Over the course of the past two decades, Battlefield developer Digital Illusions CE has grown from an attic developer to the heart and soul of a publisher's entire output - responsible not just for Call of Duty's fiercest rival, but also the engine that breathes life into titles as dissimilar as Need for Speed: Rivals and Dragon Age: Inquisition. How has this burden of responsibility affected DICE's native culture, and what does it think of its parent company? I had a bit of a chinwag with Battlefield 4's executive producer Patrick Bach on the subject.
According to Bach, the 323-head beast the studio has become still has much in common with its scrappier mid '90s incarnation, which at one point conducted much of its business out of a single dorm room at Växjö University. "You have to care about more things than what's going on between the walls of the room you're in," he began. "But in general I think the culture is still more or less the same, which is not always good!
"In most cases, it's great. The energy, the wish for exploration, trying new things, is still around, and that's a great feeling, but when you need to dedicate resources to things outside DICE, you need to be more structured. You can't just wing it, like we usually do when we make games!"
Besides the Battlefield franchise, DICE is currently working on a Star Wars: Battlefront reboot and a follow-up to cult 2008 hit Mirror's Edge, both for release no earlier than 2015. This seems like rather a lot to handle, particularly as regards the Star Wars project - likely to be treated to a fine-toothed combing by Disney execs and fans of the Pandemic originals. Still, shouldering enormous risks appears to be all part of the day job for Bach.
"We have a tendency to - you could call it being very ambitious, or you could call it over-scoping, when you want to do everything, and you start everything, but you can't finish everything," he said. "If we were clever from a business perspective we would change quite a lot, but I think the great thing with how EA's treating DICE is that they see DICE as a growing thing - you want that feeling, that mindset to spread within EA.
"Because if you go too much towards the business end you'll start to create cookie-cutter games, and maybe EA came close to being that once upon a time. I think they're clever enough to try to avoid that."
So what does DICE think of EA's cultivation of an IP portfolio? The publisher has made much of its payload of new, next generation IPs, which includes the mighty Titanfall, but remains beholden to established heavyweights like FIFA in the short term. Is this really the right time to start afresh with a new IP?
"I think the market is ready," Bach observed. "EA has been scrutinising everything that's going on within the company, trying to cut away things that don't make sense. You could argue that a new crazy IP doesn't make sense, but on the other hand that's what leads to great games. You just need the right crazy IP."
Reflecting this tricky balancing act, DICE will continue to churn out a mixture of original properties and sequels. "I think people would be very disappointed if we stopped making Battlefield games," Bach added. "People sometimes ask why we 'only make Battlefield games'. And it's like, firstly we don't only make Battlefield games, and secondly, if we stopped making them people would hate me!
"We don't make them just to make money or force them on people, we make them because we love doing it, and our fans want us to do it. They wouldn't be playing it still if they didn't like it."
Want more from Bach? "If they don't listen, they will probably die," was how he summarised Microsoft and Sony's reactions to pre-release hardware controversy.