How Call Of Duty Elite Works, And Why You Might Be Paying For It

The people who make Call of Duty keep promising that they won't charge you extra to play their hit game against other people. They shoot down any fears that they're going to turn CoD multiplayer into a pay-per-month subscription service, a la World of Warcraft or HBO.

But starting this (Australian) spring, series publisher Activision will offer a service you can pay for each month: the premium grade version of something called Call of Duty: Elite.

Starting as a beta this (Australian) winter and then launching on November 8, 2011 - the same day as the next Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 3 - Call of Duty: Elite will be a PC and mobile service that lets players track their stats, compete for real and virtual prizes, and form both social and gaming groups with players from across multiple CoD games.

Elite will be available in two tiers of service, one for paying and one for non-paying Call of Duty multiplayer fanatics. While all of the perks of membership are yet to be announced, that paying group may never have to pay for a Call of Duty map pack separately again.

At a glance, Elite resembles Bungie.net, the richly-detailed stat tracking service for that other mighty first-person-shooter series, Halo. But the top people behind the Elite project, including the heads of Beachhead Studios, an outfit dedicated exclusively to building and supporting Elite, promise that their service will prove to be the best of its kind, transcending expectations of websites for multiplayer video games.

The Elite service is, at its most basic, a very fancy website. It will primarily be accessed through users' web browsers, though Activision is planning to offer some sort of Elite app for iOS and Android devices.

Elite will include stat-tracking, lots of social-networking options and a bevy of competitions, some of which will be organized like the season of a professional sport. The service's Career stat-tracking and social grouping features will be free for everyone, according to top people who briefed Kotaku on the service at a recent demonstration in New York City.

It's not clear which other Elite elements will be exclusive to the paid version, let alone what a premium membership will cost. The paid version is at least confirmed to include more than just access to Elite. During an unveiling of the service, Jamie Berger, vice president of digital business at Activision, told reporters that a premium Elite membership will give subscribers a constant flow of Call of Duty content, including map packs, which have previously been available a la carte. Beger stressed that anyone who strictly buys a CoD game and doesn't pay for Elite can expect campaign, co-op and multiplayer "for no extra charge." He didn't elaborate on why someone would opt for the premium Elite offering of CoD map packs and other downloadable content, though one could imagine that those premium Elite members might get access to such added content early or at a bulk discount.

Two of us at Kotaku were recently given an advance demonstration of Elite, using a version of the beta build that will launch this summer and tie into Call of Duty: Black Ops. The screenshots that follow, all supplied by Activision, show off the features of Elite that were presented in our demo. (Click each to enlarge.) The Elite officials wouldn't tell us which of the features we saw would be offered only to paying customers - just that "many" of those we saw would be free - so as you check out the following screenshots and our accompanying descriptions, you're welcome to guess what you'll have to pay for and what will be available for all.

Elite is divided into four sections, the first of which is Career. It operates as one might imagine, sucking in a Call of Duty player's multiplayer stats from a PC or console and displaying them on multiple pages of the Elite site. This screenshot shows an Elite user's performance in Call of Duty: Black Ops which will be supported in the beta. It appears that Activision and Beachhead are only guaranteeing support for Modern Warfare 3 and beyond once the service launches in the fall.

The Career page and all of Elite will be platform-specific, so a player who has Call of Duty games on, say PC and PlayStation 3 will only have their stats from one platform in their Elite interface (unless, presumably, they decide to get two Elite accounts). All social-networking and competitive options will also involve only CoD players on that same platform.

One surprise feature on the Career page is the level calculator. It will allow players to input the number of hours of CoD they play each day in order to have the calculator tell them how many days it will take them to Prestige, aka reach the multiplayer mode's top rank before cycling to the lowest rank and starting the climb again.

The Career mode will give players access to an intense amount of statistics for the matches they've played. The shot here shows the player's performance in a Domination game on Black Ops' Berlin Wall map. The map shows green and red dots where the player killed another player or was killed. The timeline below it shows when those kills occurred and can be scrubbed through in a manner that crudely but effectively recreates the flow of life-and-death action in that session. These kinds of stats can be expected to be available on Elite just a minute or two after a match concludes in the games themselves.

The Career tab includes a Leaderboard Tracker, which will allow an Elite user to compare their standing in a variety of Call of Duty modes to those of other players they've befriended or are tracking through the service. Speaking of befriending people...

The Connect part of Elite makes CoD just a little bit more like Facebook or even Twitter. Players can befriend each other and see how they stack up on leaderboards (see previous screenshot). They can send messages to people they befriend and track the performance of players they're not friends with. Elite users can also join up to 64 groups, each defined by a hashtag. A user can start a group or join one and then strive to be the best CoD player in that group, be it #MW3, #Kotaku or even #StephenTotiloIsMyFavoritePersonNamedStephen.

