Battlefield 3 screenshot
Battlefield 3 screenshot

They say that war never changes. But over the course of the last nine months, Battlefield 3's online warfare has. It's changed for the better - the various updates, tweaks and bonus content have helping to make it the game it arguably should have been back in October 2011 - but it's also changed for the worse.

Player-controlled private servers are now an everyday occurrence of Battlefield 3's multiplayer. It's growing increasingly rarer to find one of DICE's official servers; the highly sought after gateways where matches and game rules are governed in the way the developer originally intended. Instead - and in a first for a console shooter - console players are being given the opportunity to buy their own server, create their own games, make their own rules, and play how they want to play. Not a bad thing, you might think.

But by selling out servers to the highest bidder, EA has changed the rules of engagement. Server lists are dominated by 300% ticket modifiers or weapon-specific matches, with join messages ranging from the friendly - "Have fun, guys!" - to the downright ugly. One server I joined called me a 'mongoloid'. Another told me not to be a 'C-Unit'. If you're just getting started with Battlefield 3, witnessing such messages on your entrance into the universe certainly wouldn't be seen as particularly inviting.

Offensive join messages are just a minor concern, of course. After all, online rivalries, cuss words and 'Your Mum' jokes are as much a part of the competitive multiplayer shooter scene as the +100XP screen prompts, spawn killers, and no-scopers. But by giving so much control back to its fans, DICE has made playing Battlefield 3 a somewhat more arduous process, letting paying customers set the game rules, and providing very little options to those looking for a 'normal' game of Battlefield.

It's an interesting, and somewhat perplexing move for EA. While DICE attempts to pave the way for the future with the game's raw technical capabilities (EA admitted last month that its Frostbite 2 engine was developed with next-gen consoles in mind), it's simultaneously dragging online gaming back to the late 90s.

bf3 only one shot sniper -

Let's turn back the clock to the turn of the decade, when Call of Duty was just a glimmer in Vince Zampella's eye, and when cable broadband was making baby steps into the consumer marketplace. The advent of games like Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament and - later - Battlefield 1942 shot online multiplayer gaming into the limelight, turning pioneering developers' attention away from the single-player experience, and onto the possibility of what a multiplayer-focussed boxed product could provide.

Each game, though, had one thing in common: privately-owned server lists, a staple of PC multiplayer games that allowed players to host their own servers, develop their own game rules and run their own private games. We all had our favourites. Particular servers were often a hive of creativity, and others so frequently dens of intimidation: Their L337-speak-laden names and (often) foul-mouthed join messages highlighting an area of the industry that was still relatively juvenile and reserved only for the elite.

For the sake of explaining the process to our younger readers, joining a multiplayer game back then involved scrolling through a list of servers, finding one you liked the look of, and hoping you were able to join before your mum interrupted the connection by picking up the phone. And even if you did manage to get through, there was always a chance that you'd be kicked out of the game if the host didn't like you.

But while PC games continue to take advantage of self-hosted multiplayer even today, the birth of Xbox Live took console multiplayer gaming down a separate route. In 2004, Halo 2's matchmaking infrastructure breakthrough provided a shot in the arm to console multiplayer shooting. Now a player could jump into matches far better suited to their skill level; the architecture of Xbox Live and Bungie's complex online algorithms bolstering accessibility and ease of use in an environment previously dominated by unnecessary complications.

Matchmaking became the must-have tool for online console games, implemented into genres across the board and providing options for streamlined playlists, where players could quickly and easily jump in and out of particular game types relatively freely. If you've played an online console game in the last few years, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Battlefield 3 includes such a feature - albeit one that didn't work on release. But rather than concentrate on that, DICE instead decided to revert to an antiquated 'Server Browse' system for its latest. Indeed, such a system has its advantages: EA and DICE community managers regularly publish details via social media highlighting which servers players can jump on to play with the developers, or other industry figures.

But it's a particularly odd decision when you consider the actions of the competition. Indeed, off the top of my head, this is the first time I've seen such a feature in a current-gen shooter, particularly on Xbox Live, where server lists and public game customisation are usually kept as far away from the end user as possible.

bf3 server list -

Take Activision, for example. While the publisher continues to lead Call of Duty into professional gaming territory, where game rules are so tightly defined and cheaters are banned from re-entering the universe, EA appears to be doing the opposite. It's letting paying customers tear up the rule book, create their own play styles and game-changing modifiers. Indeed, it's now near impossible to find a normal, balanced game of Rush, a mode that has suffered particularly badly from the abuse of game modifiers. I've played games where attackers have started with 5x as many tickets as the original rules allow, almost guaranteeing them the win. Where's the fun in that?

Self-policing has also changed the way in which players can approach the game. No longer can you select Quick Match and hope to find a game suited to your load-out or skillset; the obscure obsession with sniper and pistol-only matches running rife across the online universe. You also run the risk of being kicked out of a game simply for being good - a distressingly regular occurrence that threatens to turn away devoted, skilled players.

