January 29, 2014

EA/YouTube Battlefield 4 Controversy


NOTE: This is a cross-post of my article from bf4blog.com:

If you are a fan of the Battlefield series (and you likely are if you are reading this blog), you are probably aware that Battlefield 4 is thoroughly embroiled in some controversy right now.

The controversies have arisen for a number of reasons, all of which seem to be compounding upon one another. I am going to do my best to share my perspective on it all.

First, there is the launch debacle. I wrote some time ago about BF4 having a rocky launch. In retrospect, that was a bit of an understatement, as the impact of the launch difficulties was deeper and their persistence longer than I initially realized. Three months after launch, players are still experiencing excessive lag spikes, connectivity issues, crashes, and other issues that prevent them from simply playing the game in a reliable manner.  Once a player successfully gets into the game, they are faced with poor hit detection, one-hit kills, significant balancing issues that make the game feel “off” on good days and are downright frustrating on others. DICE has slowly fixed issues over the past three months, but they seem to introduce new issues at the same time.

Is BF4 broken? I guess that depends on your definition, as well as your experience with the game, as the extent of problems seem to be different for everyone. Personally, I cannot say it is, as broken to me means something is currently unusable or not worth using. I can play the game, and I can still have fun doing so. That’s not to say the game is not flawed, however, and my time playing is not without frustrations. In fact, I recently created a video as a way to vent about some issues that occurred on a particularly difficult night.

The next issue is the recent news that EA paid prominent YouTube personalities to create “Battlefield 4 Launch” videos. The most difficult part about this controversy is that there are various versions of it, and it can be difficult to keep the facts straight because so much out there is simply speculation.

Ronku BF4 Launch
What we do know is that EA offered a $10 CPM (cost per 1,000 views) to these individuals through its Ronku program. These individuals simply had to create videos about the game with “Battlefield 4 Launch” in the title and include a link to the BF4 site. EA asked that they not focus on glitches in the game, and encouraged a focus on Levolution. Each individual was limited to three videos under the program, and all qualifying videos were limited to a global view cap for the bonus CPM. Videos were made, and people were paid.
Frankly, EA did an exceptional job of hyping Battlefield 4, and a large portion of the community, including myself, got swept up in the excitement of a new installment in a franchise we love and the vast potential it entailed. The problem with such powerful and effective marketing as EA exhibited is that you have that much farther to fall if your product has flaws as significant as BF4 had at launch. It is exacerbated by the fact that so many of those flaws persist three months later. Such a situation results in many angry customers looking for an outlet for their frustrations and someone to blame. Unfortunately, the rage is so great for some that they blindly latch on to every potential target in their sites, even if friendly. With that level of frustration, rational thought often jumps out the window.
The fact remains that EA and DICE made and published a game that did not meet expectations. However, DICE is working madly to remedy that, and I am sure issues will be fixed in time. For those like me that still find the potential of the underlying game fun and engaging, I recommend patience, as fun can be had again once the most significant issues are shored up. Provide constructive feedback to DICE to encourage and help in the repair process. For those who find the game irreparably broken, civilly demand a refund. It is unlikely at this point, but at the least you are making your voice heard. For all, reconsider preorders and launch purchases. Find out if the game bugs are something you can live with before you buy. Anymore, most games do not work properly at launch anyway. Game publishers and developers will not learn from their mistakes if we don’t.


The controversy comes to a head because many feel this was a deceptive practice on the part of EA and the YouTubers. This is where the issues crash together, because in all honesty, if the launch had been smoother and not angered such a large portion of the fan base, no one would care that a few people got paid a little extra for their videos showcasing elements of the new game; videos they likely would have made anyway.

Another Battlefield 4 blog has suggested that what the YouTubers and EA have broken FTC regulations and face a risk of fines. I am not a lawyer, so I will not speculate on that as they have. It does seem possible that rules were broken if they failed to disclose that they were being paid by EA. Personally, I would have made sure it was at least in the description that the video was made per an agreement with EA. However, we must remember these are people who are turning a hobby into a business and figuring it out as they go. I can easily see how one could simply think, “if I use this footage to make a video of something I’m already excited about, EA will pay me extra for the views” and not think about the implications of it as a paid endorsement. If this was the case, EA did them a bit of a disservice to not provide guidance. If naive ignorance of FTC rules is the worst these YouTubers did, they certainly do not deserve to burn for it. But, if one cannot forgive, simply unsub and avoid their videos. Defamation seems a bit of an overreaction.

bf4-second-assault-wallpaper4

In my opinion, these YouTube personalities are definitely not the ones to blame. They did not make the game what it is, and it is very unlikely they had enough access to the game to know the flaws we would encounter. While these videos did not focus on bugs, as requested by EA (which is a normal and reasonable request, mind you), many of these individuals made videos outside the Ronku program that did discuss game issues.

Boom

Writing and editing this has taken me some time and thought. After writing a significant portion of this piece, a video was released by ScannerBarkly discussing the EA/YouTube topic, going into greater detail on it than I do here. He was not involved in the Ronku program and provides an exceptional and objective take on the topic. I will embed it below. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to take a moment to watch, or at least listen to, his commentary, and even consider subscribing to his channel if you are a fan of YouTube videos. [Warning: videos contain strong language and brutal honesty]


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