Players will also be able to interact with each other through the theatre, which will allow users to host videos of their favourite CoD moments and comment on them. One of Elite's more clever features is its ability to read the meta-data of the Call of Duty videos uploaded to it and automatically tag each video with the names of the players in the captured match. Every player will easily know which videos they were in, intentionally or otherwise. Thanks to that bit of Elite tech, an unsuspecting Call of Duty player might discover that they were the victim - or the accidental star - in some popular Black Ops killstreak video.

The most promising and potentially impactful part of Elite is the Compete section. It has the potential to turn a fervent fan's weekly (or daily) after-work, after-school Call of Duty multiplayer sessions into what will essentially be participation in a season of CoD played as game show or sport.

A Program Guide in the Events page will list upcoming challenges. Some challenges will involve uploading videos or screenshots that meet certain contest criteria. So-called Lone Wolf Operations will challenge players to perform certain one-off feats in multiplayer - say, a set number of kills in a game mode that day - and could, the Activision people who showed us Elite said, win a player anything from an in-game badge to a real Jeep. The grander Events will pit players against each other in weeks-long tournaments that are set up for CoD gamers at different levels of skill. It's not clear yet whether the tournaments will only involve comparisons of players' stats against one another during the tournament or if players will ever be expected to actually play specific CoD matches against one another. (A Beachhead developer did say that the Elite team will be able to sniff out attempts to cheat in the tournaments by those who might attempt to pad their stats by playing against of friends who pose at shooting targets for them.) Winning tournaments and other contests will earn players Trophies, new status symbols that will surely motivate players the way Xbox Achievements and in-game badges already do.

The least-flashy part of Elite is the Improve section which is designed to serve as an instruction manual for Call of Duty multiplayer. It is a prettier version of an FAQ, providing data about how weapons and attachments work...

...how maps are laid out...

...and other details to study so that you can improve your Kill-To-Death ratio in Modern Warfare 3 and beyond.

Based on what we've been shown of Elite so far, the service looks like it will give CoD addicts a trove of data and networking options that they will surely enjoy. It doesn't offer anything to the single-player-only CoD gamer. It also doesn't yet have any meta-game in its own right, no way, for example, to "play" Ellite on your iPhone in a manner that would let you beat other Elite gamers or affect your standing in a proper Call of Duty game. The top developers on the service told us that game-like extensions and other unseen features may well be a part of future evolutions of Elite. For the beta, though, players should expect the features listed here, retro-fitted to suit Black Ops. An expanded suite of features will be offered when Elite launches alongside Modern Warfare 3.

Elite will go into beta this (northern) summer. Those interested in joining should check out CallofDuty.com/Elite.

The Call of Duty series has been a blockbuster for Activision, one that has, on the strength of its online multiplayer, kept gamers busy for months after each release. The series has earned the publisher of the game piles of money. For a while it has seemed that some sort of premium service was inevitable. If people pay $US15 a month to play World of Warcraft, why wouldn't they pay to play CoD? Yet Activision appears to have decided that it can't suddenly start charging for CoD multiplayer, so Elite results as the company's best option to find an alternate way to make money on multiplayer.

It remains to be seen how enticing it will be to pay for Elite. But there's a second benefit that Activision might gain for Elite. For the last few years, competing first-person shooter creators have been trying to knock CoD off its pedestal as, by far, the biggest multi-million-cop seller in its class. They have found it hard to do so for many reasons, including the fact that there is simply a lot of social pressure for gamers to buy each new Call of Duty.

The shooter gamer wants to play with their friends. The more passionately one person in a group of friends feels about playing Call of Duty, the more likely that all of the friends in that group will get the next game in the series. If Elite bonds those groups more tightly together - through communal stat-tracking, through social-networking, through competitions - then those groups of friends will find it even more enticing to keep the Call of Duty playing going, and those games that want to compete, will have a harder time than ever butting in.


Comments

    Just quietly...
    What are we paying for again?

    I love COD games, but activision are not giving me any reason to get excited for MW3. Nothing so far has persuaded me to buy it. I'll say it again, they need to do something amazing or I'm buying BF3.

    Disgusting. Pure exploitation of it's willing playerbase. The CoD train is already starting to loose momentem, especially with the departure of the original brains behind it. I won't be supprised if it starts to fade away the same way guitar hero did in the next couple years.

    That's the problem with activison. They latch on to a franchise, milk it for all it's worth, then just abandon it when it starts to dwindle. Do you honestly think activision will maintain this website when they grow bored of CoD?

    I love COD games but see no point in paying for stat's or for theater mode. I'm not a stat's whore and have used the theater mode in Black Ops twice in 7 months.

    Also, what sort of lag issues is this going to create for the game?

    Some minor HTML formatting near the end with an unclosed </em tag.

    I think the most important feature, which is theatre mode, should be available for free, since Halo Reach has it. Also this system being platform specific already sounds bad to me.

