Call of Duty: Elite is Cool, But Will People Pay for It?
Two weeks ago, Activision showed off Call of Duty: Elite, its new subscription-based stat-gathering platform for future Call of Duty games starting with Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. We got a chance to check out the new service with a few rounds of Black Ops — it’s massive and deep, filled with information and different ways that players can connect and compete with each other. Check out our full preview of what we’ve seen of the platform before continuing here.
But what Activsion hasn’t made clear yet is what players will be paying for or exactly how Elite will work: we’ve been told that it’ll be cheaper than any other subscription-based entertainment service out there. Will players be willing to pay for Call of Duty stats, clan support, tournaments and other new features? After fellow GameFronter Mark Burnham and I had a chance to sit down with Elite ourselves, we were impressed with the service, but we’re not so sure people will pay for it.
Mark Burnham: I need to get this comparison out there. It’s Google Analytics: Call of Duty Edition.
Phil Hornshaw: Definitely. Obviously, Elite is much more complete and robust than any other game stat-tracking site out there (like Rockstar’s Social Club or Halo: Waypoint), which makes sense, given that they want you to pay for it.
Mark: Sure. It seems like it’s taking bits and pieces from other stat-tracking suites (that are free), and rolling them up into a single pacakge.
Phil: I like Project Beachhead and Activision’s philosophy about it, making it a social networking experience, pushing it as a way to improve your game. Those things seem like they could make a lot of bigtime CoD players very happy.
Mark: Sure. I also like how they are trying to boil the experience down into three pillars, all of which make sense. Connect, Compete, Improve. I totally understand what they’re trying.
Phil: And mixed in with all those stats were some really cool standouts. Heat maps, for example — totally useful.
Mark: But, see, here we go: “heat maps” are not new to multiplayer stat trackers.
Phil: That’s very true; I just liked having them in our Black Ops preview.
Mark: Right, they looked very cool and it was a pleasure having them. Generally, I think my experience with Elite was a pleasurable one. I love data. I love crunching data, looking at stats, especially when they’re nice and colorful and the software is fun to use.
Phil: Yeah, but to be fair, there’s nothing that we saw that hasn’t been applied elsewhere. Elite brings in a lot of good ideas, but they’re all good ideas from somewhere else. Even the social networking tools are just holdovers from Facebook and Twitter. that speaks a lot to whether people are going to feel like this is something worth paying for, and I’m not really sure that it is.
Mark: Me neither. And I’ll say of the three pillars — Connect, Compete, Improve — honestly, I was not all that blown away with Compete and Improve. Connect, though — I loved the new “groups” function. The single coolest thing I saw, and it’s the reason I’m going to give Elite a shot when the beta launches this summer.
Phil: Definitely. Improve, to me, seemed to be a little lacking in things that could actually help you to get better.
Mark: The fact that you can create groups based around common interests, like #DeathMetal, and find thousands of like-minded players to play your favorite game with — very cool.
Phil: Connecting with other players has a lot of potential, I think. I really want to see how that translates into the game. But that was the big thing I felt like Elite was missing in the reveal: actually bridging the gap from numbers to gameplay.
Sure, you can make groups, but it seemed like the platform leaves it up to you to take any further steps like actually organizing games with the people who are in your group. And in the end, this is supposed to be about getting people to play Call of Duty.
Mark: Right. It’s yet to be seen on Elite will be baked into Modern Warfare 3, but Robert Bowling and Glen Schofield sure talked a lot about how it would. Without actually saying how, yet.
There are so many things we don’t know, is the thing. I have a trillion questions.
Phil: That’s kind of something weird about it. Why aren’t they giving us more details? It makes me think that some of the things we speculated about — membership tiers and costs and stuff — are going to turn players off, and Activision is afraid to be straight with us yet.
Mark: Yeah, I don’t know. Here are a few of my questions: How can you use groups to actually join games with fellow players? Will you be able to easily meet up with your group pals from the console/PC versions equally? What parts of Elite are free, and which parts cost money?
