Sticky: Why a 'Battlezone 3' is unlikely

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Sticky: Why a 'Battlezone 3' is unlikely

Postby GSH » Tue Aug 21, 2012 3:55 pm

This question has been asked again and again, and having one reference point would help collect all the answers in one place. This is largely based on my previous comments years ago in Battlezone Magazine # 4, with some updates.

In a nutshell, the chances of "you people" making a 'Battlezone 3' is unlikely is due to these factors: (1) The developers aren't together anymore, (2) code/name licensing issues, and (3) lack of sales.

Firstly, as to "(1) The developers aren't together anymore," consider this: most of Battlezone 1's team split off from Activision to help form Pandemic Studios in 1998. After BZ2's release, some of the development team left Pandemic. Since then, Pandemic was acquired by Electronic Arts in January 2008, and subsequently shut down in November 2009. A number of BZ2 development team members were still at Pandemic until November 2009, but after the closure, as far as I know, every development team member that worked on BZ2 is now working at different companies, and in several different states. Even if one of those companies decided to try and make a title, they'd have one and one only person employed with any memory -- now a dozen years old -- of Battlezone's development.

As to (2) code/name licensing issues, the name 'Battlezone' is owned by Atari, as they did the original arcade tank shooting game in the early 80s. Activision had to license the name 'Battlezone' from Atari in order to use it on the two titles they published. Their licensing agreement was only for two titles -- during BZ2's development, we at Pandemic knew that any sequel/followon couldn't use the 'Battlezone' name. Thus, the subtitle of 'Combat Commander' was attached. Had there been a followup, Combat Commander would have been a significant part of the title, to try and get people to associate that followup with BZ2. It definitely wouldn't have been called Battlezone 3, unless a fair chunk more money was sent Atari's way.

Since BZ2's development, Atari's been acquired and sold off to companies including Hasbro, Infogrames, and the like. They have no connection to the Battlezone games developed the late 90s. They developed a Playstation Portable (PSP) title named Battlezone, with gameplay much closer to the original 80s title. That's fully within their rights.

Also, the BZ1/2 code and assets were copyrighted by Activision, as they paid for the development of them. The BZ2 engine contained code from 5-6 other Activision titles (Mechwarrior 2, Interstate '76, Heavy Gear 1 (or 2?), Battlezone 1, and Dark Reign 2, and maybe another I'm forgetting offhand.) Any (re)use of the BZ1/2 code or assets would require Activsion's permission, or a complete rewrite from scratch. As many game development technologies have changed drastically (mostly for the better) since 1999, reusing them is unlikely. But, any company that would like to see how things were done in BZ1/2 to make things like BZ1/2 (because people will gripe if any pet bug changes, see below) would have to secure Activision's help to peek at the code.

Even if the name 'Battlezone 3' had been acquired, or sidestepped by making 'Combat Commander II', the bigger problem was the lack of sales. We were released at an inopportune time -- December 28th, 1999 in the US, when consumer's attentions were elsewhere. Marketing had more or less dried up months before. Yes, stability at release was fairly poor as well, and BZ2 demands a whole lot more system than most people had at the time. And, the reaction by the public wasn't great. A lot of people who had played Battlezone 1, and were expecting exactly more of the same, with larger assets, turned against the game. We saw letters written to the editors of gaming magazines, dissing BZ2; an unofficial online campaign attacking the game was also seen on forums and the like. All of these factors helped make sure that BZ2 died a quick death at retail.

Since then, a vocal minority of BZ2 "fans" have held harassment/griefing campaigns against BZ2 games that are not in their preferred game mode. Rather than accepting people for playing BZ2, period, well over a decade after release, they'd rather annoy and drive away players that don't play like (or with) them.

All of the FPS+RTS titles that came out in the late 90s -- BZ1 & 2, 3DO's Uprising 1 & 2, and Microsoft's Urban Assault -- turned out to not sell all that well. (I don't have exact sales numbers for any of these five titles, but BZ1 might have had the highest sales of the lot, because it was bundled with a lot of graphics cards, which counts as a sale to the industry.) When a genre doesn't catch on with the buying public, after that many attempts, it's not going to get funded by game publishers. Game development’s only getting larger and more expensive over time -- Pandemic's last title (Saboteur) had roughly 5-6 times the programmers, artists & designers that BZ2 did. Including programmers, artists, designers and internal QA, Pandemic had over 125 people working on Saboteur. If the budget is going to get larger -- I informally heard numbers in the $40-50 million for Saboteur's development budget -- the potential reward has to also increase.

Right now, the commercial retail games industry is in a near freefall of sales. Commercial retail game sales -- still the bulk of consumer purchases, no matter even if you'd prefer to buy thru Steam -- are down every year since 2008. It's not a good time for the commercial games industry. In turbulent times, publishers and the commercial games industry go for safety, rather than risk any money on a genre that's only lost money so far.

Eventually, I suspect this FPS+RTS genre may get some more entrants, though probably done as a MOD, like Natural Selection did. If anyone does consider doing such a game, I'd think that they'd go for any name other than 'BZ3'. There's just too much baggage, expectations, and emotional investment in the BZ name that it'd be harder to live up to. Due to copyrights and trademark law, other developers can't just take the Battlezone name and use it because they want to. They have to secure licensing.

As much as I might love to see a 'Battlezone 3' emerge eventually, I think the strikes against it are just a little too great right now. There's name licensing issues, bad sales, and the team's scattered to the four winds. Add to that a minority (but very vocal) if the community that would rather attack anything not measuring up to their standards of purity, rather than accept a larger community, that's a bad mix. While BZ1/2 may be kept alive by programmers taking things on in their spare time, that's not scalable to a full commercial title.

Topic locked to keep clutter down. But, responses in other thread(s) are fine.

-- GSH

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