Are rented servers killing Battlefield 3?

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When it was first announced that Battlefield 3 players would be allowed to rent their own servers, it was a surprise and a revolutionary idea; for console players, at least. Run your own server, where you decide the rules and you have the power to instantly kick cheaters! Much like communism, however, it’s a great idea in theory that falls apart in practice.

The main problem is that EA and DICE failed to mention the fact that finding an official server would become extremely difficult, leaving most players at the mercy of anybody with the money to take control of public matches.

First of all, let me briefly tell you/bore you with my history with the series. I was pretty late to the party, as the first game I played was Bad Company. While I felt that the campaign outstayed its welcome by at least two missions, I quickly got sucked into the multiplayer. The huge open maps, the objective based gameplay, rewards for teamwork, vehicles… it was different from anything else I’d played on a console, and I loved it. I wasn’t a fan of the crappy EA servers which would randomly freeze games – thereby costing me hundreds or thousands of points worth of XP – but I was having such a jolly good time, I persevered.

I moved onto Bad Company 2. I never even got round to finishing the campaign but again, I had a great time online; even more so than with the first game. I also put a lot of hours into the online-only Battlefield 1943 which, while a much simpler game, is also brilliant. Then – after trying it before release at the Eurogamer Expo (where I dominated the mere mortals I was playing with) – I went back to ‘proper’ Battlefield with Battlefield 3. I stopped playing online after a few weeks. Partly due to having to play other games for review, but also because I was getting frustrated with how all the decent equipment requires hours of play to unlock (and also, maybe, because most other people were much better than me and I was sulking). I recently started playing again – after both the patch, and the introduction of rented servers.

I was surprised to find that the patch has proven unpopular with some players. The patch I like; it’s actually made the experience even better from my point of view, rewarding as it does teamwork and suppressive tactics more than ever. Even the rented servers didn’t bother me at first. Okay, so I was now faced with banner after banner advertising some instantly forgettable clan name I couldn’t care less about, and sometimes the number of tickets (for those not in the know, representing the number of lives each team has) was double the norm but apart from that, everything was pretty much as it had been before. Then, the inevitable happened; handing server control over to unmonitored members of the public started having a detrimental effect on my online experience.

Although renting a server allows the admins to tinker with various match settings, they can’t interfere with which weapons are available. Indeed, attempting to do so is in violation of the terms of service which those who rent servers must agree to. Despite this, at least three out of every ten such servers will tell players that certain weapons are forbidden in the description. In all fairness, such attempts at weapon bans are sometimes for good reasons; usually because of a newly discovered and thus unfixed weapon glitch. Some attempt a blanket ban on shotguns. I’m happy to stick to such a rule myself because, while I use them now and again, Battlefield 3’s shotguns are overpowered and it’s possible to spam shotgun blasts for easy kills – even from a distance. However, what if you’re put into such a server when choosing ‘quick match’ and use a shotgun (or any other ‘banned’ weapon) fairly and in all innocence, and then find yourself kicked for doing so? As previously mentioned however, attempting to restrict weapon use is not allowed. Sadly, other practices that are allowed are much more of a problem.

Annoy an admin - intentionally or otherwise - and this might as well be your online ID.

Playing a game of Conquest mode recently, I realised that I was slowly becoming bored of the match; something that had never happened before. I then realised that this one game had been going on for well over an hour (hey, when it’s going well I enjoy the game and lose track of time!), with no end in sight. Checking through the server details, I found that the tickets had been set to one thousand, seven hundred and fifty. The losing team still had close to 500 tickets left; I quit. Simple solution: just cap the ticket count using the ticket filter in search options, right? Right!… except the ticket filter doesn’t exist.

