Call of Duty Elite is Activision's newest slice of the Call of Duty pie, and you're finally about to find out what it is. Back in February, Activision announced that they were forming Beachhead Studios, a wholly-owned development studio that would work on Call of Duty products. At the time, we didn't know if that meant new games, DLC, or something else. As it turns out, it was something else entirely, and it's finally bringing what Bobby Kotick has long hinted at to Activision's biggest moneymaker: subscription fees. It's built to take advantage of Call of Duty: Black Ops, and the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
But before you go reaching for the pitchforks and torches, Chacko Sonny, studio at Beachhead, went out of his way to point out that Elite is not a way to charge players to play Call of Duty online. They describe Elite as a "new connected service that brings together the worldwide Call of Duty community in ways we never could before," with the goal being simply "to enrich the multiplayer experience." In laymans terms, it's like a stat service on steroid. If you've ever looked at Halo stats on Bungie.net (a company that has a new publishing deal with Activision), then you've seen the tip of the iceberg of what Elite plans to bring to the table.
So to be clear, CoD Elite is not a game. It's a game service. The pillars of the service are Connect, Compete, and Improve, and Activision honestly believes that this service will become an enormous part of online gaming and connected entertainment for the company. The Call of Duty franchise represents some of the top played games on both Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, which obviously represents an enormous amount of gamers that Activision hopes will sign up and eventually pay for this service.
Dan Bunting and David Vonderhaar from Treyarch both took to the stage at Activision's pre-E3 event to show us the major differences between the Combat Record in Call of Duty: Black Ops. It's really like comparing apples to ... a truckload of crates, each one filled with apples, because the service tracks just about every stat you can imagine in the game, and pumps it into the service in the form of charts, graphs, heat maps, and more. It's meant to be a learning tool to help you improve how you play, a way to meet new players, and a new way to compete with challenges and real-life prizes. It's a fully blown-out look at your career with multiple sets of multiple stats, a new showcase for videos, a way to track and compete with others, and more.
If you're a stat-head who loves dissecting past games, Elite is going to give you joygasms as you scroll through data of your past games, look at heat maps showing where you died and where your kills were, and check out charts showing weapons you excel with, and what you tend to suck with. If you happen to be sucking, there's also a tutortial service that breaks down all of the weapons and equipment in the game, complete with video guides that offer insight on proper weapon use. It really is a huge amount of information, and during our brief time with the service, it took quite awhile just to understand how to navigate through the service. You'll be able to access Elite on mobile phones, web browsers, tablets, and more, so hopefully it's just a matter of becoming familiar with it.
You can also join groups through Elite, and those can be based on literally anything. Type in the word "Photography," and you can join groups full of other players who like photography. Like unicorns? You'll be able to find other gamers who do as well. Groups can be based on anything, and some groups become featured. For instance, I searched for "Austin," and it appeared in a list of "Top 50 Cities" inside the groups section. Groups are also tiered like Army units: 1 to 10 players is a Platoon, and from there up, 100 is a Regiment, 1,000 a Battalion, 100,000 a Brigade, and 1,000,000 is an Army.
You can also form your own clans as well, and the game offers enormous clan support, seemingly taking pointers from World of Warcraft. You can organize intra-clan tournaments and more in the clan system, and also take part in the many challenges offered up in Elite. Plenty of these challenges offer up prizes, ranging from a unique in-game badges, to belt buckles, to t-shirts, to iPads, all the way up to the Black Ops Edition Jeep. Contests might be a best kill screenshot competition, or topping the leaderboard over a predetermined amount of time. There are new challenges constantly, and it dwarfs the challenges currently in Black Ops.
Now, you're probably wondering why you'd want to pay for this service. The good news is that most of it will be free to users at home, at least for now. But, there will be a premium membership version. Most of what we were shown, including groups, will be available for free. But you'll have to pay to access other features, and those weren't explained to us yet. Neither was the pricing, which Activision assured us would be "Less than any comparable online service for gaming or entertainment." Premium members will include "full access to all of the digital content" as well, which we assume means any DLC packs that get released. Considering that those are usually $15 a pop, gamers are already paying extra. If you've purchased both the "First Strike" and "Escalation" packs for Black Ops, you've paid 50 percent of the retail cost of the game for those.
Activision underscored that "We do not and will not charge for multiplayer." So that out of the box experience you get with the product will remain the same, and you'll still be able to play online for free. To some extent. Whether or not Elite offers Elite-only matches, modes, and gametypes remains to be seen. The service is set to launch this November on the same day as Modern Warfare 3, and hopefully by then we'll know what the premium cost will be to gamers.
Considering that Hulu Plus and Netflix both have a bottom-tier $7.99 a month plan, we're pegging Elite to come in at $5.00 a month, or about the cost of a single retail title. Too much? Just right? What do you think?