Battlefield Hardline will be launching a year after Battlefield 4. That's surprising because DICE said a few years ago that annual sequels would "kill the franchise."
"EA would never force us to release a game every year," Battlefield 3 executive producer Patrick Bach told GamerZines (via Reddit) in 2011. "I think that would dilute the vision of the franchise, and you will eventually kill the franchise by doing that."
DICE released Battlefield 4 two years after BF3. They've managed to cut down the wait between sequels to a year now by enlisting another studio. Visceral Games of Dead Space fame is leading development for Battlefield: Hardline.
Bach said in that same interview that rotating the Battlefield series between two developers would be a very bad idea. If another studio made a Battlefield game, he said, it "wouldn't have that DICE seal of approval" and "they'd just have to release a copy of the game we just released."
“I know for sure that there aren’t any discussions about [bringing in a second developer],” he continued. “That would be the killing blow for the franchise.”
Well, this is awkward.
So, what changed since 2011? For starters, Battlefield became a huge franchise. The series traditionally had strong sales but Battlefield 3 blew away all previous releases. BF3 sold 5 million copies in its first week, twice what predecessor Bad Company 2 sold in its first month. EA declared BF3 to be the fast-selling game in EA's history. Total sales climbed to 15 million by the next summer.
EA probably had the same realization that Ubisoft had regarding Assassin's Creed a few years ago: "This series could be our Call of Duty. If we could release sequels every fall, we could ensure a steady stream of revenue. Everyone wins: us, our investors and maybe even the people buying the games."
It's not surprising that EA would come to this conclusion. After all, they manage to launch a new Madden every August to great sales. Why should the shooter market be any different?
The problem is, quality does matter. Battlefield 4 should have been a wake-up call for EA. Following huge server problems that made the game's multiplayer unplayable for many at launch, first-week sales of BF4 in the UK were 69% less than that of BF3.
EA insisted in February 2014 that they'll "continue to be able to sell [Battlefield 4] effectively throughout the next fiscal year." However, they've declined to release any actual sales data on the game. This is either because A) they're very humble people who don't like talking about their financial success or B) BF4 sold worse than its predecessor and EA doesn't want to admit that their haste to release the game on time for Xbox One and PS4's launch may have resulted in a shoddier product that stunted potential sales.
Unlike Madden, Battlefield has no exclusivity agreement to prop it up. No one else can make NFL games but everyone can (and does) make military shooters. If EA decides that quantity matters more than quality, they may find that their fans aren't as loyal as they hoped.
Battlefield: Hardline could dilute the franchise or spawn a successful spin-off series. I'm not convinced either way from the weekend beta. However, let's get something clear here: releasing a new Battlefield every fall isn't a safe bet. It sounds like an easy way to make money year-after-year but the stakes are high. By splitting Battlefield between two developers, EA is gambling with the reputation of one of their biggest, most respected franchises. Best of luck.