Next, for the first time ever, I got kicked from a Battlefield game’s server. I’d joined the match less than two minutes before, and quickly killed two players attempting to plant a charge in Rush mode. Turns out at least one of the players I killed was an admin. Simple solution: just add that server to your block list, right? Right!… except the server block list doesn’t exist. So report the admin/s for kicking players in bad sportsmanship, right? Right!… except there’s nothing in the terms they agreed to saying they’re not allowed to do that. In effect, EA and DICE are allowing a certain type of player to pay a subscription for the right to kick players playing better than them out of any public match they play.

So just apply the ‘official servers only’ filter in search options, right? Right!… except – oh, you know the drill. In fact, I’ve had something I suspected all but confirmed – namely, that virtually all of Battlefield 3’s servers have been whored out in the name of maximum profit. Browse through the server list on any given day, and official EA/DICE servers are few and far between, and often hard to spot from the title in the list. Check the timeline of the official Battlefield Twitter account and, if you check back to see what users being replied to originally said or asked, at time of writing you’ll find (a) a tidal wave of PC users experiencing problems associated with EA’s controversial Origin service, and (b) a great many people with the exact same complaints as me.

Don't start getting angry at dice in general. People will think you're strange.

One user summed up the unfair kick problem well in just four words; “oops, knifed an admin”. There’s also lots of talk of the custom servers “ruining” the game, and plenty of people complaining that they can’t find officially hosted servers. The standard response to the latter complaint seems to be ‘try searching for servers with p24 in the title’. Well, I’m playing the PS3 version and, when conducting that search, I turned up less than sixty servers (despite the fact that some rented servers also got caught up in that search term). The standard browser list, dominated of course by custom servers, turns up one thousand servers – and that’s only because the search results are capped at this number. I sure as hell hope that isn’t representative of the official/unofficial server ratio but, if I may pull on my cynical trousers for a moment, I fear that it is.

So are Battlefield 3 players forever doomed to reading carefully through the server description and settings of every one they choose, hoping that the spaces aren’t filled by the time they’re done? There’s a favourites list to fill (tellingly, players are not allowed to add official servers to this) but why should the paying public have to rely on this? Well, there is one bright side I suppose. With all the thousands upon thousands of dollars generated by this server pimping, the upcoming DLC packs are sure to be free, or at most have a nominal fee of no more than 99p attached.

I asked an EA representative if this would be the case (in my head) and he replied “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”.

In all seriousness, it’s going to be interesting to see how EA and DICE address the issue of official server availability. Ideally they’ll admit that renting out such a great number of servers in the loosely regulated, poorly managed way they have was a mistake, and cancel the service altogether. Simply adding an ‘official only’ option to the search filters might seem like a more reasonable solution, but there’s no way that would please players and developers/publishers. If they add the option but players then find that the number of official servers is so small that they’re almost always full, they’ll become more enraged than ever. On the other hand, if thousands of official servers become readily available, the number of people willing to use custom servers will plummet. Many hosts will find that they struggle to fill their matches, and stop renting; thereby significantly reducing EA/DICE’s income from the service.

When Battlefield 3’s online experience is good, it’s really good – easily one of my personal favourites at the moment. It’s also commendable how DICE listen to and interact with the Battlefield community, using feedback to tweak and improve the game and, of course, eliminate glitches and exploits as quickly as possible. If rented servers continue to dominate online matches, however, that community will shrink as more and more people wander off to other games – where they’re confident that their money is paying for reliable, fair, official servers.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

6 comments

  1. steven g /

    I have to say that the main EA servers have been better balanced. Nicer players even! – maybe thats cause all the Battlefield Nerds are on these rented servers?

    I bought 2 of the weapon packs recently. I felt like a traitor at first. Then started shooting people again and feeling like I had an actual chance of winning a gun fight. Its brought the game back to life for me.

    Still can’t fly a plane longer than 5 seconds though….

