The clash between EA and Activision for the prime shooter of the holiday season returns in 2018, pitting Battlefield V against Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII. However, the traditional conflict has been upset by the success of PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds and Fortnite, ushering in a new era where Battle Royale dominates the multiplayer market. Furthermore, with Black Ops IIII, Treyarch has opted to forego a traditional single-player campaign. While DOOM Eternal and Wolfenstein: Youngblood will fly the single-player shooter flag in 2019, Battlefield V, for now, is the only AAA FPS with a dedicated campaign set to release across the remainder of 2018, and EA is failing to capitalise on that marketing opportunity.
Wisely, EA and DICE have positioned Battlefield V as something distinct from its primary competition. A Battle Royale mode was promised at E3, but the game’s advertising has led with the epic Grand Operations mode—whereas Black Ops IIII has lionised Blackout as its key new feature. By virtue of focusing on attempted innovation rather than a tendency to ape emerging and existing trends, Battlefield V offers a unique value proposition. The series’s primary audience is the multiplayer market, so the advertising strategy has been targeted in that direction, yet has still overlooked the game’s unique selling point this holiday season.
The competition has abandoned traditional narratives, leaving Battlefield V as the only late 2018 FPS promising an engaging story. New World Interactive cancelled its plans for an ambitious campaign for Insurgency: Sandstorm early this year, while the Specialists Missions that replace Black Ops IIII’s story mode are intended to provide some background lore to the events occurring between the previous two entries of the subseries. As interesting as this latter approach may be, without clearly defined characters or even time frames, these disparate missions seem poor consolation for the lack of an engaging central narrative, particularly as they have been described as primers for multiplayer. In contrast, by following the segmented ‘War Stories’ structure found in Battlefield 1, DICE aims to tell heretofore untold, human stories from both the primary theatres of World War II and the occupied home fronts. Thus far, only one of those tales has been revealed—called ‘Nordlys’ and focusing on a Norwegian freedom fighter—but, even of that story, few real details have been forthcoming.
Two massive promotion opportunities for the campaign in the initial unveiling and E3 have already been squandered. Worse still, during the EA Play conference, DICE promised a single-player reveal to come during Microsoft’s E3 press conference, the entirety of which was a detail-light one-minute-long trailer. The publisher has said that more information will be unveiled as the release date draws nearer, but that may be too little, too late. By taking this approach, EA seems to be hoping solo players will default to Battlefield V in the absence of any other big-name single-player shooters. If so, the publisher is displaying a dangerous amount of hubris. Given the plethora of narrative-focused games launching across September and October—Valkyria Chronicles 4, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, to name only a few—solo players are spoiled for choice. None of these titles are of a kind with Battlefield, but several are close enough to make suitable alternatives.
The series’s history is another factor suggesting the folly of the apparent assumption that players will gravitate to the game simply because it features a campaign and its primary competition does not. Battlefield 1’s ‘War Stories’ were well-received. Otherwise, with the exception of the Bad Company subseries, franchise campaigns have typically been excoriated for being uninteresting and banal. Even Iden Versio’s tale in last year’s Star Wars: Battlefront II and Faith’s narrative in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst were widely regarded as mundane. The developer is yet to definitively prove that it has the storytelling skills to provide a compelling campaign, which is sure to leave gamers wary. Such doubts may not be entirely set aside by a marketing campaign tailored to the stories set to be told, but that approach would display a confidence in the quality of the narratives that, at present, seems lacking. Thus far, EA has provided only cursory glimpses of the story, and that, simply, is not enough to convince single-player gamers that Battlefield V will be worth their time and money.
Of course, suggesting that the teams responsible for advertising the game should fundamentally rethink their current strategy is ridiculous. The multiplayer market has, for a long time, driven the sales of first-person shooters, and Battlefield V will be no exception to that rule. However, the title this year enters the enviable position of having no direct competition for its single-player offering, and the failure to take advantage of that may well be to EA’s detriment.