Remember that announcement of Beachhead, a new Activision studio dedicated to, in the words of Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, “an innovative new digital platform and social service for our Call of Duty community”? Activision has revealed just what that studio has been working on: Call of Duty Elite, which will launch this fall, integrated into Modern Warfare 3.
I have been following the project internally for a few months, and I figured that when people heard about it, they would need a lot of information. Many game news outlets have stories about it today with plenty of details, so check your favorite site. Hopefully, this article will also give you what you need to know — and remember, some details will be announced later in the year, so this is a lot of info, but it’s not everything.
Call of Duty Elite is a service. Take the best bits of a stat-tracking service, a social network, an interactive strategy guide, and a competitive gaming site, then custom-design all that for the Call of Duty community, and that’s Elite. The three words you’ll hear most often to define the service are Connect, Compete, and Improve — the Elite website offers a little insight into what that means. You can create custom leaderboards with friends, learn from detailed stats of your entire CoD career performance, consult expert players, join competitive leagues, win real prizes — lots of stuff. There is a video, “The Legend of Karl,” that gives an overview of what Elite will offer here.
Activision is NOT charging for Call of Duty multiplayer. Because it needs to be said (over and over, apparently), the COD multiplayer experience you know and love remains exactly as it is now with no additional fees. Elite ties into the multiplayer of both Modern Warfare 3 as well as Black Ops, but that integration is at no cost to you, and nothing is being taken away from the multiplayer experience. Just the opposite — Elite is here to enhance it, and it’s also free.
Call of Duty Elite is free for all players, and there will be an optional premium membership. The core functionality of Elite is free — any Call of Duty player will be able to log in and use it for no charge. Additional offerings above and beyond the core stuff will come with a fee. The simplest and best analogy I can think of is television. You can watch NBC, CBS, and ABC all you want, just for the price of buying a TV. However, if you want more — Comedy Central or HBO or NBA League Pass — then you subscribe to a cable or satellite service to get those extra programs. You don’t have to; it’s a question of whether or not you want to see those other shows. If you’re happy with your usual high-quality network television, keep on enjoying it. If you want more content from your TV, you can choose to subscribe to more. Does that make it seem less terrifying?
Premium membership pricing has not been announced. The fee (and exactly what you will get for it) has not been determined. The team says details will be coming later this summer on exactly what you get and how much that extra stuff will cost. But it’s supposed to be competitive with other digital enteratainment services. Until a real price is announced, if you’re looking for a ballpark, Netflix was name-checked by the Wall Street Journal (which was positively obsessed with the paid portion of the service and kind of ignored all the other stuff), and Netflix is $7.99/month.
DLC will be available as part of Elite as well as a standalone download. Again, nothing is being taken away and nothing is compulsory — you simply have another choice when it comes to getting DLC. You can buy COD DLC the traditional way — a map pack at a time — or you can automatically get the DLC as part of your Elite premium membership. Chacko Sonny, studio head of Beachhead, makes this extremely clear in an interview that is part of this week’s upcoming podcast: ”If you are the player who wants to purchase DLC seperately, that option is still there — you can go ahead and buy the DLC independent of the premium membership if you want. That said, if you want to purchase the premium membership, get the benefits that will be offered in terms of the features on Elite and get the DLC with it, it will be a great deal for you.”
COD Elite is NOT going to sell players competitive advantages with microtransactions. If you are worried about someone buying their way into Prestige or Activision selling people special weapons that they wouldn’t normally be able to earn through gameplay, don’t be — that’s not what Elite is about. ”We’re not doing anything like that,” Chacko Sonny says. “It’s not part of the plan.” (Also, for clarity, Elite is not the same thing as the COD free-to-play MMO currently being built for China. That’s a completely different project for a completely different country, and that’s the one that will use microtransactions.)
Elite has been in development for two years already. While Call of Duty Elite has been designed to integrate into Modern Warfare 3, it has been developed over the last two years using live data from Black Ops. Everything you’ve done up to this point in Black Ops has been tracked, logged, and will be waiting for you the first time you get to try Elite for yourself.
