In November, Star Wars fans will get to play the first new, exciting Star Wars game in at least five years, since 2010’s Force Unleashed 2. If we’re looking for the last exciting multiplayer Star Wars game, we have to look back to 2005’s Battlefront 2. For 10 years, we’ve been waiting for another multiplayer shooter to put us in the everyman boots of Stormtroopers and valiant Rebel troopers. Because EA’s new Battlefront is developed by DICE, the studio behind the Battlefield series, it likely won’t support modding on PC. And that’s a shame.
Robust mod support for the new Battlefront wouldn’t just be an amazing opportunity for Star Wars fans to expand on a game they’ve been anticipating for nearly a decade. It would also give Battlefront a leg up over the crowded field of competitive shooters on PC, lending it something vital more and more shooters are failing to achieve: staying power.
Let’s travel back, for a moment, to the multiplayer shooter scene of 2005. Battlefield 2 was brand new, replacing 2002’s Battlefield 1942. Unreal Tournament 2004 was still going strong. Call of Duty 2 was just beginning the series’ meteoric rise to popularity, but its multiplayer domination was still a few years off. Counter-Strike: Source had split the community in two. And there were plenty of other shooters, with smaller but dedicated player bases, like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. And, of course, Star Wars: Battlefront 2.
Today there are more than 500 shooters on Steam, and every new game has to face that competition. Building a community is hard enough. But keeping one? That’s even tougher. After just two months, Evolve has slipped off Steam’s most-played list, and Steam Charts shows it current peak player count at a mere 1300. Despite selling more than 7 million copies across PC and consoles, DICE’s Battlefield 4 now has a peak player count of less than 25,000 on PC, according to BF4Stats. Without a reason to stay, gamers will often play a new shooter only until the next one comes out, and then jump ship. The ones that keep players for years and years give them a good reason to stay.
Team Fortress 2 has addictive item drops. CS:GO has addictive item drops and is the biggest competitive shooter in the esports world. And most of the other most popular games on Steam? They support mods, too.
Mod support is the surest way to encourage community investment in a game for more than a few months. Being able to create our own mods more reason to care about a game in different ways: its gameplay nuances, its technology, its strengths and quirks. It lets us do something with a game that its creators never envisioned. It makes the game ours, just a little bit. And, most importantly, it lets us create new content to extend the replayability of games. Give us new levels to explore, new mechanics to master. Who would still be playing Left4Dead 2 today if you couldn’t A) Explore dozens of amazing player-created campaigns B) Play as a freaking velociraptor?
Like any game, DICE’s new Battlefront would obviously benefit from an invested mod community. But there are other reasons why this game, in particular, deserves mod support.
Legacy. Star Wars Battlefront 2 supported mods, and there are dozens of conversions and expansions out there. There are even more custom maps. In an interview with DICE, Battlefront producer Sigurlina Ingvarsdottirtold me that “we haven’t taken old features and just imported them into our game, but we have been inspired by the heritage of Battlefront that feels like what we’re doing is taking some of the DNA of those games and using that as an ingredient in the Battlefront we’re creating.” On the PC, mod support is absolutely part of Battlefront’s DNA.
The Expanded Universe. DICE has made it clear that it’s focused on the original Star Wars trilogy with the new Battlefront. The prequels are nowhere to be seen, and the game features only four planets: Endor, Hoth, Tatooine, and Sullust. Of those, only Sullust is new. Most Star Wars fans have tow-cabled AT-ATs on Hoth a hundred times by now, and many of them will be happy to do it a hundred more times in the new Battlefront. And it makes sense that DICE would focus on the film’s iconic planets to hit their release date. But modders have no deadline. And there are hundreds of planets that could be included over time.
I want to fight through the slums of Coruscant, the streets of a Correlian metropolis, the Jedi temple on Yavin 4, the Wookiee villages of Kashyyyk, the bacta gardens of Thyferra, and a whole bunch of other places you’ve never heard of if you aren’t a big ol’ Star Wars nerd.
The beauty of Frostbite. This point goes hand-in-hand with the last one. I want to play on a rich variety of Star Wars planets, as different Star Wars aliens. But I especially want to see those worlds rendered in DICE’s powerful engine. Battlefront is going to look stunning, and this game is potentially the main Star Wars sandbox we’ll be playing in for the next several years. EA has more Star Wars games coming, and maybe they’ll take us to other places in the galaxy.
But those games likely won’t have large-scale multiplayer battles or half a dozen different vehicles or Battlefront’s variety of weaponry. With Frostbite, DICE could, potentially, be giving Star Wars fans the opportunity to build, and then play in, their dream representation of the Star Wars galaxy. It would be a shame to limit that to four planets.
Star Wars should be a little silly. DICE looks like it’s taking a very serious, faithful approach to its representation of the original films. And that’s great! It’ll be exciting and cool. But Star Wars has always had a silly side, and that’s something the original Battlefront games harnessed so well. They weren’t afraid to unabashedly be video games, with playable wampas and Han Solo running around one-shotting every armored Stormtrooper in sight. Let modders come up with their own ridiculous playable heroes and scenarios. Really, I just want to fly an X-Wing as an Ewok wearing prosthetics, dammit.
Mod support would extend Battlefront’s lifespan for years, and it would unequivocally make it a bigger, better game. But it’s still unlikely to happen. DICE’s Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 are closed off to modders, and DICE has given different reasons for not supporting mods.
One: Frostbite is a complex engine, and that makes modding difficult. Our counter-argument: talented modders can and will figure out anything. Two: They’re hesitant to release the engine’s source code. Three: If they support mods, they want to do it right and be thorough, and that takes time and commitment.
Those reasons make good business sense. But so does keeping players invested in your game for five years. Right now, it looks like DICE is going to give us a way to play through some of the most iconic battles of the galaxy far, far away. With mod support, they could give us the whole galaxy.