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Electronic Arts Hit Hard by Battlefield 4 Disaster

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Battlefield 4 from Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA  ) recently launched alongside the newest edition of the Call of Duty franchise from Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) , providing gamers with an alternative to the best-selling series. EA's Battlefield was in a prime position to steal away sales from Call of Duty, as the latter's annual releases had become repetitive, thus dealing a big blow to one of Activision's biggest cash cows.

But Battlefield 4 has had technical problems so severe that EA's studio DICE has suspended all other projects in order to fix them. Meanwhile, some shareholders have filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that EA's management knew of the technical problems but released the game anyways, selling shares before the game's launch. A PR nightmare on multiple fronts, EA may have let a golden opportunity slip between its fingers.

Serious problems
For some, Battlefield 4 was essentially unplayable at launch. The game often crashed, wiping out progress in the single-player campaign, and online multi-player, the main feature of the game, was unstable at best. Patches have been released, fixing some of the problems, but the studio behind the game was forced to suspend all other development, including Battlefield 4 expansion packs and the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront, in order to deal with the game's problems.

This isn't the first time EA has bungled the launch of a game. Electronic Arts released a new version of SimCity back in March, but the game was unplayable for days due to server issues, and it took weeks for the team to iron out the major bugs. The Battlefield situation is even worse, with problems persisting two months after launch.

Insider trading allegations
A class action lawsuit alleges that executives at EA knowingly over-promised on Battlefield 4, and that the vast technical problems were known to the company prior to launch. Optimistic guidance issued before the launch led EA's shares to climb above $28, allowing some executives at the company to sell at inflated prices. The stock has fallen significantly since then.

Proving that executives knew of the problems will be difficult, if not impossible. Given the scope of the problems, it's likely that someone knew about them, but management may have been detached enough from the process to be unaware of the impending disaster. It is therefore unlikely that this lawsuit amounts to much of anything.

The real consequence for EA
Battlefield 4 was supposed to be EA's answer to Activision's Call of Duty series, but the game's launch issues will likely have long-lasting negative effects on the Battlefield series. Call of Duty: Ghosts had a silky smooth launch compared to Battlefield 4, and gamers are always going to choose the game that actually let's them play. There's nothing more frustrating than spending $60 on a product that doesn't work.

With the Call of Duty series relying on the same basic formula every year, the Battlefield series had a real opportunity to take away market share from Activision. But with the game non-functional for many two months after launch, EA has blown that opportunity. And when the next installment of the Battlefield series is eventually released, gamers will not forget this fiasco.

These issues are certainly not helping with EA's image. The company was voted the worst company in America by readers of The Consumerist earlier this year, beating out big banks for the honor, and the Battlefield 4 issues only add to the myriad of complaints levied against the company. From releasing day-one downloadable content for Mass Effect 3 to forcing SimCity players to be online in order to play, EA has not been good at making its customers happy. That's not a good long-term strategy.

The bottom line
Electronic Arts has proven twice this year that it can't launch a game with a major online component without subjecting gamers to frustrating technical problems. SimCity was bad, but the situation with Battlefield 4 is far worse, causing delays of future games and tarnishing the Battlefield brand. Electronic Arts has let a golden opportunity slip away.

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Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 22, 2013, at 6:35 PM, Ebby720 wrote:

    Corrupted save and also a restart of an update while just making it through to what would have been the next save point.....not to mention same old plots, same old fighting, same old sounds etc when you get hit....nothing new....don't play multiplayer so I can't comment.....COD had better plot and didn't have bugs....but still sick of both....COD the kids play multiplayer and that even sucks.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2013, at 2:05 AM, speculawyer wrote:

    Between SimCity, Battlefield 4, and NBA Live 14 . . . EA has definitely damaged their brand.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2013, at 12:48 AM, whitenoise25 wrote:

    As a fan of the series I did notice that it was a bit of a crashy start but what doesn't come up in the above story is that we're dealing with some pretty exotic tech here. They've introduced weather massive destructibility on a 9/11 scale. They've modeled water and further improved their real-time light modeling. They've done all of this while enhancing the core game play that made the franchise so popular in the first place. This game is so addictive. And the speed at which they are patching from the PC side the game is already more stable that it's predecessor. So the product is very good. In a year the game will likely have rock solid stability and there wont be a first person shooter of similar quality coming out in the near future. . If anything the game was rushed onto 5 platforms and with ambitions so high there are bound to be bugs. But bugs get fixed and go away. The fun that people are going to have on their computers and consoles is going to grow and grow. Sit tight folks the Battlefield isn't done with gamers and vice versa.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 10:15 AM, Baen2810 wrote:

    In fact, by now bf4 is fairly stable on PC. Minor connection issues persist and obviously DLCs have been delayed or, respectively, seem downgraded: E.g. no levolution in maps included in the first DLC 'China Rising' - which is the major technological as well as gameplay advance of bf4.

    However, I completely agree with the author's claim of massive damage to EA's image.

    I'd like to add two more points that will add further damage to EA's image:

    First, EA has been heavily criticised across Europe and especially in Germany for its data privacy policy. As this policy of noncompliance to the user's desire for more discretion is being continued by EA further impairments to its image should be expected.

    Second, EA has published a freemium version of a bullfrog classic 'dungeon keeper' by the freemium studio mythic. It. has been heavily criticised e.g. via App Store as forcing players heavily into 'Pay-to-win' and neglecting an innovative game concept by forcing it into a well established but by now barely innovative 'Tower-defense' game concept.

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