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Analysis: What Long-Term Impact Could  COD: Elite  bring?
Analysis: What Long-Term Impact Could COD: Elite bring?
May 31, 2011 | By Chris Morris

So now it's official. The long-awaited (and, in some cases, long-feared) subscription service for Call of Duty is a reality. And while players pore through the previews and press release to determine exactly what Elite entails, I'm finding it a lot more interesting to look further down the road.

Make no mistake, Elite is a bold move by Activision and one that could ultimately change the way the industry operates when it comes to user communities and digital add-ons.

There have been plenty of kneejerk complaints about the service's subscription format. That's something that goes with anything that affects people's wallets, but it's hard to argue with the concern this time.

Players are shelling out $60 for the game (one that doesn't follow the industry's normal arc of price erosion, by the way), then will likely pay between $5-$8 per month for Elite access (though it's worth noting that those amounts are speculative for now). And given the game's player base is heavily skewed towards the Xbox 360, that's another $60 per year for Xbox Live fees. All of a sudden, one game is costing you between $180 and $216 per year.

Obviously, there are some caveats in that math. Few people subscribe to Xbox Live strictly for Call of Duty, but you get the point.

For the player, that means that Elite has to have some truly worthwhile content. But Activision isn't trying to lure every Call of Duty owner into Elite from the start. It's smart and knows how to appeal to the core audience.

Right now, to buy all three map packs that come out with a Call of Duty game, players shell out $45. Let's assume, for argument's sake, that Activision opts for a $5 per month subscription fee. For an extra $15 (one year's worth of monthly fees), COD Elite players will now get the included map packs and a host of additional services, including in-depth tracking of player statistics and an advanced matchmaking service. That's not a particularly bitter pill for people to swallow.

And ultimately, people are going to go where their friends go, which will help build the numbers.

While he's something of a lightning rod among gamers, it's worth noting that Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter was the first to forecast this service last year. And while he says he's still sussing out the particulars, he doesn't expect Activision to shove Elite down players' throats out of the gate.

"I think Activision hopes to get up to 1 million subscribers this year," says Pachter. "From there, they hope to get it up to 3 million next year, then up to 5 million. Over time, they'd like to migrate everyone over to it."

One million subscribers isn't exactly pocket change, but with a player base of 7 million users, it's achievable and it's something that would be more than a blip on the company's earnings.

"I think they're in this for the long run," he says. "For their next [fiscal] year, 1 million subscribers [to Elite] is about an added 3 cents per share. It's meaningful, but who knows ultimately if they'll end up with 1 million or 10 million."

If those numbers do start to increase, look for the company to expand the Elite model to other notable franchises. And the most obvious places to do so are StarCraft and Bungie's upcoming title.

Bungie and Blizzard, of course, already offer services similar to Elite for free. While there's no way (and, really, no point) for Bungie to add a subscription service onto Halo at this point, you can bet the potential monetization of the online components of its next game played into its discussions with Activision before the two companies signed a long-term partnership.

And with two more StarCraft games in the works, Blizzard could always add additional features to a subscription package. It would be astonishing, in fact, if early conversations about that haven't already occurred.

Looking even further down the road, if Activision's earnings climb steadily due to Elite, other publishers are going to have to follow suit. Their investors will demand it, sensing money being left on the table.

What does that mean long-term for players? Well that's the big mystery. Do subscription services like Elite risk splintering the gaming community? Possibly. Or, potentially, they help separate core players from the casual which could cut down on griefing and make the experience more fun for both player sets.

Like I said, Elite is a bold move for Activision, and one that could set the course of how major franchises interact with their audience in the years to come.

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Kevin Patterson
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Good luck with this activision and MS, i won't pay an additional monthly fee for a game when I already play a yearly fee for Xbox live. If it was a true MMO, maybe, but a shooter with map pack and stats, no real interest for me, and will encourage me to stay away.