Phil: I asked someone about whether stats from Zombies mode would be included in Elite, but they wouldn’t tell me about it — but I’m sure they’re going to track that, too. Mostly what you said, though, those are my questions. I’m just waiting to see Activision really lay the cards out and show us the value of the thing.
I’m dubious about Elite because we’re going to have to pay for it. I keep thinking of Rockstar’s stat-tracking Social Club and how awesome it is; completely free. Why should I pay for Elite unless it’s substantially better than that?
Mark: Also, is “Improve” really just nice looking strategy guides? We saw in-depth writeups on weapons, how they should be used, and a lot of really nice videos. That all seems good, but is that it?
Phil: Yeah, agreed. They seemed like multiplayer tips you could reasonably get just about anywhere
Mark: Right, and like you mentioned before — if I’m paying for a service that is going to make me better, it should be catered by my specific failures as a player. It should have a “Mark Burnham Failure Dossier” somewhere, and pinpoint tips that will help me not suck as much. Improve seemed broad; too broad.
Phil: Right — specific points that you need to work on, maps that you should spend more time on, etc. One of the things I really thought had a lot of potential, though, were the contests. For one, you didn’t have to be good at Call of Duty to compete in all of them, which is great. Real prizes, too, are also awesome.
Mark: Yes, you’re right. The contests in the “Compete” area seemed very cool. Screenshot contests, for instance. Very fun. I could get into that.
And I do really like the idea of going behind match-finding, of creating more broad contests for players based on specific conditions. That’s the kind of thing I could really get into. I get tired of seeing the same game types popup over and over.
But I do wonder who Call of Duty: Elite is “for.”
Phil: It’s hard to say.
Mark: The contests and groups, that stuff seems broadly appealing. But I mean the really, really in-depth stats and stuff.
Phil: Yeah, you have to be really into it to care about that kind of stuff
Mark: It seems like only the most hardcore players are going to really dig in there and start fights with each other over their heat maps and kill-death ratios with specific scopes and stuff.
Phil: Definitely. It’s hard to see how the common player will really improve much with all that information. It’s almost as if, for most people, lots of what’s found on Elite is going to be overwhelming. Too hard to sift through.
I kind of had that feeling as I was using it. Interesting, but altogether, I didn’t want to spend the time to look at all those numbers. Which is why i liked things like the heat maps — quick and dirty information.
Mark: Right. Well, for me it was like a really microscopic granular look at how much I suck. Dissected dozens of different ways.
Phil: But can you take that information and use it to be better in your next match? That’s the big question for me. I’m not really so sure you can.
Mark: I was out of practice, that’s for sure. But, yeah, I think for some, they’re won’t even want to get “better.” They just want to make a group with their coworkers, a #DennysManagers group or something, and go shoot each other. It does seem like it’s hopefully adaptable to people who want to use it for different end goals.
Phil: That can be very cool. Really wish we knew more about it. If Activision could divide it up so you’re only paying for the parts you want, it could be a great service. But am I going have to pay for all those stats when really, I just want to upload videos to youtube? I’m kind of afraid i will.
Mark: Just taking a shot in the dark there, it sounds like you’ll be paying for the contests? The year-round services–it sounds like the original programming part, that’s the part that costs.
Phil: Yeah, probably. The stats then will probably be free, given that it’s just numbers the games already track
Mark: Correct. They’ve got to employ a bunch of people to come up with that programming, stoke the fires of the community, etc. The stuff a computer can do, maybe that’s the free part.
So in Activision style. I was: Intrigued, Overwhelmed and Unsure. Intrigued by “groups,” by the “contests” and by how pretty it all looked. Overwhelmed by how much depth the program had, and how much exploring you’d need to do to really understand the breadth of what’s possible. And unsure because I still don’t know hardly anything. What’s free, what isn’t, and how will it really perform after days and weeks of using it, and how will it plug into the actual gameplay experience of Modern Warfare 3?
Phil: Yeah, it’s hard to make any kind of informed judgment because Activision is holding so much back. So far, I like what I’ve seen — but i’m definitely not ready to pay a monthly subscription fee.