Why CoD Elite is great for gamers

Amidst all the complaints of cash grabbing and random exploitation of gamers levelled at Activision after the announcement of the CoD Elite subscription service, I wonder if anyone else thinks it’s a smart idea for what  could be a pretty good service.

I really like the idea of being easily able to find players who share similar interests. Don’t hate me! I just think it would be kind of fun to be able to run a battleground with other players who are fans of The Game of Thrones and discuss what’s likely to happen to Sansa and Arya in between rounds of PvP. Or easily find players who are from the same area so that we could get together for meetups more easily if we all get on.

One of the big unsolved problems in MMOs has always been how to find a good guild. Achievement-heads have gotten around this by defining a good guild as one where they can get lots of achievements, and then flocking to websites where guilds are defined by their achievement scores/ progression. More social players make contact with each other by chatting, by targeted ‘adverts’ on bboards and by getting recommendations from their friends. But there is always an element of luck involved.

But what if it was just easier to hook up with a bunch of fellow gamers who share similar interests/ location/ age/ criteria of your choice? What if it was easier to set up tournaments and events in the game just for your friend list?

The challenge of building a social network layer onto games isn’t a new one. Steam has an implementation, Blizzard toyed with Facebook associations before an outcry from players closed down that idea (incidentally, Facebook would have been free, anything they decide to implement for battle.net might not), various startups like raptr and xfire have experimented with these ideas as well.

But none of them have been as well integrated into a specific game as CoD Elite will be.

The first step with introducting a new paid service is to plan out a service that people will want to use. I think that Activision have hit this one for six, it could improve the game experience for a lot of current fans. The second step is to get them to actually pay – and in a world where other social networks tend to be free, that may be a harder sell.

And yet, those ‘free’ social networks are supported by advertising, by marketing demands which are tilted in favour of the bottom line and not of the users. Perhaps a pay-for social network which really is designed purely to serve the users’ needs isn’t a step we should be shying away from.

At the end of the day, you pays your money and you takes your choice. I commented recently that the way I’d prefer MMOs to earn more money from players is to offer more services and goods outside the game itself. I’d much rather pay for access to a cool social network than for cash shop goods and xp potions …

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9 thoughts on “Why CoD Elite is great for gamers

  1. Maybe it is just a personal problem, but whatever tolerance I have for cash-shop and “premium” services completely evaporates when it is through the console.

  2. OK let’s look at what they’re offering:

    “Connect

    Find the players YOU want to play Call of Duty with. Connect with online friends, co-workers, classmates or meet new Call of Duty players.”

    - This is just RealID. Useless for those of us who don’t want our bosses to know we were up playing WoW at 4am on a work night.

    “Compete

    Test your skills in tournaments and events designed for players of all skill levels. Compete for awesome virtual and real-world prizes!”

    - OK so we pay for matchmaking now. Should that not be standard functionality? In Rift for example where pug v premade happens all the time that’s just bad design. As for the prizes, well nice for those hardcore enough to win them.

    “Improve

    Get the tools to elevate your Call of Duty game. Access your personal stats, view exclusive strategy videos and get detailed intel on maps, weapons, and more.”

    Fans are ALWAYS better at games than designers. This is either going to be an online Prima guide (ie useless) or its going to be a way of charging fans for what other fans usually provide for free. So a combination of armoury, tankspot and wowhead at best but now no longer free.

    As someone who’s primarily a MMO player I don’t see anything exciting that I wouldn’t expect for free in a decent game. Nice for people who were excited at the notion of RealID I guess. And possibly a more social element being added to the FPS genre which could perhaps do with it.

    One problems with services like this and WoW Premium is that if you siphon off the non-trolls the core service gets utterly horrible. Which might make the premium mandatory.

