Asia turned into a Battlefield by Electronic Arts

Electronics Arts (EA) will cooperate with a Korean games developer to release a new online version of its Battlefield series of games in Asia. While they have sold millions worldwide, the Battlefield games do not appear to have been especially popular in Asia's multiplayer games market, particularly compared to massive hits like Starcraft and Counterstrike.

Neowiz, a Korean developer which operates EA Sports FIFA Online in Korea, will co-develop the game with EA's subsidiary, DICE. Fifa Online has proved popular in the year since its launch, and claims almost 5 million subscribers.

Vague enhancements promised

“Gamers can expect to see enhancements that build on the rich community element of existing titles in the Battlefield franchise such as social networking and clan support, as well as all new features to deliver an always-fresh, online in-game experience,” the companies announced in a press release today

EA, Dice and Neowiz have provided little information on how they intend to convert Battlefield into a broader online game. The original series of games normally feature a maximum of 64 players in rounds that generally last half an hour or less. The playing area is compact – players can cross it on foot in ten minutes or less. Although players can achieve higher ranks with experience and also get access to new weapons, neither of these rewards provide a significant advantage over newer players.

“Our partnership with EA continues to bring exciting possibilities to Korea,” commented Neowiz Games CEO, Kwan Ho Choi. “Online gamers in this region have high interest in the first person shooter genre and the power of the Battlefield franchise is sure to be a big hit with Korean players.”

Battlefield not popular in Asia

Despite this claim, there are in fact only a handful of servers in Korea running games from the Battlefield series. Texyt was able to locate only 13 servers in Korea, most of them empty. There were fewer than 70 gamers playing early on a weekday evening. Across Asia's largest gaming markets - China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan - approximately 1,000 people were playing the most recent games Battlefield 2 and 2142 in the series, compared to more than 30,000 playing CounterStrike.

In the past, gamers in smaller nations have complained that the Battlefield games' dysfunctional server browser makes finding a game online a miserable experience for them. The browser, developed by Gamespy, has been criticized for numerous usability bugs, most of which have apparently remained unfixed. While it appears to be adequate for large countries, where there are many servers to choose from, it does not fare so well in small nations, which only have a small number of servers available.

Challenge of converting game

In the past, games that work well with small numbers of players have not proven simple to convert to handle thousands of players and a persistent world. When Blizzard Entertainment turned its popular Warcraft series of games into the even more popular World of Warcraft MMORPG, the new game actually had little similarity to the old ones.

Perhaps the closest any MMORPG has come to recreating the style of EA's Battlefield series on a broader scale is World War II Online, from Playnet Inc. It's unclear if EA is looking to develop Battlefield into this type of wide-ranging game, or merely to add more online community elements to the existing game style.

Electronic Arts last year began releasing low-priced episodic updates to the Battlefield 2 game, in what some see as an attempt to edge the series closer to a subscription model.