Call of Duty: Elite Hands-On Preview
There are more than 20 million players who take to the battlefield in Call of Duty: Black Ops. That’s a huge number, and with a multiplayer community that massive, there’s also a massive amount of data associated with it.
In fact, there’s so much data out there that Activision has created a new way to track it all — it’s called Call of Duty: Elite, and it’s that thing developed by the newly created Activision studio, Project Beachhead. You might remember that story from a few months back, when Activision’s head of publishing, Michael Griffith, said this: “Beachhead will create the best-in-class online community, exclusive content, and a suite of services to supercharge the online gaming experience like never before. The platform will support in-game integration and bring online experiences and console play together for the first time.”
In a nutshell, that’s what Call of Duty: Elite is — a massive stat-tracking social networking platform that’s going to be fully integrated into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and will track players’ stats across their entire Call of Duty careers going forward. The platform will support Call of Duty: Black Ops when it all launches in November, but the real star of the show will be Modern Warfare 3. By way of comparison, think Halo: Waypoint or Rockstar’s Social Club online sites.
So far, Activision has only released a few details about how Elite will work. We were given a hands-on preview of the platform at Activision’s pre-E3 press event, integrated in with Black Ops, and got to see a lot of how the system will work. According to Activision, though, what we saw only scratches the surface of what Elite will finally entail.
How elite is Elite?
Here’s a quick rundown of what we saw of Elite: it’s mostly a stat-tracking platform that gathers up all kinds of player information and makes it available on the Internet. Eventually, Elite will be integrated into the console experiences of Call of Duty games and also into the games themselves, but for now (and perhaps during the public beta period to take place later this summer), the Elite we saw was web browser-based. Firing up the program took us into a series of web pages based on the three tenets of the platform: Connect, Compete and Improve.
“Connect” refers to Elite’s social networking capabilities. The platform opens up a lot of ways to connect with other players — by searching for them, for example, and comparing their stats, or through the platform’s “Groups” capability. Groups are a lot like what you might find on services such as Facebook; they allow users to search for like-minded players who share similar interests, like “Photography” or “Metal Bands.” You can join any group you like, or make up your own that others can join, and they can be about anything — so players could easily create groups for their schools or workplaces, and join groups filled with people who like dogs or people who manage Appleby’s.
The Connect section also supports clans with meeting spaces and stats, and will play host to tournaments that players can enter. You can keep track of stats across all your groups and networks, and Activision says players will be able to quickly meet up with other network members and start or join games with them through Elite.
Elite also carries full YouTube support for Call of Duty games, allowing players to upload videos made in Black Ops’ theater mode to their online profiles for others to view. Project Beachhead staff also keeps a curated list of videos that are accessible from Elite, which are often some hilarious moments lifted from the annals of multiplayer.
“Compete” is all about giving players new ways to interact that aren’t exactly social. Black Ops players will recognize some of the competitions available through Elite — challenges that have players putting together numbers of kills or using different weapons. There are a lot of those types of challenges in Black Ops, and through Elite, they can result in both digital, in-game rewards and real-world prizes.
You don’t have to be good at Call of Duty, though, to compete in what Elite has to offer. Other competitions are available that don’t require player skill, but instead make use of Elite and Call of Duty’s other features. For example, one competition is all about uploading the best gameplay videos to YouTube. During our preview of the service, Activision had one competition for which a Call of Duty branded Jeep was the grand prize.
“Improve” is the final tenet Elite brings to bear, and it has to do with applying the platform’s wealth of stats to actual gameplay. To this end, Elite tracks everything about your play — what multiplayer maps you favor and which ones give you the most trouble or the biggest advantage, and what weapons earn you the most kills and which ones take you down most often. The Improve section is where you’ll apply the information Elite gathers to making your game better.
Among the strongest parts of the Improve section is the heat map, which allows users to run through the timelines of their matches to see exactly where they were standing when they were killed, or where they did their killing. You can check through every incident you get into in a match and see where on each map you have the most success or the most trouble.
Finally, Improve gives you information about each weapon available in Black Ops, as well as expert advice and videos about how best to use them. Each video gives a short rundown about the situations to which each gun is best suited and how to be effective in using it. It also allows players to see how they measure up to their friends and opponents.
A Monthly Fee for…Something
While we were able to see how Elite interacted with Black Ops, Activision says that the real features of Elite will be available with Modern Warfare 3. Activision reps also said the service will be available in tiers, and that some of those tiers will cost money.
As to what exactly the details are, we’re not sure yet — for example, we don’t know what Activision will charge for the service and what portions of the service will require a subscription. According to Activision, Elite will be cheaper than any other comparable subscription entertainment service, which makes us think at least its cheapest tier will be cheaper than a $7.99 per month Netflix subscription.
Activision has also said that downloadable content and map packs will be available as part of the subscription service; so if Acti releases two map packs for Modern Warfare 3 (Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops have each received two DLC map packs), which go for $15 each, then an Elite subscription at $7 or so per month pays for itself for about the first four months.
It’s worth repeating, though, that the details are really thin at this point — even after seeing Elite in action, we still don’t know what the “true” service will look like in Modern Warfare 3, or what it will cost players. Our speculation is that the data portions, things that can be generated automatically by computers, will be free, but that more original content will be part of the paid tiers. But the multiplayer experience will always be free, Activision has said, so don’t expect to have to pay a subscription (any more than you might already) to jump into a game in MW3 and start shooting other players.
So we’ll put it to our readers: What would you be willing to pay for when it comes to Call of Duty: Elite? What do you want to see in the service and how much would you put down each month to have it?
Meantime, check out some screens from Elite below, and head over to read about Our Impressions after sitting down with Elite first-hand.