  2. jay /

    Completely agree. I would choose an official server over a rented one any day. I am so tired of getting “kicked by admin” because I killed an admin because I was a little quicker than he was. Iv’e been kicked simply because the admin wanted to fly the helicopter I was flying. And when I am actually having a great game (which doesn’t happen too often as I am not really that good) only to get kicked by an admin because I killed him one too many times. Completely ruins the experience for me. It makes me feel like I have to watch the way I play, that I have to try to win the match but at the same time not do so well as to get noticed by an admin and get kicked. I really do wish there was a way I could search for the official servers as I am done with cry baby admins.

  3. poisionous byte /

    WI FOW…WHAT A ARTICLE…ITS THE LONGEST BATTLEFIELD 3 COMPLAINT IVE SEEN TO DATE…HEY….THERS ALL KINDS OF ADMINS AND AS WE KNOW A LOT O LIL KIDS PLAY THIS GAME…SO…FIND YOUR FAVORITE SERVER THAT PLAYS LIKE YOU LIKE AND MARK IT AS A FAVORITE..THERES ALLLLL KINDS…AND I ACTUALLY LIKE LONG GAMES..FOR VARIOUS REASONS..I RUN ONE OF THOSE SERVERS AND I KICK FOR ONE REASON AND THAT IS USING WALL HACKS OR DEFECTS IN MAPS TO GAIN ADVANTAGE..OTHER THAN THAT..USE ANY AND ALL WEAPONS AND SAY AND DO WHAT YA WANT..KILL ME FIFTY TIMES AND IM NOT GONNA KICK YA.THERE ARE MANY SERVERS THE SAME WAY AND YOU JUST HAVE TO FIND EM..RENTED SERVERS ARE THE BEST IDEA THEY HAVE COME UP WITH AND GIVE THE GAME EVEN GREATER VARIETY.GENTELMEN..CHOOSE YOUR SERVERS..THEN CHOOSE YOUR WEAPONS.

  4. John F. Rhodes /

    I just got banned from a server named “No Rules TDM Best Maps Mill 200%” (billed as an official DICE server) badminned by someone named p24_DICE (level 1- 0%) … but this is a “NO RULES” server”, right? So what’s the deal here? Is Dice even having trouble with the admins of their own official servers?

    My beef is not so much with the badmim… as with DICE. I’m paying good money to purchase software to play this game, and often, it is impossible for me to even find a DICE server for TDM. I really don’t mind all the server rentals, as long as DICE keeps a good number of official servers open for gamers to play regular games. Right now… they DON’T, and it’s a mess.

    … And look at all the dumb rules on the rented servers…. no grenade launchers… no shotguns… no C4 or claymores, no MAVS… no guns, just knives. Who’s renting all these servers? … , Dianne Feinstein! And now, I’m finding servers only for EU players? DICE is giving up or losing control of their own servers (and the the admins of them). Just what’s their BF3 software worth without available, reasonable servers? Nothing… nada… zilch… squat…that’s what it’s worth!

    I’m a premium player, but I’m probably not going to purchase any more expansion packs until DICE gets their stuff together and regains control of their own servers! ;-(

  5. tom /

    not to be a smart ass lol but if your a premium player ( you wont have to purchase any more expansion packs :P)

    but ya the server renting thing is cool but i dont think they should be able to kick or ban, unless the server is set to a CLAN WAR mode of sorts. other wise, im sick of gietting banned for doing what i do best in a game and play great. i say if they dont want someone in the server they best lock it. thats what i message the admins after a ban, i tellem, if u dun want someone in your f’in server thebn lock the dumb sh** lol.

  6. Jamie /

    Admins also don’t like being outsmarted! I have just been on a server, of which the rules were “no igla, no stinger, no javelin on heli no pump guns”, of course these rules designed to allow the admin sit comfortably in a chopper above our base destroying all of our vehicles and rendering us helpless on Caspian Border, however, no where in the rules did it say “no aa”, so I blasted that mother out of the sky, along with 3 jets and another heli, giving me enough time to jump in a jet and destroy 2 more of their own! Aaaaaaaaand I’m banned!!

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