Sting Newman
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You vastly under-estimate the stupidity of humanity. MMO's are proof of human stupidity. When MMO's first came out gamers said the same thing. Gamers are a stupid fucking lot, especially FPS gamers. They are bottom of the barrel.

Jonathan Gilmore
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Please, don't mince words. Tell us how you really feel.

Aaron Truehitt
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Why do we pay fees monthly to MMOs anyway though? We don't get content every month, just little patches.

Tiago Raposo
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You're paying for the server, which, for crouded games, must be massive and therefore expensive.

However, a shooter, with non-persistent multiplayer matches, has no real purpose on needing monthly fees other than "monetization". If the content offered to players via subscription actually need a server, or some form of online keeping (other than stats), then it makes sense, otherwise it would be better (gamers side) to offer content as DLCs or expansion packs.

I'm skeptical at the move, but then there's always indie games to fall to (which are made (in theory) by gamers, for gamers).

Sting Newman
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"You're paying for the server, which, for crouded games, must be massive and therefore expensive."

LOL world of warcraft can already be played on pirated servers, only idiots pay for MMO's because they are stupid and illiterate.

Joshua George
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The reason you pay for an MMO is the huge cost that it takes to run one. Especially one of WoW's size.

Guild wars on the other hand, has it's cost reduced by the fact that the world isn't semi persistant. Everything outside of the towns is handled by instances.

Weird considering Guild Wars 2 is supposed to be more persistant than that. And no fees. Microtransactions, yes. But no monthly fees.

Francois Stelluti
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I honestly don't see how only but the most dedicated players would pay for this service.

Joshua George
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I concur.

Alex Leighton
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"And ultimately, people are going to go where their friends go, which will help build the numbers."

CoD is successful because it's what the cool kids are playing online, much in the same way that the first Halo was THE split screen multiplayer game, and going even further back, it was Goldeneye, or Super Smash Bros.

These types of games rope in people who otherwise wouldn't bother playing it because it's what their friends are doing, and they don't carry the social stigma of playing a game like WoW. So if a couple of alpha males in every group can be made to believe that this Elite package is something they need, everyone else around them will soon feel that way too.

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Sigh... Why to people forget Perfect Dark N64?

Jonathan Escobedo
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While I think this is going to be a huge success for Activision, I feel that it's going to be short term success. I mean, as stated in the article, ignoring the fact that the game costs sixty dollars or more (depending on if you get the special editions) and the DLC, paying five to eight dollars (which I feel is the most Activision can get away with charging for this) plus the money for online on the 360 quickly turns COD into a very expensive game that only the most dedicated fans would be willing to partake in. And as history has shown, if you only cater to your most hardcore fans and nobody else, you're kind of in deep trouble.

Frank Diaz
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gotta love when the people making decisions havent got a clue.

Matthew Cooper
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I think there's a math mistake in this paragraph:

"Right now, to buy all three map packs that come out with a Call of Duty game, players shell out $45. Let's assume, for argument's sake, that Activision opts for a $5 per month subscription fee. For an extra $15 (one year's worth of monthly fees), COD Elite players will now get the included map packs and a host of additional services, including in-depth tracking of player statistics and an advanced matchmaking service. That's not a particularly bitter pill for people to swallow."

It should say "For an extra $60 (one year's worth of monthly fees)..."

So going with that logic, the story here is that Activision is rolling a few additional features onto the yearly map pack releases, adding $15 to the yearly cost, and making it a service. Not hard to imagine this taking off.

Chris OKeefe
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It hinges on whether or not you maintain access to some of those features if you cancel your subscription. The subscription may well be worth it for a while, but for people who don't have the time to play as often, it's a continual investment to play maps. You are paying over and over for something that traditionally you only had to pay once for.

I'm not keen on the idea of losing access to content. It's not the same as DLC at all. Simply putting the dollar values beside each other is apples and oranges. The fact is that if you stop paying them you lose access to features that have no business being part of a subscription package.

