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Call of Duty Elite Brings Subscription Service, Social Networking to Online Multiplayer

Call of Duty players will join the Elite ranks in the franchise’s online multiplayer.

Activision announced Tuesday that the Call of Duty series would be implementing a subscription service for the game’s online multiplayer. Named Call of Duty Elite, the service intends to improve the player’s online multiplayer experience and unite Call of Duty players through a variety of social networking-like tools. Elite will coincide with the launch of Modern Warfare 3.

Being developed by Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games, Modern Warfare 3 takes place throughout the world in locations like the United States, England, Germany, and France in a fictional World War 3 setting. Raven Software is also assisting in the game’s multiplayer development. The online multiplayer has been one of the strongest selling points for the franchise.

Activision’s Beachhead studio is developing Call of Duty Elite. It revealed the new studio this February. Elite has been in development for almost two years.

Activision claims there’s 20 million monthly Call of Duty online players, with 7 million playing daily. Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision, said:

The average Call of Duty player spends 58 minutes per day playing multiplayer. That is more than the average Facebook user spends per day on Facebook. And yet, right now, there are very few tools to unite and super charge that social community.

Call of Duty’s main online multiplayer component at retail is still “free,” although Xbox 360 users have to pay a subscription fee for Xbox Live to play. In addition to offering exclusive content, Activision described Elite as a social networking tool, like Facebook for Call of Duty players.

The base service of Call of Duty Elite is free of charge to everyone who buys Modern Warfare 3. Everyone will have access to Elite, but certain features will require a monthly subscription fee. Features like Career and Groups will be free for all Call of Duty players, according to Gamasutra. Activision hasn’t confirmed the full list of features in Elite that are free or paid content. Activision also hasn’t confirmed a pricing structure for Elite’s premium services.

Activision hinted the monthly subscription could be cheaper than popular services like Netflix which charge $7.99 a month, according to the Wall Street Journal. Jamie Berger, vice president of Activision’s digital division, said, “The price is going to be less than any other comparable entertainment or gaming service out there right now.”

According to several sources, Activision divided Elite into four components; Career, Connect, Compete, and Improve.

Career is where players can check out their gameplay stats. New interface menus allow the player to see detailed statistics of their gamplay performances. Career tracks all your statistics, from your kill-to-death ratio to the weapons you used. A breakdown of recent matches includes your overall performance and even where you were killed each time on the game map. Elite also includes leaderboards and shows your personal best games. Players will be able to compare their stats with their friends.

Connect is the social networking part of Elite. It’s how players can get together with the people they want to game with. According to Wired GameLife, players can put their PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, or Facebook friends into Elite to compare stats and connect with those who play Call of Duty.

A player can create or join a Group for almost any sort of hobby, interest, idea, location, and more. Players will be able to game with only people in their Groups, instead of the traditional game searching methods. In these Groups players can check out the Group’s and members’ stats and have discussions with each other.

In Theater mode, players can share media like gameplay videos with friends and other players, and even upload them to YouTube. Players can tag people (like Facebook) in those videos as well. Videos can be promoted within Elite so all users will be able to view the best and worst gameplay moments from Call of Duty players.

Compete is the “Program Guide” for Elite. It’s where Groups and clans can fight against each other online. Groups, clans, and individual players can participate in challenges with certain objectives and tournaments. Contests will also be created, so players can win in-game and real life prizes like an iPad or a Call of Duty-themed Jeep. The list of programs will be routinely updated.

Improve is where players can better their skills with detailed statistical tracking from the Career section. Described as a “personal online coach,” Elite will show players how to improve their game in the variety of multiplayer modes. For example, it will tell you what gun is best for you to use on a certain level, or areas where you need improving.

Bungie has offered most of these features for free on since 2004 with Halo 2 on the original Xbox. Halo Reach for the Xbox 360 has also given players extensive stat tracking since its release on Sept. 14, 2010.

According to Activision, Elite will be available in-game, on the web, mobile devices, tablets, and the console so players can connect to the service anytime they want. Paid Elite subscribers will also get downloadable content like map packs for Modern Warfare 3 as part of their subscription. Those who don’t subscribe will still be able to buy the content separately.

Elite will also provide exclusive entertainment to its paid subscribers. Hirshberg told The Guardian that a web TV series based on Call of Duty featuring Hollywood talent would be made for Elite subscribers. Hirshberg said:

If you’re a sports fan, there are lots of ways for you to connect with that hobby, that passion, not just on the day that the games are played, but throughout the week, and we wanted to give [Call of Duty players] real entertainment value.

Previously the company had denied this sort of service would come to the Call of Duty franchise. However Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, said in June 2010 he wanted Call of Duty to have an online subscription service. Hirshberg said in November 2010 that Activision would never charge for online multiplayer in Call of Duty.

In November 2010, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter believed that Activision would move towards some type of subscription-based service for its Call of Duty games. In February Pachter predicted that with the announcement of the Beachhead studio, a paid subscription would come to Call of Duty.

Call of Duty Elite is currently accepting beta applications on its Web site. The beta will begin with Call of Duty: Black Ops sometime this summer. Modern Warfare 3 will release Nov. 8 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. The game will retail for $59.99.

Check out the trailer for Elite:

Photo by Activision

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