battlefieldheroes.jpg[The 'Game Anthropologist' is Michael Walbridge's GameSetWatch-exclusive column about communities built around gaming. This week, he digs into Battlefield Heroes and how its pricing affects its playerbase.]

What to make of EA/DICE's Battlefield Heroes? Well, it looks like Team Fortress 2, and keeps the “team” part. Competition and stats like Quake Live. Leveling and revenue models are like Korean MMOs. These all have large differences, even if two of these titles are FPS games, yet Battlefield Heroes shares much in common with them all.

Before I get started on the community side of things, the actual game is pretty good. I find it impressive that I’ll never have to pay a cent for a game that’s 400-500 megabytes to download, has quality gameplay, and free servers with a decent ping.

I don’t know if it’s EA’s intent, but the community needs work. It’s strange to be in a team-based game that encourages players to go solo and be highflying hotshots, but that’s precisely what happens. This is likely due to the limited ability to communicate coupled with the grind of leveling.

Like its Korean inspirations, Battlefield Heroes requires no money, but plenty of time in order to level and gain new abilities. Spending money on battlefunds is more enticing than at first glance, due to how fun the game is and how long the ride to the top is.

Battlefunds generally don’t give the players an advantage over another except with two items that increase the amount of experience or valor points earned. Seeing really plain characters all over the place with the occasional stylish skilled sniper makes one consider upgrading the wardrobe, too. It’s a pain to tell who is who on your team.

And the kicker: if you’re doing really well, your outfit, which may be an old black Western hat and trenchcoat coupled with a mustache, gives a signature to your domination. As in Team Fortress 2, dead players get a zoom in on their killers, but instead of being humorous or entertaining, it only turns out be flaunting.

So that old urgent need to level, combined with the silly keeping up with the Joneses, combined with the fact that you cannot ever switch teams or classes without disconnecting from the server, makes for plenty of all-star play. Emotes, the last thing that you’d think would fail to work, cost valor points. Three are free, but other basic ones cost valor points.

And there’s no voice chat, which makes the only current way to have a team coordinate at any level against another is to pay money for a private server and have a private match, and rent a Ventrilo server as well.

But the point, which is free, casual play, becomes defeated by then; at that point, one could afford to pay for a higher quality game.

The game is free, so it’s reasonable to understand why Battlefield Heroes doesn’t include these features. Plus, voice chat could have been a bad thing for the server, considering what the player base is like. Language, taunting, team-blaming, uneducated accusations of cheating: these can certainly be found in other games, but they are much more abundant, in my opinion, in Battlefield Heroes.

This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that people can add you as a friend without your permission, and the fact that names don’t change and stats are permanent. The potential for hate or grudgery is a little stronger (though it’s a better tool for finding friends, too, at least).

If an old or cheap game isn’t played for elitist or expert reasons (i.e., an earlier version of a current game, such as Halo 2 over Halo 3), it’s played for the self-evident reasons that cheap games bring more casually oriented players who are more potentially willing to mess around in the service of having a good time.

It’s not ridiculous to think that the lower level of maturity and behavior on Battlefield Heroes is due to simple economic reasons. While Battlefield Heroes is an impressive offering as a piece of software and a good deal for the (lack of) money, the limitations in social interaction and offerings show that the rule still applies—you get what you pay for.