It's the kind of thing that would give Kotick and co. sleepless nights. Players casting aside the thousands of man hours and intricate balancing tweaks to run riot in their own unbalanced mess? Whatever next...? But it's precisely the reason why I moved away from PC gaming and onto console multiplayer gaming in the first place, where power, policing and rule sets are generally under the control of the developer, and not a twelve-year old looking for a cheap way of levelling up faster than his mates.

Of course, if this was a bonus, rather than a replacement, this wouldn't have been a problem. In fact, I think a publisher or developer prepared to let its players alter the playbook is something that should be encouraged. It's something Bungie has been particularly praised for with Halo's Forge functionality, for example.

But there's a far graver knock on effect here. By giving control of the servers over to paying consumers, EA/DICE (it's difficult to determine exactly which party is to blame here) has also minimised the number of official servers on offer, and thus diminished the chance for players to find a regular Battlefield 3 match.

EA originally claimed that DICE was not shutting down servers, saying that "if DICE-managed servers appear unavailable, it is because they have been rented and customised by players". EA isn't stupid enough to realise that that's missing the point somewhat. But why is it so determined to pull the wool over people's eyes?

"Custom servers have always been extremely popular with Battlefield PC players," it continued, adding that response to their inclusion in the console game had been "overwhelmingly positive". Ironically, it even calls the inclusion of a server list a "new innovation", despite being a strategy as old as online gaming itself.

From what I can gauge from reactions posted online, I'd disagree that fans seem "positive" about EA's decision. And while it's fair to base your online experience around consumer-hosted servers on PC, the expectations, needs and demands of a console audience are considerably different - especially once you start factoring in the additional costs involved.

After all, what is my Online Pass paying for if the only games available are those funded by other members of the community? And by extension, what is my Xbox Live fee going towards? That, perhaps, is a discussion for another time.

bf3 noobs -

What's worse is that a significant portion of official servers left available appear to only be accessible to owners of Battlefield Premium, EA's new elite club entitling paying customers to all of BF3's upcoming DLC. And of the non-Premium servers available, of which there are now relatively few, Premium members still have priority access to them over regular consumers. It's monetisation gone mental, and coming from a studio that once pledged it would never charge for Battlefield maps, a significant blow to consumer confidence.

Indeed, from a business point of view - and remember, that's ultimately the view EA is likely to be considering such things from - the only real justification I can see for the inclusion of server lists is to provide another avenue for monetisation, and wring more cash out of consumers eager to host their own games.

The irony here, of course, is that EA's decision to monetise its system has led to my decision (and I expect many others) not to pay the £40 asking price required for Battlefield Premium. In the state that Battlefield 3 is currently in, where game rules are twisted, and the balancing is worse than a fat man on a tight rope, I'm not convinced that I'll have the patience to continue playing the game for another 12 months, as the publisher hopes I will.

And while Battlefield 3's server lists may draw memories of multiplayer gaming from yesteryear, it also highlights the industry's new-found obsession of squeezing consumers wallets dry - and a role of the DICE that may prove to be one too many.

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User Comments

Batmamerc's Avatar

Batmamerc@ altaranga

same here I was so excited for gettin BF3 on launch and paid £50 for the ltd edition, my problems started when the codes for the extra content didn't work and then problems struggling to find servers, as soon as I finally got into a game the server crashed, 3 months later I finally got replacement codes so went bk to it for a few days but then I got dead island which took over my life, it's on my shelf saying come bk you've got free map packs you paid an extra £10 for, not only have the issues experienced with BF3 kept me from going bk but I hav now lost interest in CoD n I used to love them. Been goverened by Someone who only wants every game to be sniper ghost warrior or kick me out cos I'm owning the scoreboard or the other way and holding on to last place isn't a gaming community I want to be involved in. I prefer single player gaming always have and always will simply because of the narrow minded idiots who think this Is a real war and wen I get bored n start spinning in circles shooting rockets into the sky they start calling me gay yeah it is childish but I'm there to hav fun but they equally call me the same wen I've just got a 12 kill streak or come at top of the list there is no pleasing these ppl.
Posted 09:39 on 05 July 2012
Clockpunk's Avatar


I wonder how much these moves will cannibalize sales of forthcoming titles in the franchise, seeing as how this is just the opening stages of the whole 'game as a platform unto itself' approach EA opened their E3 presentation with.
Posted 20:51 on 04 July 2012
VG_Dave's Avatar

VG_Dave@ RedAce9000

As much as a compliment from being kicked for being good may seem, it still saps the game's enjoyment. I don't think anyone could honestly say that they would be happy to be booted from a game for no other reason than they were winning.

Also, I'm not entirely sure that I agree with your theory that any money EA gathers from server rentals and Premium is put towards further development of Battlefield 3. I have no evidence to prove otherwise, of course, but I'd imagine there was already a budget set during the game's initial development allocated to developing DLC and support ongoing maintenance. Sure, that would have been set with overall revenue estimates in mind - and as such most likely include revenue from Premium - but I would expect any cash gathered now is being put towards investment payouts and future games rather than Battlefield 3 directly.

You're entirely right when you say "if you don't like a server, don't play on it," but that's also my argument entirely. This mentality of having to find a good server to play on has never been a part of playing an online console shooter before, at least not one that I've played this generation. I shouldn't need to have to browse forums to find servers on which I can play the game in the way it was designed to be played. These are very real issues that I don't think should be ignored.

