Activision launched a paid subscription service for its Call of Duty series last year, with COD Elite offering Modern Warfare 3 players extra features for a $49.99 yearly fee. Today, the company announced that the paid subscription is being dropped for the next Call of Duty games.
COD Elite launched alongside Modern Warfare 3, offering paying customers extra social features, skill tracking and clan management for the game, as well as Facebook integration.
Perhaps most notably, the service also granted paid subscribers discounted downloadable content for the game on a monthly basis.
While it was understood that the paid Elite subscription would carry on into the next Call of Duty game, Black Ops II, Activision has now revealed that the fee is to be dropped for the upcoming game, although the Elite service will continue to operate and evolve.
With the launch of Black Ops II on November 13, all players will receive COD Elite and all of its social features for free -- essentially putting it on a par with Battlefield's free Battlelog system, Microsoft's Halo Waypoint, and other social services for games.
However, downloadable content will no longer come with Elite, and will instead be made available to purchase separately, or through the Black Ops II Season Pass, which costs $50.
Current Elite subscribers have been advised that they will continue to receive the premium features of the service for Modern Warfare 3, including downloadable content for the title, but that their paid subscriptions will not affect Black Ops II -- in effect, Elite for Modern Warfare 3 is a different service to that provided with Black Ops II.
Eric Hirshberg, CEO at Activision Publishing, explained that the move was not due to a lack of subscribers -- in fact, Elite had over 2.3 million subscribers at its peak -- but rather, the move to free is in aid of unifying the Call of Duty community. Having a split between paying and non-playing players had bifurcated the core and more casual players, and the company is hoping it can once again bring them together.
PiperJaffray analyst Michael Olson, however, argues that COD Elite in its previous iteration was "fraught with disappointments," and noted that premium subscriptions had a low attachment rate of around 10 percent among people who purchased Modern Warfare 3.
Olson says this move eliminates an inefficient paywall and will offset potential declines in revenues for Black Ops II (the analyst expects the game to sell fewer units than Modern Warfare 3). He believes average revenue per user will jump from $75-80 with Modern Warfare 3 to over $80 with Black Ops II.
Back when Elite was gearing up for launch, analysts predicted that the service would prove "very popular" and generate around $50 million in revenue during 2012.