EA’s Battlefield Heroes business model working well

Battlefield Heroes is a cartoon action shooter game for the PC. Exactly the sort of game where you would expect to see well over 90% piracy. Which is the reason publishers have largely given up on them. So Electronics Arts have beaten the pirates by giving the game away for free as a download. Obviously they still need to pay their staff, so they have implemented a couple of different business models.

The first is advertising. Not in-game as that can spoil the experience unless the advert is actually a part of the game itself. Instead EA have put the adverts on the game website and on the front end of the game, where they don’t detract from the gaming experience.

Then there is the purchase of in-game items: the Kommendant’s Coat, the Special Forces Officer Cap, Maverik’s Sunglasses, the Elite Camo Trousers and the Marksman’s Honor being the most popular.Players can also buy advancement widgets, which allow players to earn hero abilities and purchase better weapons, and  emotes such as the robot dance, laughing, throat-cutting and cheering.

EA have dumbed down the specification of PC that the game will run on so as to give themselves the biggest possible audience. A trick that Runescape and World of Warcraft also do. They also reduced the spawn time from 15 to 5 seconds so there is a lot more action and less waiting.

And it has worked. The game went into “open beta”  at the end of June and there are now 1.5 million players from 133 countries registered. The average buyer of in game items is spending $20.

This is brilliant for EA and has the following advantages:

  • No need to manufacture physical plastic and cardboard inventory.
  • No shipping, warehousing and other logistics costs.
  • No margin given away to distributors and retailers, all the revenue comes to EA.
  • No piracy. None. Zero. In a market riven with piracy.
  • A long tail. It effectively costs EA nothing to keep this up on their server for ever. And players will be buying in-game stuff for a long time to come. The exact opposite of a retail game that gets thrown off the shelf after a short life.
  • Potential to refresh the game to maintain interest. For instance currently it is third person only, first person could easily be added later to give a whole new gaming experience.
  • Reaching new markets. Getting to 133 markets means they can reach Mongolia, Sudan and lots of other places where it is not worth setting up distribution for physical stock. But all added together they will now make a nice contribution to profits and allow EA to build for the future.
  • Enhanced direct relationship with game player. This is immensely valuable and can be leveraged in a myriad of ways.

That is a whole lot of very good stuff and must surely presage the end of boxed, retail PC games. The success of Battlefield Heroes added to the explosion of application stores and the various business models on Xbox Live have radically brought forward the day when high street retail has no relevance to the video game industry.


  1. You can’t say that Battlefield Heroes would have had 90% piracy had it been released in a regular fashion. It would have still been an online game that would have checked to see if you were using a legitamite copy or even if you had cheats running.

    I don’t know how well Battlefield Heroes will do in the long term. When it boils down to it, it’s not a very good game, we don’t know how they’ll be keeping it fresh or if the users recorded are people playing the game or just people who signed up one evening to see what it was like and then never went back (like me).

    Lets all remember Quake Live has been in the news recently too because it looks like they are going to have to resort to subscriptions for some content because advertising isn’t working.

    There is still something to be said for the initial purchase. Team Fortress 2 and Left4Dead are doing great thanks to all the updates.

  2. This is really interesting!

    It’s wonderfull that these kind of constructions actually work. I’m suprised by the amount of money is spend by one person. They must have earned about 30 million by now, great.

    It’s especially nice too see that the disadvantages that occur with the internet (piracy) can be used smartly avoided and by makig it online you have a product that u can alter and refine over time, someting you can’t do with boxed products.

    The distrubution of the product is no problem anymore because everyone, everywhere can download it. Even remote countries can be accessed with no problem, a publishers dream. And all revenue as Bruce says will be for the publisher and not some “stupid” shop or other distributors. Money that the publisher can invest in making the product better.

    There are two main lessons. If a distributor doesn’t deliver added value then it will soon die out. Secondly, al lot of products become obselite because of the internet.
    If the distributor doesn’t deliver extra value then there not there anymore in 5 years time, or at least very drasticly reduced. Look at the examples.
    – Book shops wil lagery dissapear, when E-readers will work, and book publishers will die out. Maybe it will be come unfashionable and not eco friendly too have a large book collection!
    – CD sales are already being reduced by online downloading. No need for CD’s when u have a mp3 player
    – Telefoonbooks are already completely unessecary. Online works better faster and is more up to date. Please stop making them.
    – encyclopedia are obselete. Online are just as good and they have much more content like videos, music and more pictures. all makers have stopped production.
    – Travelling agencies : book your holiday online, it’s cheaper and you can see all the information you want. Only a small amount of people still like a personal touch.
    – Bank buildings are beying transformed beacuse costumers do a lot online. Products are being bought online in stead of in the bank directly. Less contact with the costumer but more high quality contact.

    Internet is great, just look at the possibility’s and disadvantges and use hem too your advantage!

  3. I always wonder just how much advertising can be relied upon as a revenue source. There’s only so much to go around, and it’s *very* vulnerable to shifts in economic conditions.

  4. Thanks Bruce for this interesting article. Like yourself I have a strong belief in online gaming and the opportunities it creates.

    Nevertheless, I would like to comment on your point regarding the long tail.

    To keep an online title running successfully requires significant investment in technology, marketing, community management and customer support. All of which carry a significant (although certainly manageable) cost. Jagex for example has over 300 staff with a large percentage supporting Runescape. Failure to provide quality customer support can rapidly turn into bad PR and hard won customers abandoning the game.

    For “traditional” publishers this can be a big challenge as it involves thinking completely differently and recruiting staff with a services rather than product focus.

  5. Some of the advantages that you list, are not very helpful to their revenue stream. Any place not worth setting up distribution to, especially impoverished nations (Sudan, Mongolia, Philippines, Brazil, Eastern Europe) have very few advertising opportunities, and the players there can’t afford to buy game extras.

    And even worse, the players in those nations also commonly use stolen credit cards to make their purchases increasing the fraud rate of the game company’s sales.

    Cutting out the physical media, the retailers, and distributors are definitely pluses.

    However, in order to maximize sales, the game companies sell physical “game cards” through retail outlets to sell to players that don’t use credit cards.

    The cards often have as low as a 50% margin, which puts a dent in overall revenue.

  6. EA’s battlefield heros would be a much better game if it actually worked.

    and the uninstaller.exe wont work either…”not enought arguments”…it’s obviously not seen the games own forums

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