Call of Duty Elite Q&A: We ask Activision to clear up some of the confusion
by Christopher Grant on Jun 3rd 2011 6:00PM
This week's reveal of Call of Duty Elite left us – and you, if the comments are any indication – with more questions than answers. So we rounded up Activision VP of Digital Jamie Berger to answer some of the more common questions. For his part, Berger wasn't shy about acknowledging that confusion. "There's just going to be confusion," he told me over the phone. "There's just so much we're trying to lay out in front of people at one time. So not at all surprised that we either weren't clear on some points or people were confused." The biggest point of confusion was undoubtedly the free aspects of the service, so let's start there:
What's free in Call of Duty Elite?
"The whole Career section," Berger tells me. "All of your stats, the personalized leadersboards, the heatmaps, the weapon stats, the ability to import your Facebook friends ... personal best, ability to compare, etc." This section bears the most resemblance to other offerings in the space, notably Bungie.net, as many of you mentioned. And like the core Bungie.net service, this section of Elite will remain free, including new features that are added to it.
Sounds un-innovative you say? Berger says it's up to the team at Beachhead to push for "innovation, even in things that have been well established like a heatmap or a leaderboard, where we know there's room for improvement." The Career features will be front and center in the beta this summer, so interested parties will have plenty of opportunities to tell Beachhead how innovative they are.
What about the Connect tab? Are Groups and Clans free?
The Connect tab is less cut and dry. Groups, for example, will be free but not all features of Clans will be free. "We think it's critical that [Groups] be made available to everyone," Berger explains. "And we think Groups, as kind of the underlying social structure for all of Call of Duty multiplayer, it's important that it be something that's accessible to everyone and in a way it only works properly when it's accessible to everyone, because of the idea of big, massive groups and crazy niche ones."
But what about Clans? They operate as smaller, invite-only Groups and almost, by that very nature, would appeal to the more hardcore (read: more likely to pay) players. But even that isn't as simple as "Clans will be premium." Berger tells me, "We definitely want to find a way of making Clans available to everyone. That's one of those ones that's definitely a shared goal amongst us." On the other hand, Berger says, "we also want to make it something that premium members have some kind of premium element to that and engage in more competition as a Clan. That's one of the ones you'll see us finding ways for both to co-exist."
Lastly, the video upload ability of Connect – sharing video content, tagging your friends – will be free, allowing you to upload an "unlimited" number of videos.
Will the Compete functionality only be accessible to premium members?
While Berger wouldn't say definitively that Compete would be limited to paying members only, he did say, "It's one of those things that requires a tremendous amount of energy on the backend, to manage, to operate, to prize, to administer, so it's certainly one of those things that lends itself to needing a premium aspect to it." Sounds premium to us.
And what about the last tab, Improve? Premium?
"To a large extent, the thing about Improve, that's probably the one you've seen the least of," Berger teases. "I think we're doing some really terrific base things, which you saw last month, but I also believe it's the one that will change the most dramatically by the time November rolls along." Certainly, what we saw didn't seem worthy of a premium membership here, but Berger promises, "We'll be adding in a lot of functionality over the next six months." Our guess: premium, at least in part.
What is the distinction between a paying Elite member and a free Elite member?
One of the most confusing aspects of the Elite reveal was the lack of a distinction between the various tiers. Consider: Bungie.net access and Bungie Pro. Berger agreed that could be confusing. "Elite membership is our nomenclature for the group that gets everything and, in its simplest form, is the membership," Berger says. In other words, while non-paying users of Elite may have access to a lot of the features, they're not considered "members" and are instead considered simply registered users. This point, while seemingly mired in semantics, goes a long way towards understanding the audience confusion over the product. The default language being used implies a paid service, though no payment is required to use many of its features.
Is Elite membership required to play Modern Warfare 3 online?
And here you can see where the confusion comes from – if many readers presume that Elite is a paid service built for Modern Warfare 3, they may also erroneously assume it's required to play Modern Warfare 3 online. "This is a voluntary thing," Berger says. "You're not required to have it." While interested players will be able to create an Elite account right inside the game, it won't be a mandatory requirement to play MW3. And again, after signing up for Elite, the paid membership is another option, but not mandatory.
Will the premium Elite membership include all the DLC? There won't be anything not covered?
"Yes, you get all the content," Berger says. "We're not holding anything back. When we say it's all-inclusive, we really mean that. There are no gotchas there, with another DLC pack that we're going to ask you to buy outside of the Elite membership. If you're a member, you get everything."
What about the other way around? Will there be any DLC that is exclusive to premium Elite members?
Berger was predictably careful when discussing this topic, but he did say, "We're hearing loud and clear from our players that they're really interested in experimenting with new forms of content outside of the traditional construct of how a map pack works." Pre-selling a year's worth of DLC content means Activision can try something different. "What I will tell you is I think there's going to be a lot of great changes in the way we think about content and I think the membership is enabling us to do some creative things that the traditional marketplace won't."
Will PS3 Elite members still have to wait 30 days to get access to the DLC that their membership entitles them to?
"If you're a member, whether a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox member, you're going to get all the same services and you're going to get all the same content," Berger explains. "That said, we've had a terrific relationship with the Xbox team and that has included a 30-day window of exclusivity for map packs. And I believe we announced that would continue for Modern Warfare 3." Translation: Sorry PS3 Elite members, you've still got to wait. However, that DLC will still be included in your all-inclusive paid Elite membership.
Will you tell us how much DLC we'll be getting with our Elite memberships? It's hard to ask people to pay when they don't know what they're buying.
While Activision is still rather secretive about all the features that Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer and, by extension, Call of Duty Elite will offer, Berger did say that when it comes time to talk pricing, that veil of secrecy will be entirely done away with. "We're going to be very, very explicit and very upfront about how the whole year is going to roll out for content, which I think is a big change for us," Berger says. "Typically, as it is now, we would maybe announce a map pack thirty days in advance. That's going to change with Elite, we know that since we're asking people to join something, we have to be very transparent and very open about what you're going to get. And very detailed. So when we announce everything, we're going to put it all on the table and that includes all the content, what the commitments are that we're making to content and what the timing's going to be."
In other words, when Activision is ready to start charging for Elite, it will pre-announce its entire DLC plan, including individual pricing we imagine, to entice players to sign-up, effectively pre-purchasing the year's content.
Of course, there are still plenty of questions we'll need Modern Warfare 3 to answer. For that, the only solution is time. The next step is the early beta, which begins in "early to mid-summer" so we'd recommend you sign up now if you're interested!