Battlefield Heroes, the completely free online-only shooter from DICE, is in many ways a landmark release. Described as a "web project", Heroes hopes to break even through advertising on its website and in-game micro transactions only. blasted its way through the game journalist horde at EA Games' recent showcase event in London to get the lowdown from DICE's executive producer Ben Cousins. You've described Battlefield Heroes as a web project rather than a video game. Are you trying to get a different message across?

Ben Cousins: No, I just think it's really interesting that we've focused the team on creating a really good website. What we've found from studies on Battlefield 2 is that gamers actually spend 50% of their time in the menus of that game and the Battlefield 2 and 2142 stats pages are the most visited pages in the whole of EA. So we know that our players, while they view it as a game that they play and they remember being in the game world, they have a lot of fun outside of the game, twiddling with things, finding games, checking their character's stats and maybe chatting to people.

So we've worked really hard with Heroes creating this website which is like, we own it, it's fully featured, it's got loads of community features and what's great about it is you're maybe playing the game at home on your home PC but maybe you're at work and you just check your character stats, what my friend's been up to, we really want to create that sense of the addictive web side of it being just as entertaining. You're on the forums, you know you're talking about strategy and it's all one unified experience. Heroes is a free game and you mentioned some of the items you'll be able to buy with real money. Is that going to fund the project entirely?

BC: The other way is advertising. So we have advertising on the website and we also have advertising in our game's menus as well. The menus look a little bit like websites so we think that people will accept the advertising there. There's no advertising in our game world itself though. Because we've got this cartoony fictional world we didn't think it would fit to have modern brands on posters or billboards. Is Heroes a trial, to see if this business model can work for future projects?

BC: Yeah. DICE are always experimental with online. We were the first people with 64-player in the maps. We've always had a web team which updates the game and adds maps. So we always want to be on the cutting edge of online. DICE are seen within EA as being experimenters. I'm sure people within EA are going to be watching Heroes to see if it's a success and then maybe we'll see other games use that business model. What kind of audience is Heroes going for, the hardcore shooter fan or something completely different?

BC: I think the hardcore shooter fans will be there anyway. They'll at least try it. It's 250 MEGS, it'll run on their PCs of course because they'll have pretty high end PCs, and we really hope that they get in and really drive the early adoption of the game. The main in terms of numbers part of the audience will probably be younger men between the ages of 10 and 15 years old. Maybe they haven't yet got a high end console, maybe their brother's got an Xbox and they don't get to play on it too much, and they've got a laptop or a desktop that they do their homework on. They like to hang out with their friends after school online, maybe they're in Club Penguin or Habo Hotel, but they've grown out of that and they want to get into an action game.

But there's also the older guys in their late 20s and 30s who maybe they're returning to gaming, they haven't got much time, they've got kids and a job and they just want to have something that they can sit down and, maybe they remember Battlefield from years back and they want to get back into it. So there's a possibility for quite a broad audience. I guess that ties in with the game not being as hardcore a shooter as some others.

BC: Absolutely. We want to make it easy to get into and accessible but we've also got loads of depth there. The addition of the special abilities adds loads of depth to the game and it actually feels like the deepest Battlefield game we've made. Once you get into it, once you've levelled up your character a bit and unlocked these abilities you play it almost like an MMO. It's really interesting. What do you say to those who say Heroes' art style has been lifted from Team Fortress 2?

BC: Well those guys aren't artists. If you asked our art director he would point out probably 200 differences in the art style between our game and Team Fortress. There's only two cartoony shooters out there and those are the two. If there were 50 cartoony shooters out there we wouldn't be having this discussion. No one says that Battlefield: Bad Company's ripping off Call of Duty because it's realistic.

We developed our art style in January 2007. At that point there were very little images out there from Team Fortress. As more details about Team Fortress came out we said well there's a similarity here because we're both cartoony, shall we change and go realistic again? But no we decided we wanted to keep going. The alternative would have been another gritty, realistic WW2 game and everyone's fed up with those. We really believe in our style and we're just going to go ahead and do it. Heroes is a PC only title. Could it ever come to XBL or PSN?

BC: There's lots of interest about us doing that. People mention it all the time. We really want to focus on the PC at the moment. The great thing about the PC for us is we can control the website, we can control all of the transactions, all of the advertising; we can tailor the service. If we went on 360 we would have to go through the MS process. Every time we added new content it would have to go through all of the MS vetting processes, it would go through their billing system. We really want to control this. There's a small group of guys at the DICE studio in Stockholm and they run it like a start up. They're just Heroes totally focused. So we really like the freedom the PC gives us to control the whole experience. But is it possible?

BC: It's possible. We could port the engine and do it I just don't know what we would gain from it. Everyone who has got a 360 or PS3 will also have a PC that can run this game. It's got incredibly low system specs. So if they want to play it they can just play it on their PC. So you feel you wouldn't get any additional sales from a 360 or PS3 version?

BC: No, no. I don't think so. We want to try and get people back on their PCs playing games really. That's something I wanted to ask you about actually, the whole PC gaming is dead debate. You would suggest not then I guess?

BC: Absolutely not. Not only is there a completely new market who are playing the flash games, that kind of thing, but then we're starting to have these games like Heroes which are slightly more like a real full game on the PC. And also the high-end PC games market is doing well. If you look only at the American figures for only specific games maybe it looks disappointing, but if you look at the whole global market it's doing really well and EA are going to continue to make PC games, absolutely. Especially the EA Games label, we're really committed to PC.

Battlefield Heroes will be available to download to PC this summer.