    • with your Compete and Improve points, you’ve got the wrong idea, and it’s definitely not something that every decent game comes with.

      the Compete point isn’t normal game matchmaking – that’ll be free, like every other title. the Compete part of it is regular tournaments & events, which isn’t something that many games offer at all. Starcraft 2 & WoW are the only recent games I can think of that offers that kind of dev-hosted competition element, and even then they don’t offer prizes for most of the competition ladder. It’s clear Activision is borrowing blizzard’s knowledge of competition systems.

      the Improve point, is a little more complicated; thing is, most of the games that offer personal stats, strategy videos and intel are MMOs, with, as you say, fan-built resources. this kind of dev-side treatment is rare outside the MMO world – the two big examples are Bungie.net, for halo, and Steam’s stat system, which incorporates heat maps of deaths, shots fired, etc. those two examples are free, but those two devs are known for their community support, unlike activision.

  3. My problem with it is that Bungie has been providing these exact same services for Halo since Halo 2 way back in the day. Through Bungie.Net you can view a treasure trove of your own statistics, heat maps of your activity for each game, gametype and level, breakdowns of medals, share your custom videos, connect with other players, etc. All for free.

    This kind of extended stat tracking is fairly standard nowadays, as is a community builit around the game. All games have social forums where you can meet with other folk, and there’re always facebook groups and third party networks out there to connect with people.

    If they use CoD:E to segregrate the community, either by offering exclusive maps or separate playlists, I won’t be playing CoD games anymore. If the service remains optional, solely an added extra, I’ll just ignore it get on with my gaming.

  4. I am sorry I just cannot see this as anything more than another Activision money grab like all the ones going on in WoW. They are losing subscribers so it is time to crank out additional fees for those who are willing to pay for them.

    They just rolled out another mount on the wow store yesterday, and based on comments from twitter there were once again queues of players waiting in line to pay $25 bucks for pretty. Basically they have had a good track record of being able to get fans to practically give them money. I just cannot see this business model lasting forever, because eventually they will have extorted all the excess money out of their fanbase as they slowly wise up to what is actually happening.

    I think the most telling thing about this whole sequence of events is the fact that it was the financial websites that seemed to break this story first.

  5. Spinks, I agree with a lot of your points, but for some reason I can’t shake the feeling that this is a price hike, being dressed up as added features.

    I don’t have the link, but about three months ago, someone associated with Black Ops was quoted saying that they ought to be charging for multiplayer. I won’t get in to the whole, customer hosted servers and players providing the content in a multiplayer match as that is a separate argument, but I will say that if I’m going to have to pay for multiplayer, I am going to be very demanding of what I’m getting back.

    I’m an MMO player, and I play FPS’s on the PC as a way to blow off steam in between my MMO’s (and real life). I probably won’t be paying extra for the “elite” package, as it is not my top game. And I’m not going to drop $60 for a 4 hour single player campaign, so, you can probably group me into the small majority that wouldn’t purchase the game with this pay structure. *shrug*

  6. In every other case I can think of, the ability to connect with friends, track what acquaintances are doing or search based on other people’s interests is used as a lure for some other kind of revenue generation, not as something to be paid for by itself. I expect the number of people willing to pay for social networking to be 1% (if that) of the people who would use a free service.

    As for the rest of the announced features, I suspect charging for the ability to see statistics and participate in tournaments is going to leave a very bad taste in the mouth of most gamers.

    • I agree with you – however IMO I think the following will happen:

      Service launches as described and Activision sees $$’s in their eyes.

      1% of the playerbase or less buys into this as all this is given free in other games or at best deemed worthless to people considering the price.

      Activision will point to subs getting map-packs for free – most people will go ‘meh’ as the 15 bucks for maps once every 4-5 months is less than the cost of a sub – AND the game doesn’t even use the new maps if *one* person in the group doesn’t have the map.

      Activision trying to make this successful (because they see it as the evolution of the business model) will continue to add more features to the service until there is a *direct* competitive advantage for using the service – at that point a large portion of the playerbase will latch on so they aren’t left out.

      I guess my point is – without some real advantage I don’t believe it will catch on.

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