Call of Duty Elite premium membership explained, mobile apps incoming

Here's the thing about Call of Duty Elite so far: It's confusing. Even Chacko Sonny, studio head of Beachhead Studios, agrees that the information shared about the service hasn't exactly been clear. "There's been a lot of review internally in the organization in terms of how that message was presented," he told us at Call of Duty XP this weekend. "It's tough to say -- I think people wanted to understand it in its entirety as opposed to in pieces."

There's a good reason for the segmented information delivery, according to Activision's Vice President of Digital, Jamie Berger. "The tie to showing everything, including the price, was really tied to doing it in lockstep with Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer," he says. "The only way to explain in the end what you were going to get, truly, was to show it with Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer. ... And yes, that did mean we were going to have to hold back some information until we were able to frankly put it all on the table with the Infinity Ward team. We decided it was better to take the hit that way than on the development side to take the hit by holding back the beta."

Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer had its official reveal last night, so Activision can finally talk about what Call of Duty Elite's premium membership entails. The price, we can tell you now, will be $49.99 a year. And what's included in that package is listed right after the break.
Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg says the premium membership for Call of Duty Elite will start off by offering six bonuses to customers:
  • First, subscribers will get a year's worth of downloadable content for Modern Warfare 3. That is over 20 pieces of new content, he says, spooled out over monthly content drops. That content will include new maps, new game modes and more, with a total cost of over $60 if purchased separately.
  • Call of Duty Elite subscribers will have access to daily and weekly competitions and events, which will offer both real and virtual prizes.
  • Subscribers will be able to level up their clans in competition (though simply creating or joining a clan is still a free option).
  • Subscribers will have "eight times" more video sharing capacity than standard users.
  • Subscribers will have access to "expert strategy and analysis," including tips on guns, maps, and perks, which Hirshberg said would be updated and maintained by "real humans."
  • And finally, subscribers will get to watch "Elite TV," a service of "premium episodic entertainment" themed around Call of Duty. None of that content is yet created, but Hirshberg suggested that two shows would begin the service: "Friday Night Fights," produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, which will pit real life rivals (like Democrats and Republicans or policemen and firefighters) against each other in Call of Duty matches; and "Noob Tube," a series produced by Will Arnett and Jason Bateman that will feature the stars "smack talking" over user-created videos from the game.
That's it. That's what you get for your Call of Duty Elite subscription, a year of which will be included in the "Hardened Edition" of the game.

Everything else in Call of Duty Elite, including the practically real-time match and score information, the heatmap readouts of kills and deaths, clan support, career information and comparing services, and even video sharing, is available for free. Obviously, this will all be more clear when the service finally rolls out to the public with the launch of Modern Warfare 3, but Activision definitely seems intent on offering the service to all users, not just those who want to pay.

"When we first came on the road to talk about Call of Duty Elite back in May," says Berger, "we talked about a few things about what we wanted to accomplish with it, and we talked about the fact that we wanted to offer choice to the consumer. We wanted to offer free, premium, and also the choice to not be either one of them if you don't want it."

Berger says the $49.99 price wasn't picked lightly. "It had to be threading the needle between a price that any highly engaged consumer would look at and go wow, this is an easy decision. And if all the features looked exciting to you, you're that type of consumer, you'd say this is a easy win. If you're not interested in everything that premium has to offer and free's fine, then you'd be like nice price, I don't need that. That's the balancing act that we wanted to get."

Activision also showed off some of the new ways in which players will be able to browse and interact with this information, including a custom-built app designed for use on the console (downloadable for free and accessible from either the game itself or the dashboard directly), as well as the Android and iOS versions of the app. All of the apps will be free to download, though they will require your login. Subscribers will be able to access their exclusive information, and free users won't.

All three versions were designed separately, and while none of them offer quite as much information, on first glance, as the web version originally shown off in May, each has their own strengths. The mobile phone version, for example, lets you design and save class builds while out and about, sending them back to the console for testing later.

Sonny also says that, post-launch, Beachhead will be watching closely how people are using these apps and the service in general, and will develop a feature plan from that. "We want to provide the experience that's suitable to the platform to all of the people in the Call of Duty community," he says. "Where we'll see this go, in terms of watching the usage, understanding which features people use most frequently on the mobile platforms, will help to define our development moving forward. We'll tailor our development direction to other features they may use more often."

Developing for all of these platforms without an actual public audience seems like an enormous task, and Sonny says Activision and Beachhead both have lots of testing and development to do before the service is ready for the November launch. But the team never considered going on a smaller scale early on, maybe releasing one app or one platform at a time. "From the beginning," he says, "the plan has always been, everywhere all the time, Call of Duty."

Berger says that Call of Duty Elite, both the free service and the premium side, is really dictated not by any Activision directive to "exploit" the franchise, but by the relationship consumers have already built. "We're catching up with how our consumers are already behaving," he says. "The truth of the matter is that a large proportion of the multiplayer audience for Modern Warfare 3 are going to be players who have been with the Call of Duty franchise for years on end every year. And what we're now doing is saying why don't we start behaving the way they're behaving, which is creating relationships that get better over time."

Berger also says that the subscription plan will fit right into that loyalty, not just now but at the end of next year, when the question arises if you want to continue paying or not. "You already have a clan, you already have groups, you already have an additive relationship with us, you've already built a social ecosystem and capabilities, and you want to just port that forward, basically, to the next Call of Duty. Now what we're doing is basically just addressing that that's how consumers have wanted to behave."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.