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I had a chance to talk with Battlefield 3's executive producer, Patrick Bach. He was a pleasure to speak with, refreshingly frank about the game's development process, the challenges faced in making an ambitious multiplayer game like Battlefield 3, and even the technical difficulties they were having with the PC version that day. We talked for a while about the public reaction to the beta, which has been mixed.
Kotaku: So, how has it been, hearing some of the negative feedback from the Beta?
Patrick Bach: The only thing we can do is tell people that: "These are the things we have fixed since the beta." And also based on the feedback from the beta. But other than that… you need to let people play it. The problem with having a beta is that you hand out a product that is not done. Deliberately. You do it because you want to get feedback on not only what the players think, but also on how things are holding up, what can we read from the network traffic, how is everything holding up, how are all of the systems that are brand new holding up. You could argue that maybe we shouldn't do a beta."
It's a double-edged sword.
If we don't do [a beta], then we might have problems day one. So the only way to ensure that we have less problems day one is to have a beta. But if you have a beta (laughs) people will hate you, and think that you're stupid.
We get complaints like, "How can you guys miss obvious things like A, B, and C?" And we didn't miss it. We just weren't done with it. But we had to get it out so that we get results back, so we can fix it. The lead time when you do a beta is actually pretty long. You need to go through certification on consoles, and do a lot of things before you get it out. And since you want to get it out on all three platforms at the same time to avoid further whining… (chuckles)… it takes as long as the longest platform certification time.
"This was a real beta, and I don't think people are used to it. They get the product, and they think, "you have to entertain me," because it's an entertainment product."
How long is that?
Around a month and a half. Which means that when we're done with that beta, we say "Okay, this is it. Now let's go back and finish the game." When we got to the point [six weeks later] that we actually released the beta, the game was in completely different shape. We couldn't really tell people because then we'd have to go through the process again.
It sounds like certification hobbles the beta process somewhat.
What's a way to make that better in the future?
One way of fixing the problem is… don't make betas. At least not open betas. Because often when you see betas, sometimes they are actually demos. But they call it a beta, to sound cool. This was a real beta, and I don't think people are used to it. They get the product, and they think, "you have to entertain me," because it's an entertainment product.
And it's like, "Well, it's a broken entertainment product, because we want your feedback." And they say, "Well, I understand that, but it's not polished enough!" And we say, "Well, that's exactly what we're talking about!"
So the challenge is: listen, but don't overreact. Understand that people are disappointed, but that you have to do it.
Or, don't do it. Don't make a beta. At least not an open one.
And just do closed testing.
But that's hard as well. We had an alpha as well, that was much worse.
Did any of that leak to the public?
Yes, it always does. And people complain about that as well, but it wasn't as many people. It wasn't such a big hassle. Now, it's a big thing, people make videos of it and we say, "yeah, thank you; we know, we know."
And what you're playing today [at this media event], except for the stability issues, the game doesn't have those issues anymore. It should be more or less 99% mitigated.
Yeah, other than the stability it runs fine. I'm not seeing too many in-game bugs.
But then of course, we do have those stability issues. And other frustrations.
Right, seems like there's always going to be some problem or another. So after it launches, you'll be looking at those things and updating the game?
Absolutely. Patching of this game and updating, if it's Battlelog or the core game, that's a big, long-term engagement. We really want to stay in the game post-launch. From an economic standpoint, that's not the cleverest thing to do, but that's not why we make games. We want to make games that we can be proud of, and releasing a game of this magnitude; it's quite a big game.
We know that we won't hit 100% at launch. We won't be able to say "It's perfect." Better to release it than to wait another year. Release it, and make sure we follow up on it. We've been shipping so many Battlefield games that we know that people will keep playing it. If it's good enough, they'll keep playing it.
I still play Bad Company 2.
But it wasn't great on day one. People hated it on day one. It was a complete disaster, according to the forums, it was the crappiest game ever. And then we patched it and fixed some issues. And now it's like some people think it was perfect from day one. It was the best game ever! Why can't Battlefield 3 be perfect from day one. But I mean [Battlefield 3 ] is much better today day one than Bad Company 2 was day one.
What did you think of the reaction to the beta for Bad Company 2? Was that beta feedback the same?
It was the same, just smaller. "It was the worst game ever." So we're used to it, but now it's blown out of proportion because there I think six times the amount of people playing the beta as we had in Bad Company and it's the same problems. They say the same things, "You're stupid," "We hate you,"
And we're like… "Sorry!