Making a game that'll win the hearts of millions is no mean feat, but we suspect the harder call, once you've crafted such a game, is working out how to expand its audience. Do you heed the example of more popular rivals, looting their top tricks and filching their fanbase, or strike out on an unproven tangent of your own, seeking to bypass rather than beat the competition? Either way, you should be prepared for a running battle with the people who made you successful in the first place.
Microsoft has spoken to the difficulty of evolving a brand lately, admitting that squaring the needs of "broad audiences" and prickly core customers is "tricky". Though loath to admit it, BioWare appears to be struggling likewise with Mass Effect, attempting to pare away "meaningless stats" without slaying the sacred RPG cow. But as winter approaches, the franchise feeling these growing pains most is arguably Battlefield, the sometime PC monolith turned mass market shooter, shaping up for a titanic throw-down with Activision's Call of Duty.
And make no mistake: Battlefield is changing. Thanks to DICE's Battleblogs, our own interviews and extensive hands-on time, we know plenty about how the developer has expanded and restructured multiplayer to lure in laymen. We know that unlocks now happen on a per-weapon basis, making it easier to get at the gadgets you want faster, that tank armour now recharges above a certain threshold to accommodate solo rampages, and that Assault players can now heal themselves to minimise time spent trundling back to the frontline. DICE has styled these shifts carefully - explaining that the new team deathmatch mode will acclimatise greenhorns to teamplay, for instance - but some fans will call them concessions nonetheless, evidence that the studio is going soft.
The campaign's less of a worry for either party, simply because the campaign has never been Battlefield's calling card in the same way, for instance, Halo's has. While the community debates the pros and cons of leaving out Commander mode, DICE is taking more drastic steps with the single player formula hammered out in Bad Company and Bad Company 2. Dialling up the seriousness of the endeavour is a primary objective. "We want it to feel personal and intimate, and for you to feel close to the characters around you in-game," comments producer Patrick Bach. "We want players to understand why things around you have become like they are, instead of offering a cartoon story that just says: you must save the world - go.
"We want a more mature audience to enjoy the game, so we're creating a story that people will find interesting, where players can understand the motivations of the characters throughout the game. We don't want to be pretentious though, and claim that we're making something that has never been created before - because everything has been created before, in one shape or form at least."
The Bad Company games are just such "cartoon stories", deriving main characters from the set of the Dirty Dozen and stagecraft from the adrenaline-slicked annals of Roland Emmerich. Tone, insists general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson, is the biggest shift. Along with the all-new plot, the decision to leave the wisecracks to Bad Company is suggestive. Activision has created a profitable distinction between Treyarch's wackier Call of Duty games and Infinity Ward's unrelentingly po-faced Modern Warfare series, and EA seems to have similar designs on Battlefield.