    I don't play CoD games, but this Elite thing just sounds like Blizzard's kind of money-milking business models from World of Warcraft creeping over.

      I'm actually interested in the free section.
      Some of the stuff they were talking about is appealing.

      The grouping thing for one, setting up the Matchmaking to look for a group I'm in (KotakAU) for example) and weight that... or local postcodes for Australian players?
      And, whilst my K/D's are terrible... I'd be interested in improving them.

      But mainly the matchmaking, which would eliminate a lot of the 'younger' players.

    So....it's like Steam community. And we're paying for it....

    Yeah I'm going back to tf2, piss off CoD. YOU MEAN NOTHING TO ME NOW /heavy

    So why will I pay for this? More reasons why Activision should just kill the series.

    Not to be a Halo fanboy, which I am right down to my glow in the dark Cortana underpants, but it looks like every single feature listed above is available through either Halo 3 or Halo Reach on the disc (theatre mode, swapping images and movies), through Bungie.net (it even looks like they've outright copied Bungie.net's layout and stat tools, plus Bungie.net has clan pages and plenty of opportunities for players to connect) or through Halo Waypoint (lots of free content including unlockable armour rewards for reaching certain ranks), for professional setup competitive modes you've got Arena playlists on Halo Reach too with seasons and league levels. All of which are completely free. Plus Halo Reach and Halo 3 have Forge World and Forge which allow players to create their own game types and mod levels to a crazy degree which has led to some terrific fun modes like Griffball and Rocket Racers.

    I'm not arguing 'ZOMG Halo pwns CoD', different strokes for different folks, I play and enjoy both. But while this looks cool, the fact they're charging for it is crazy when competitors offer almost exact same features for nothing.

    I'd bet all the money I have ($5.45 right now) that EA will announce a similar free service for Battlefield in the next few months.

    Looks like a stat-tracking service, like bad company stats.

    Paying for stat tracking. *awesome*

    huh? So its basically bungie.net... but paid... fail hahaha.

    Yeah kind of insulting to be honest. No chance i'll pay for that

    yeeeee....no.

    Didn't anybody tell Activision that Necrophelia is a crime?

      I like to think of CoD as more of a "Weekend at Bernie's" type situation.

    I have call of duty elite already and its for free

    its called bungie.net

    Die CoD die no body likes you anymore!

    Unfortunately it has the words Call of Duty in it so all the fanboys will jump on the bandwagon and pay for this. Really does just look like Halo Waypoint, but it will no doubt make Activision millions of dollars for a games series that most people I know have had just about enough of lately.

    Sounds like an awesome thing to me. Obviously i would not pay unless it gave extra maps. That is the only reason i would pay.

    But my friends and i have been trying to arrange clan matches and its damn hard.This is deffinatly needed.

    The way i see things in the future. Competitive Gaming will be bigger than all sports in the next 20-30 years so why not get in early. Some of us could be the next household name like Tony Hawk. Very few peolpe knew about competition skateboarding 20-30 years ago, now every one knows about it.

    In 20-30 years just about every person under 60 will be gamers. So there will need to be gaming leagues and the current ones are pretty shite

    I snickered when they asked $15 for map packs, but this is pretty lol..

    I've not really played Halo, or used bunjie.net, but it sounds pretty good for a free service. Personally, I've played TF2 for however long and enjoyed new maps and content for FREE.. Right now its Bad Company 2, until BF3..

    It'll be interesting to see how this does as I'm sure a lot of thought has gone into it. Subscriptions for multiplayer franchises is the future. But for me Elite lacks a single unique *selling* point.

    One aspect of this is that all games rapidly become very predictable due to the way stats are used (i.e. everyone goes sniper, everyone goes handgun), but that can open the doors for people to do more innovative things in game. But again, that's not worth much, if anything. If it were free it would be more interesting.

      it'll probably get a fair few gamers signing up to begin with, then tank after a few months once people lose interest in paying for what content is delivered. At which point it'll then become a free service bringing it into line with other free online stats tracking services that already exist.

    pffffftt!!!!!

    The battlefield series has this sort of shit for free!!!!

    Pull your head in Activision. After the way multiplayer matchmaking was cocked up in MW2 (anybody outside of the US simply got lagged out every game) you'll be lucky if I buy MW3, let alone pay an additional monthly subscription for 'Elite' to go with it!

    Why so much complaining? All in all, a couple of hundred dollars for DAYS of entertainment? Get a grip (job), I spend that much on a night out.

    Call of Duty Elite is free. You pay for more theater mode space and better competitions/prizes. It's $50 a year and you get every dlc that comes out for the game(which would be $60). so.... you save $10 and get an amazing service. IDK what people are complaining about

    I haven't played Halo in a long time but the dlc wasn't free when i did

    MW3's downside isn't this FREE service...its the lack of dedicated servers and access to quality/lag-free games

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