Call of Duty to get a subscription option

What is this I don’t even …?

News today is that Activision-Blizzard are planning on introducing a subscription option for CoD. This itself is not surprising as there have been rumours about it for months. But what is perhaps unexpected is that apparently this is going to take the form of an ‘elite’ social network  to which players can subscribe.

So the idea is that you pay your $60 or so for the main game, and then they’re going to try to sell you a subscription on top. It sounds as though some content (such as map packs) will be included, as well as being able to compare stats with other players and find people with similar interests (if ‘likes to play shooters’ isn’t similar interest enough).

But no, the surprise here is that they broke the story in the Wall Street Journal and not a gaming publication. That sends a message about who Activision really want to hear about this development. No doubt we’ll hear more at E3 next week. (And I guess, the other surprise is that they’ve decided subscriptions will make more money for them than expanding F2P options, so opposite to the way the MMO world has been trending. Wonder if they’ll offer a cash shop on top of this.)

So if you are a CoD player, how do you feel about this option? Better value than buying occasional map packs as DLC? What could they put in to make it tempting? And how much would you be prepared to pay per month/year?

And if you aren’t, don’t worry, chances are that if it’s popular, your favourite online multiplayer game will go this way too:

Rob Dyer, senior vice president of publisher relations at Sony’s U.S. games division, said only a few games have the audience loyalty and size to support a subscription service like Call of Duty Elite. Mr. Dyer said he is “very confident” other publishers will follow Activision’s lead. “There’s money to be made there,” he said.

And a video trailer for the new service has also been leaked in advance of E3. I wonder if CoD counts as an MMO yet …

My tour in Call of Duty Black Ops

call-of-duty-black-ops-arctic6

I could hear the crunching of footsteps on snow, and froze with my back to the wall. Suddenly there was a flicker of movement in my peripheral vision and I spun round in time to bring the light machine gun (LMG) to bear on the man behind me.

“Oh shit, which button is it to fire…” I said, accidentally swinging the viewpoint round so that I was pointing my gun at the floor. I may possibly have said rude words to the PS3 controller.

My friend, patiently, waited until I had gotten the controls together and could happily obliterate him with a headshot.

“Sorry,” I said, as his blood splattered over the snow.

“You don’t have to say sorry every time you kill someone.”

Call of Duty doesn’t do unhappy endings. You don’t really die, you just respawn round the corner with a full clip.

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So here’s the setup. I was round visiting friends over New Year and had a chance to play Black Ops on a lovely big TV. “You write about games, you should try this,” seemed like a great idea at the time. And then there I was, controller in hand, feeling like the clumsiest soldier in the western hemisphere. Do real black ops personnel spend 5 minutes trying to get through an open door? I suspect not.

I can’t get over how awkward the controller is for this type of game. I haven’t played shooters for years, not since playing Quake on the office LAN (despite my partner’s best efforts to interest me in Unreal Tournament) and never on a console.

And yet. Once you have a vague feel for the controls, it’s a very exciting game. Sure, it’s just a souped up version of hide and seek. That actually is the basics of most shooters, as best as I can see. But add in interesting buildings, vehicles, and obstacles to duck around, and hide and seek with imaginary guns seems like a perfectly good afternoon’s pastimes.

I personally find that the ultra realistic uniforms and guns add approximately zero interest to the genre for me. If anything, the more realistic it gets, the more uncomfortable I get. I have no desire to shoot real people. I don’t really want to do anything more violent than paintballing (which I have done iRL and was a lot of fun.)

And compared to the MMOs I’m used to, Black Ops with its first person view feels very claustrophobic. You can’t see the whole battlefield, you can often barely see a few inches in front of your own face and if you tweak the controls awkwardly then the camera careers around, not only making you feel seasick but also destroying any chance at all of you getting a feel for the layout of the area.

I can see though that once you are comfortable with the controls and can get more into the ‘hide and seek with guns’ zone, you can get a good deal more fun out of it.

Reflections on FPS and Black Ops

One of the stand out points for me is that Black Ops was not especially more fun than Quake, despite the length of time between the two games. The actual gameplay wasn’t all that, at least not that I could see. It certainly has prettier graphics, more hyper realistic settings, and lets you interact more with the environment (or at least shoot holes through doors and break windows), but I’m not really seeing the great leap forward in FPS that I was expecting.