You can access Elite from many devices. One of the goals is to let fans interact with Call of Duty when they’re not able to play it — at lunch, on a bus, whatever. If you’re thinking about it, why not pop in and see what’s new on your stats and leaderboards? The web interface is the most obvious way to access Elite, but mobile clients are in development too (hello, iPad), as are console-specific apps.
There is already a OneOfSwords group on COD Elite. “I don’t play online because it’s just a bunch of kids/racists/racist kids” is a big (and fair) complaint I hear about COD online. Everybody would prefer to play with gamers who share their sensibilities and interests. So, the first thing I started playing with was the Groups function, which lets you find like-minded gamers and communicate with them. Pick any interest — gardening, zombies, juggling, your town, your school, your sports team — and then type it in. Ta da! You’ve joined a group, or created a new one — it’s just that word with a # in front of it. Anybody can join it just by saying “yeah, that’s me too.” Each group shares a comment wall, all their stats, and can easily organize community nights. Naturally I started a OneOfSwords group, which means everybody can see each other’s stats and laugh at mine. Ad since you can join up to 64 groups at the moment, well, when you get your chance to try Elite, you are required to join. And when will that be? Well…
There will be a free public beta this summer. Call of Duty Elite will launch at the same time as Modern Warfare 3 — November 8, 2011, but a public beta will run this summer. Chacko Sonny says this is “not just a teaser, it’s a real beta” — that is, not a beta for marketing purposes the way game betas are sometimes used. The team is looking for how the community uses it and what they like and don’t like, as well as how the service handles the traffic of the COD community. Project Director Noah Heller says the beta will roll out in waves, so if you don’t get in right away, don’t panic — you’ll have more chances as the summer goes on as they open the beta wider and wider. However, he mentioned on my podcast that if you are already signed up at callofduty.com and you’ve been posting in the forums as a dedicated fan, that’s likely to get you in sooner rather than later. And of course, if Elite itself is free, the beta’s free too. If you are interested and want to try it out ASAP, they’re taking signups at [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
That’s the most important parts of what I know so far. There is more to learn, and I will keep finding out stuff — chime in below and I will add more to this document as more details are made clear.
UPDATE: I’ve fielded several questions from the community on Twitter, so here’s a quick mini-FAQ.
So…what will be in the premium membership and what will be available to everybody? They’re still determining that, as the service is still in development, but statistics tracking and groups are definitely going to be available to everyone. I don’t expect a definitive answer or a chart of features until later in the summer.
How much is a premium membership? Is it monthly or annually? Not yet announced, and I am not expecting that news until later this summer, much closer to the November 8 launch. The primary focus is to make sure the beta goes smoothly and that everything works the way it’s supposed to work. The beancounters will figure out the pricing over the next few months.
Is everything shown in the Legend of Karl video going to be free? No — in fact, go to 6:25 in the video and you’ll see a slate that says “Some Call of Duty features mentioned in video require a paid Call of Duty Elite membership.” You may have missed it because the wonderfully distracting lawyer song plays over that section.
If I sign up for a premium Elite membership, do I get the DLC cheaper? They haven’t discussed pricing yet so I don’t know — again, I don’t think we’ll get an answer until late summer.
Will premium Elite subscriptions enable dedicated servers for MW3 on PC (or console for that matter)? Infinity Ward hasn’t discussed its server plans yet. Follow Infinity Ward’s Robert “fourzerotwo” Bowling on Twitter for any and all MW3 details as they become available.
Will Elite support Modern Warfare 2? Elite was built around Black Ops & MW3 and will support games beyond that, but I am unaware of any plans to integrate it into MW2.
I'll throw in a few comments on it myself later.
EDIT: Here's the Legend of Karl video he mentioned. Fairly amusing, somewhat informative.
Subject: Re: Call of Duty Elite Tue May 31, 2011 5:54 pm
I'm still pending judgement until we know more about the service.
Me too, but it still looks like a cash grab to me. There's very little I noticed that we don't already get with Black Ops. Mostly the social aspect (we already have a Friends list on PSN) and if you want to see how well the CoD series handles running websites, just look at the Official Black Ops Forums. I see little to no moderation, darn thing doesn't work half the time.
If they can't seem to do right what they already attempt, I can't see them getting any of this right either.
Unfortunately, I see the casual crowd going already.