s Battlefield Hardline and using The Force in Star Wars: Battlefront. However, few games in the franchise gained as much immediate attention as Battlefield 1 when it was first announced.
Despite having details about the game being leaked before its official announcement in May, the Battlefield 1 trailer quickly gained over 2 million likes, making it the most-liked video on YouTube for its time. Similarly, the latest trailer that shows the single-player campaign has drawn over 9 million views in two weeks, and EA continued to build momentum for the game’s launch this week by offering Origin Access and EA Access subscribers a 5-day head start, and with a series of livestreams called Road to Battlefield 1, where streamers and developers presented gameplay details and tips.
An open beta was held last month, and it drew in over 13.2 million total players, making it the biggest in EA’s history. Although open beta numbers aren’t always an indicator of potential sales, the number dethrones the record set by Star Wars Battlefront’s beta, which pulled in over 9 million players and went on to sell over 14 million copies across all platforms—even amid complaints that there wasn’t enough content at launch. An EA exec even admitted in an interview that the game lacked depth for hardcore fans. Nevertheless, Battlefield 1 is already being described by some critics as the best Battlefield game since the beloved Bad Company series, and EA expects it to sell 14 million copies within its first year.
Quite a turnaround, considering how SuperData’s Joost van Dreunen wrote last year (prior to Battlefront’s release) that the franchise was seeing sharper post-launch sale declines. Given how the game was in direct competition with massive franchises that included Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Halo 5: Guardians and Fallout 4, it had a great deal to overcome. Granted, Battlefront released when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was coming to theaters, which generated an incredible amount of promotion for the IP. Battlefield 1 won’t enjoy that benefit, but judging from the early response and how EA expects it to match or surpass Battlefront, it might not matter.
Much of the enthusiasm centers around how the game takes place in a World War I setting—an era with brutal combat that is often overlooked by video games, especially after the Call of Duty franchise revealed that its next game, Infinite Warfare was heading to the far future with outer space combat. There’s also how the game is developed by the franchise’s originators, DICE, so the hardcore audience (especially the ones that loved Battlefield 4) expect a rich experience. This was reinforced by the E3 presentation at the first ever EA Play public event, showed the three main pillars of exciting gameplay. Following the presentation with a livestreamed 64-player multiplayer match, featuring celebrities Jamie Foxx and Zack Efron alongside prominent YouTube and Twitch streamers must have also helped the game’s popularity.
However, the long-term success and growth of Battlefield will mean getting new players and continually engaging with existing fans. That means the latest game will need to extend beyond its brand recognition, developer reputation and novel setting to sustain the franchise. That’s the lesson EA learned from the release of Battlefield 4 and treating games as a service.
According to Peter Moore, EA’s executive vice president and chief competition officer, Battlefield 4 still had 9 million players fighting online in Q4 2015—two years after the game first released. At least with the Battlefield games, the era of riding a game’s popularity for a year after launch with add-on content is long past. Battlefield 1 is a first-person shooter that’s expected to retain a player base for a long time to come, with EA doing all that it can to keep the game relevant, particularly through eSports and reaching out to players through public events, similar to its strategy with Madden 17. The strength and persistence of the franchise will be told over a matter of years, not just the holiday months immediately following Battlefield 1’s launch.