Call of Duty Gets Own Social Network With COD: Elite

on Tuesday, May. 31st

The Holy Grail for video game publishers is the availability of subscription services. Publishing giant Activision already drinks deep from this well with the mega-franchise World of Warcraft, which reaps $14.99 each month from millions of users. Now they’re taking this strategy to their most successful console franchise, Call of Duty.

The new Call of Duty: Elite service won’t be required for those who want to play the world’s most popular first-person shooter online with their friends, but looks to layer on the kind of statistics that fantasy sports fanatics love, coupled with community features that the company hopes will deepen the game experience for COD’s battalions of fans.

Announcements this big are usually reserved for E3, which hits next week, but with a console launch for Nintendo, competition for headlines during the show is destined to be fierce. Hence this week’s Elite announcement has the gamer press talking.

Gamasutra editor-at-large Leigh Alexander weighed in on the news via her personal blog with enthusiasm:

I think it’s an awesome idea. I starkly do not enjoy playing Call of Duty. I will probably never be pumped to join a clan and shoot stuff no matter how social they make it. But the largest video game franchise extant is getting this entire nifty interface around it, and that interface does things way beyond what we’ve gotten with the online platforms we have, Xbox Live and PlayStation 3.

“It’s just a social network” doesn’t really do it justice. The sheer variety of data points you can measure about yourself and others, and the connection with existing social networks so you can find people to join up with based on common interests seem quite cool to me. And visually it’s very pretty, very current.

As Gamasutra reports, the rumors peg Elite as coming in at around $7.99 a month for the top-tier service. The major features will be available for free to all COD players. So what does Activision have up their sleeve to get that money flowing out of gamer’s pockets and into their coffers?

Wired’s Chris Kohler paints the picture:

For Call of Duty, in-depth statistics about gameplay is the major hook. Players might know their kill-death ratio — a rough measure of skill, the number of times they bite the dust versus the number of times they killed another player — for the last match played. But what’s their kill-death ratio across every Black Ops game they’ve ever played? And how does that compare to their friends’ ratings?

Activision knows. The company’s been tracking every little bit of data about Black Ops since the game launched in November. One of the main functions of Elite will be to show gamers that data in an easily digestible form, and then compare it to everyone they know.

If Elite is a hit– and Activision only needs 10% of their user base to opt-in for the full service for it to qualify– we can expect more developers and franchises to follow suit. The conventional wisdom has Electronic Art’s Madden football series adopting a subscription model at some point soon, and you can bet the farm that Halo developer Bungie’s first Activision released title will have ship with something similar to Elite.

What we wonder here at Turnstyle is how the bandwidth caps that the telecommunication companies are going to affect online play at this level. With AT&T and Comcast looking to take a bigger cut from consumers, will the market for these kinds of premium services dry up as the free bandwidth banquet ends?

Call of Duty: Elite goes into public beta this summer, and will fully launch with the release of Modern Warfare 3 this November.

Corey McCall with the video game controller that measures the level of excitement in the player. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

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