EA axed Battlefield Mobile and closed its developer Industrial Toys earlier this year.
It left Industrial Toys founder Alex Seropian, also cofounder of Bungie and Wideload Games, out of a job, alongside around 120 others at the LA studio. The team had been working on Battlefield Mobile since early 2020.
Following the launch of Seropian’s new game development podcast The Fourth Curtain, we tracked him down to ask how it all played out at EA. We also couldn’t resist asking about meeting Steve Jobs and almost being acquired by Apple after his Bungie team demoed Halo at Macworld in 1999. More on that later.
There was great momentum behind Battlefield Mobile to begin with, Seropian tells us. “At the beginning all the wind in the universe was in the sails of the SS Battlefield Mobile: the [shooter] genre is growing, it’s a great IP, we’ve got a great team – all this was super good,” he says.
But then along came Battlefield 2042, Apple’s IDFA changes and Apex Legends Mobile.
“In the course of the last year, a few things happened. Battlefield 2042 came out and the community reaction to 2042 was not good. That cascaded a bunch of introspection.”
“Apple also changed the IDFA rules, and the long and short of it is that it’s made user acquisition a lot more expensive. So organics eroded away with 2042’s release, and paid distribution got an order of magnitude more expensive because of the IDFA rules.”
“And then Apex came out and I don’t know if EA has talked about why they cancelled it, whether it was economics or whatever, but without me saying, you could fill in the blanks, I guess.”
Those three factors combined to make further investment in Battlefield Mobile harder to pitch to Industrial Toys’ owner EA.
“We did our soft launch, which was going well, but it’s like okay: to get to the finish line we’re gonna need this much time and this much money to get to global,” Seropian continues.
“I think there’s also the trend right now for big mobile games and big IPs to take a franchise swing – to think of mobile as another platform for the franchise, there’s one big release and everything is consistent across all these platforms.”
“Our approach was the opposite, it was a bespoke experience for mobile, because the way people use these devices and play and everything is different. So all of those things sort of combine and I think that’s why you get that outcome. Nobody wanted that, but you know, the world changes and people react.”
Seropian tells us that when Industrial Toys was acquired by EA in 2018, the studio was at work on the next iteration of the format it had established with its two Midnight Star shooters.
“Then in that timeframe Fortnite made its way to mobile, PUBG arrived on mobile, Call of Duty hadn’t come out yet, but it was about to come out…Fortnite showed that people will actually play a game with these emulated dual stick controls on mobile,” he says.
“So we did a pretty hard pivot, probably early 2020, and that’s when we really started thinking about Battlefield.”
This meant scaling up the team rapidly, from just 12 people when Industrial Toys was acquired by EA in 2018 to around 120 by the time the studio was closed.
“What we were building was competitive with what Call of Duty has in-market – not a small effort,” says Seropian. “All that growth happened remotely. We actually built in Unreal pretty much what you would experience in a Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4 game.”
After Industrial Toys was closed in January 2023, Seropian launched a game development podcast and has already started to think about his next start-up.
“I am formulating some plans,” he tells us. “I’m not quite ready to talk about them, but there are a lot of really interesting things happening with not just gaming but just how people are getting entertained and socialising with each other online.”
“People talk about the interactive business being much bigger than other things, but it’s still not as ubiquitous, as mass, as cross audience as film and TV. It’s still less of the zeitgeist…what I think is fascinating right now is that I see paths to that changing. That’s where I’m incubating ideas.”
We also couldn’t resist asking about his dealings with Apple and Steve Jobs, back when Bungie was developing Halo for the Mac. It’s often said Jobs didn’t like games – so we asked Seropian whether he thought that was true.
“My impression was that he never quite embraced games as being a driver for the platform, but I think he respected the artistry and creativity,” says Seropian.
“That’s why when Peter Tampte, who used to work for him and ran consumer marketing, showed him what we were doing with Halo he thought it was cool enough, well designed, interesting, something artistic. I would phrase it like he wasn’t a fan of games, but he liked what he saw when he saw Halo.”
Apple actually wanted to buy Bungie, Seropian says – but he and his team had already signed a deal with Microsoft.
“About a year later, because we had shown Halo to not just Apple but many people, we ended up talking to Microsoft. We called Apple and said, hey, you know, Microsoft has made an offer here and we’re probably going to do it because they’re making this game console. And they passed – they’re like, okay, good luck.”
“Then I literally got a call from [Apple exec] Phil Schiller when I was at the Bank of America building closing the Bungie deal with Microsoft. We’re on the 61st floor or whatever it is, and my phone rings and it’s Phil Schiller saying hey, yeah, have you done that Microsoft deal yet because we should talk…”
“I told him that the ink was drying on the Microsoft deal right at this moment. And then apparently, afterwards, Steve Jobs called Steve Ballmer to express his displeasure.”