When Rebecka Coutaz joined the team at DICE, she joined a company that was in pain.
The developer had just launched Battlefield 2042, the latest in the hit series, to great disappointment. And what followed was a series of changes in the studio. Vince Zampella, co-founder of Respawn and director of the Ripple Effect studio, was placed in charge of the Battlefield series making progress. At the same time, several leaders left DICE at about the same time, including general manager Oskar Gabrielson, design manager Fawzi Mesmar, content manager Johannes Soderqvist and executive producer Aleksander Grondal.
It was during this moment of upheaval and disappointment that Kutaz joined as the new general manager.
“It’s better now,” Coutaz explains in one of her first interviews since taking the job.
“The launch of Battlefield 2042 was not as expected. Our players and community were disappointed, but so was our development team. We have focused on the game’s health, and so bug after bug, patch after patch, we fix and improve it. And every patch we have a small, small win, and that’s important to our team because they were disappointed. We celebrate 30 years as a studio but also 20 years at Battlefield, and we have players who have been with us for 20 years and to disappoint them. … it’s really hard for us.
“So we want to improve the basic gaming experience and that’s what we’ve been focusing on. And now, as you may know, we’ve just released season one, and we have good feedback. The players are enjoying our map and the content we’ve provided. so it’s a win for us and it makes us feel better. The team is here to make Battlefield, and they’re passionate about Battlefield. We have a lot of Battlefield veterans. So it’s important for us to improve Battlefield 2042 and the experience that we can give to our players. We owe it to them. ”
With so much change in leadership, and given the negative reaction to 2042, it must have been tempting to draw a line during the game and simply move on. But Coutaz insists it was never an option.
“No, we could not do it against our players and we could not do it against ourselves,” said Coutaz. “I do not want to use the word revenge because it is too strong in English, but you know, we can not leave it that way. As I said, we owe it to our players.”
It’s more about the changes at DICE than just who makes the decisions. Although they have created some of the most popular online shooter games in the world, the studio still acts as a more traditional developer, where they create a game, update it for a while and move on to the next. Today, the team moves on to a live service business.
“We have players who have been with us for 20 years and to disappoint them … it’s really difficult for us”
The Battlefield series is also something that expands beyond DICE. The franchise has had many co-developers for some time. Battlefield 2042, for example, was supported by EA Gothenburg, Criterion and Ripple Effect. Going forward, the franchise is evolving into a “universe” or properties, with Ripple Effect, EA’s new studio in Seattle and mobile developer Industrial Toys all working with IP.
Coutaz is an expert on this type of developer. She joins after more than 10 years running Ubisoft Annecy, a team that has worked with multiplayer service games like Riders Republic and Steep, and is an established co-developer, who has done the multiplayer modes for franchise companies like Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell. During her time, the team grew from 71 people to 340. She knows everything about managing change, and live service and co-development.
“[DICE] had four leaders leaving. But it was also the opportunity to create a new leadership team around me, “says Coutaz.” So there were some members who were already on the team, but we could also add new leaders, like Lars Gustavsson, who is the studio’s creative director. , senior producers like Andreas Morell and Ryan McArthur, who stepped up. So first we got it in order and then we had to adapt [Battlefield] organisation. It was organized to send a game, and you know that live is not the same as sending a game. So we have looked at the organization, the structure, the responsibility, the development processes, etc. And of course our friends at Ripple Effect, who work very closely with us at Battlefield 2042. “
She continues: “When we sent Battlefield 2042, we took a step back and together with all the studios … DICE, EA Gothenburg, Criterion – who is now on Need for Speed – and Ripple Effect. We took a step back and we looked at what worked and then we analyzed what did not work. Why did we end up in a situation like we did and how do we fix it?
“That analysis took us a couple of months, and we’re fixing it now. We’re reorganizing, restructuring, improving processes, adapting them to be able to make these monster games that we do in co-development … and also working in the hybrid model. So many lessons and the team is really behind me. They really want to change. They could not leave it as it was. So everyone is super motivated and we have made, in my opinion, a lot of changes in the last five to six months. It is far from perfect and we have many things left to learn, but we are integrating everything we have learned so far. “
It’s not just about learning from yourself either. Coutaz says the work of Vince Zampella and the broader EA organization provides part of the team’s valuable Apex Legends experience.
“On a personal level, being able to work with people like Vince and Byron [Beede, Ripple Effect] and Marcus [Lehto, Seattle studio] and Alex [Seropian, Industrial Toys], is very inspiring. I was actually very scared in my first meeting with Vince, because I was such a great personality in the industry. They work with us on … if not daily, weekly. So they play the game, review, challenge, they sometimes ask us very difficult and very good questions. And also being in the organization of Vince, it gives us access to the team at Apex. And to be able to share best practices with the fantastic team, it helps us to grow, to iterate, to be creative and to understand. “
When it comes to the specific changes that Coutaz has made, she talks about adding new tools and processes. She says that the new structure is designed to be flexible and agile. All the things she admits sound like “buzz words”, but that there must be a “very clear chain of command when we make games, and it must be really flat and lean so that our creators can feel empowered.”
“They can innovate, be creative, take risks, but fail quickly, and in order to fail quickly, we have to iterate and then play that game. We’ve worked hard on that, too.”
All this change, while trying to fix a disappointing game, is enough for all studios to implement in the best of times. But it all happens while game studios are still learning to adapt to this new world of remote and hybrid work. DICE has embraced this, but like most developers, it’s still learning how to make it work effectively.
“We want DICE to be the number one first-person shooter game in Europe and one of the powerhouses in the world”
“[All game developers] had to be super creative and innovative to be able to adapt to this, she says. Today we are hybrids and that is how we want to be in the future. Of course we learn every day about things … like when one person is on Zoom and then you have two others in the meeting room, the things we adapt to and learn [about] to everyday in this hybrid model. But we are full of it. And the good thing for us is that we can recruit experts from all over the world. People who have a passion for Battlefield but who did not really want to move to Europe or did not really want to move to Sweden, they can work for us now. “
A positive thing about the hybrid way of working is that there is less division between DICE and its co-developers, with everyone working remotely with the same project.
“It also forces us to be much more structured, because the mandates have to be clear, the roles and responsibilities have to be clear and the communication has to be clear. You can’t solve things around the coffee machine.”
During my chat with Coutaz, I could not help but admire the pictures behind her from the series from Mirror’s Edge. DICE is perhaps best known for Battlefield, but it has – from time to time – also worked on other projects. With all the talk about Battlefield, are more unusual projects like Mirror’s Edge on the back for now?
“Absolutely,” she says firmly. “We’re just focusing on Battlefield 2042. There’s no time for anything else and this is what we want to do. In three years, we want to be the first-person shooter that DICE deserves to be, and that’s what we stand for.”
She concludes: “I want the team to be really proud of Battlefield 2042. That’s what they are chasing and they have their heart and passion there. We want to be really, really proud of DICE. We want DICE to be the number one place for “first-person shooter games in Europe, and one of the powerhouses of the world. It’s a great team. We will create magic together.”