The second thing is that really, paintball is a lot more fun and way less claustrophobic. I did find the controller was a hindrance. The studio that can make a good Kinect based shooter will be onto a winner.

The third is that there’s nothing really novel about playing hide and seek online. It’s very basic gameplay, even compared with other console games like Uncharted 2 or Grand Theft Auto. (GTA in particular shows off the console much better, to my mind.)

The fourth is that although it is kind of fun to tag your friends, I just don’t like actually shooting people. So I feel a bit conflicted when I kill anyone. (I think once we started playing for real a bit more, although I obv. wasn’t as good as the guys who had more practice, I did get some actual kills that weren’t pity kills :) ).

The last is that if Blizzard are working on a PvE/ MMO type shooter for Titan, they could well be onto a winner. I think there are lots of players out there like my friends who enjoy playing with people they know, and like the PvE game, but aren’t all that excited about being massacred by random 14 year olds (the game, astoundingly, has no player rank matching a la Starcraft 2, which is an inexplicable omission for me in a genre that stands or falls on it’s PvP tournament modes.)

Gaming News: CODBlops breaks records, Rock Band dev up for sale, APB bought by F2P publisher, Fixes for FF14

CODBlops, if anyone is curious, is the going shorthand for Call of Duty: Black Ops which has been breaking sales records this week. I don’t play shooters, and I’m not really sure from reviews whether people think it’s actually better than the last entry in the series, Modern Warfare 2. More details and news snippets on CODBlops (a word I’m going to keep using now) below.

Another minor (ish) news story that came up was the notion that SC2 hasn’t really taken off yet in South Korea in the way Blizzard might have wanted. This is the report, from Edge magazine.

A newspaper report out this week disclosed that thousands of prisoners in the UK are allowed to play computer games. This was greeted with the usual howl of outrage which happens whenever prisoners are treated like human beings (such as being given the vote, for example). But if you actually read the article, the consoles are paid for by the prisoner’s family and access to them is part of an incentive scheme for good behaviour. So the games are part of a schema of behavioural therapy. Lest we forget, part of the prison remit is still to rehabilitate and even if the consoles just encourage more civilised conditions and behaviour behind bars, then they are a Good Thing.

Also of interest to WoW players, Blizzard announced that race changes to the new Cataclysm races will be available on launch night.

Post of the week is Dusty’s time travel imaginings of an evening in the near future when you sit down to play your favourite game …

CODBlops Breaks Records

Ah, watch those first day sales records tumble as another entry in the CoD franchise rappels its way onto the shelves.

And as usual, players immediately start to find and exploit any bugs they can find to gain advantage in multiplayer mode. Treyarch took the unusual step of biting the hand that feeds by criticising the gamer culture that makes people ‘nerd famous’ who have posted details on how to exploit a glitch. This, btw, is the same gamer culture that has made it lucrative business for guilds to race to be first to post strategies and kill videos of new WoW raid bosses. Yup, maybe he has a point.

The other rumour doing the rounds is that the next instalment in the franchise is to be set in space and to feature space marines.  Personally I think they should go back to Napoleonic times, because surely people are sick of space marines now … or is that just me?

Viacom to sell Harmonix

Viacom has lost a lot of money on its video games arm, has decided that it doesn’t really have the expertise to manage the games business, and is planning to sell Harmonix (maker of Rock Band.)

Gamepolitics.com wonders whether the developer would be a good fit for EA. That’s my guess also.

APB bought by F2P publisher

There is an unconfirmed rumour floating around that APB (current holder of the shortest-time-from-launch-to-closure MMO of all time) has been bought by a free to play company. The comments on the RPS post which I linked here are quite an interesting read also.

Whether or not APB will ever go live again we really don’t know. Presumably with all these rumours there should be an announcement soon.

And on that note, what’s with CCP not having announced World of Darkness yet? Developers discussed it at the grand masquerade and still nothing on the website.

Square Enix announces update for FF14

I haven’t said much about Final Fantasy 14 on here since the game launched. This is because I’m still sore that I never was able to get a free trial so never found out whether/ how well it would work on my machine and consequently didn’t feel inclined to dig into my pockets to buy a game which I might not be able to run. (Or in other words, la la la I’m waiting for the PS3 version …)

Anyhow, the game looks gorgeous in screenshots, but there have been some issues. Squenix have a fairly extensive plan to fix this and it sounds as though they’re going to cover a lot of ground. Any FF14 players have any comments on the plans?