Ultimately, I guess (and this is entirely my personal opinion, of course), I don't enjoy Battlefield 3 as much now as I did during the game's launch period because of changes made to the game's structure. And when you're aiming for as much longevity as EA and DICE obviously are, that's clearly a problem.
Posted 20:30 on 04 July 2012
winst0n's Avatar


I think my PC roots stop me from being able to agree with this, I absolutely hate with a passion not being able to choose a server and being forced through some hand holding ball ache of a 'matchmaking system'. It drives me crazy. I played some COD a bit back, MW2, and was constantly let down and frustrated by their dire matchmaking system, it left me slamming my keyboard and crying out to be able to double click a server name, or enter an IP address into a box. Matchmaking systems are a massive step backwards, as is anything that tries to wrestle control from the player and keep it with the developers.

You've oddly dropped in a few PC classics in your opening paragraphs, but missed out the one game that defined online multilayer FPS gaming and single handily created the idea of 'eSports', counterstrike. CS has always used a 'server browser' system, giving admins control over server set up. It didn't hinder CS's ability to become a game played by professionals, so I'm not sure why you would suggest it could harm battlefields. Anyone wanting to play the game at a high level would set up the server in line with a major competitions rule set, something which you wouldn't be able to do should people not be able to rent servers. It gives the eSport world the ability to alter settings and come up with the most balanced environment for competitive play - set your server up in a way that makes it 'easier' and you might own on that one particular server, but what's the point of that?

I guess it's just a platform and background thing, but I love server lists, custom servers and the ability to rent/host. Anything else seems like I'm stepping down from my PC pedestal into the murky world of control pads and FPS games. Something that should never, ever, be mixed. I've never come across one of these 'snipers & pistols' only servers though, must be a console thing.

EA isn't taking multiplayer gaming back to the 90's, they are taking it 'back' to how it should be. Choice, freedom and the ability to play the game however you want to.
Posted 18:03 on 04 July 2012
FantasyMeister's Avatar


EA Service Updates - the complete list reads like a perverse hit list for someone with a community destroying fetish.

Personally I didn't buy Battlefield 3 because of it, nor will I buy any EA title specifically for online gameplay until they change their ways. They way they run their online services so badly comes a close second compared to how long they run them for, in my opinion.
Posted 17:52 on 04 July 2012
RedAce9000's Avatar


I don't think this is right, the only "rule-twisting" there is are the amount of tickets you're game has, unless your playing in a "Custom Server" where you play just to have fun, and sure, some servers have so-called "rules" where you can only use such and such weapons, but most of the time people don't even listen and go their own way. Another thing, it may look like their are no more DICE servers, but there are tonnes of other servers that people make the rules out to be exactly like a normal DICE server, and they are not even that hard to find, on the Battlelog they have a forum page dedicated to finding these normal servers. Weapon Balance, however has been so far good, yet in need of improvements, like the Mortar, its basically useless now, while most Assault guns are balanced enough that a new player can get the hang of it after a few rounds, sniper rifles are good as they are, and it takes a lot of skill to get some consistency with kills, LMG's are great for providing suppressive fire and covering teammates, while SMG's and PDW's are great in close quarter engagements. Honestly, I've had plenty of fun with this game, and I'm not even a Premium member, and the money they get from the server rentals and Premium subs go towards further development of the game, which I'm all for. So tell me, what is the real reason for all this hate on renting servers, do you get kicked often? I certainly would understand that, as I've been kicked from plenty of servers, personally I take it as a complement though, its their way of telling me I'm too good and the only way they can win is by kicking me out, but anyways, rented servers are perfectly fine, you just gotta find the ones that you like, thus why the Server Browser is such an important addition. Well, that is my counter-rant towards you're article, if you don't like a server, don't play on it, if you don't like the fact that DICE doesn't really have many servers available, look on the Battlelog forums for servers, don't like how one gun performs, use another one instead, or here is another idea, rent your own server for 90 days, and make the rules to suit your needs, then label it "exactly like a real DICE server" and watch the players come in and populate the server. Okay, I am done now.
Posted 17:47 on 04 July 2012
squidman's Avatar


But I like PC gaming :(
Posted 16:04 on 04 July 2012
CheekyLee's Avatar


Battlefield Premium: Charging extra so that people can get priority access to the servers that people are paying extra for, having already charged them in order to play the game in the first place. There is a HUGE argument to just make Battlefield 3 into an F2P game by now, except EA are literally milking the stupid yet said stupids are STILL paying!
Posted 15:57 on 04 July 2012
altaranga's Avatar


I agree with literally everything you have written here. This is exactly the reason I haven't forked out on BF3 Premium, and why I have completely stopped playing BF3. If I were given a BF3P code I might play it a bit, but my love for the game has gone.
Posted 15:52 on 04 July 2012
dazzadavie's Avatar


I will read these tonight but I loved the screenshots
Posted 15:39 on 04 July 2012

Game Stats

Release Date: 28/10/2011
Developer: D.I.C.E
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 13,314 38
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