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I can tell you that I will not pay extra for anything.

The only possible way I would do this is if they brought dedicated servers, kept the same game for a few years instead of a yearly basis, dropped the $60 price tag, and-

Oh wait, none of that is going to happen now is it? Did I add "Hell freezing over", "Pigs flying", and "Unicorns and narwhals teaming up to bring us chocolate rivers"?

In all seriousness, it will be interesting to see how this works. I'm not going to jump on, but to each their own.

Joshua George
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Hopefully the subscription will end up being for all CoD games, and not just individual games.

Tyler Martin
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This announcement pretty much guarantees we'll never see dedicated servers come back on the PC end.

After all, why would anyone need to pay extra for advanced matchmaking and stat tracking if they just played on a few favourite servers that already tracked in depth stats at no charge to the player?

Cody Scott
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I dont see a lot of people going for it.

Scott Southurst
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"and an advanced matchmaking service"

I read that as "and that piece of crap IWNet".

No thanks.

The advanced statistics would only be interesting to the die hard, live in their mothers basement, type of players that probably make up less than 1% of the total COD player groups. So for the rest of us (I really enjoy COD - but I'm tiring of BLOPS atm - and the DLC for BLOPs doesn't appear to have taken off) we'd be paying extra for what we can already get. I can't see this working - but then COD is an addiction and there's more than enough stupid people on the planet to make this worthwhile for Activision.

Alan Rimkeit
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I would say this is doomed to fail but then lots of people are SUCKERS.

wes bogdan
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Although i shell out each year for xbl and even with sony's problems ps + featuring copy protected saving to the cloud i take some issue with elite. Sure right now you get all the map packs included but will they follow ps + and if you leave them they remove access to map packs and many have pointed out bungie has been doing this since halo 2 for ...FREE. Offer me something worth wile at a great price like netflix streaming or hulu streaming and that's fine.

This could enrage some,excite others and open a Pandora's box where every worth wile game from kz3,halo,uncharted or lbp want in on this action making everything a mini mmo.

Also i much prefer a full year @ 20% or more off the monthly price. I'm a hardcore gamer but even though i enjoy games like COD,HALO,GEARS,KZ3 i even more than that enjoy team ICO'S original games,3D dot game hero's,brutal legends,disgaea,valkyria chronicles,super robot taisen og etc.

Fancy graphics and new worlds to blow everyone away in is fun but originality in concept and design+humor get much more respect from me. If more people had broader game tastes games like physconaughts,bg and e or brutal legends wouldn't have tanked at retail

Beware elite as the more easily they herd the sheep the quicker they get shaved/paid and then the me to i want my money syndrome starts...could even be the beginning of the end for single player as everything goes massive.

Arjen Meijer
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don't we remember the MW2 no dedicated server outrage? everyone was like "We will never buy this game or play it" and the day after almost everyone in the steam group was playing mw2.

And every other big company out there has added these services already and none is letting users pay for it.

Grant Orban
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Looks like with a price tag to me.

I like the CoD series but I think this year Battlefield 3 will be my main arena for shooting 12 year old american kids in the face. Unless this works out to be cheaper than just buying map packs (highly unlikely) then I don't see many people going for it.

I just hope they don't introduce some "premium" perks and weapons that inevitably end up being twice as good as anything else...

Harlan Sumgui
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It seems like a solid decision. Keep the causual base happy by not taking anything away, and offer the addicted something more for a cost. I see it only as a positive in terms of earnings, assuming cod stays king of the console shooters.

Gregory Kinneman
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If people paid for early MMOs like Everquest and Asheron's Call for $15 a month, then I would guess that $5 per month Call of Duty will sell amazingly. And just like most microtransaction/subscription MMOs, there will be free/cheaper trials for the people who don't want all the late game content (like extra maps, special weapons, hats, etc.).

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I'm surprised that EA has not announced something like this with Madden NFL Football.

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Shhhhh don't give them ideas :)