Modern Warfare 3 to ship with a subscription service called Call of Duty: Elite. Well, then.
This is so industry-asploding money-printing what-were-movies-again big that some news sources you don't expect to see linked to on my silly little blog dedicated to amusing EA executives commented on this. Such as, oh:
First of all, it’s important to keep something in mind: People don’t like to give up more of their money. This is just a general rule.
But in addition to the expected “gaming companies are greedy” comments, there is a lot of confusion about exactly what the new service will involve – and just what people will get for their money.
That disconnect is coming in large part because “Call of Duty” maker Activision doesn’t seem to have ironed out all the details yet. Activision executives told The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Wingfield that they haven’t yet figured out how much to charge for the service – although the Journal reports that it will likely be $7.99 or less. They have said parts of the service will be free, but there are conflicting reports about what exactly those free parts will include.
...like yet another company trying to overcapitalize on social networking BS, as I can speak for the majority of Call of Duty players when I say I don’t give a shit about the interests of the people I’m virtually shooting. And how can portions of a monthly paid subscription service be free? That sentence doesn’t even make sense.
The driving force behind Elite is clear – the desire to gain revenue from the vast numbers of gamers who regularly play Call of Duty titles online for free. According to Activision, 20 million people play Call of Duty online every month – more than seven million every day.
This number represents a vast source of untapped income – and in an era of declining retail sales for games, identifying new streams of digital revenue is becoming vitally important. The problem is, attempting to install a subscription charge on online multiplayer activity would meet with massive resistance from gamers, who have always enjoyed free access to online functionality with shooter games.
Gamasutra (ok, I link to them all the time but it's a good instanalysis):
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.
So while the mainstream media ties itself up in knots over OMG WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, those of us who have followed the game industry follies for a while, including Activision treating the people who actually made Call of Duty a billion-dollar franchise with all the gratitude due the indentured servants they clearly believe them to be, this isn't exactly a surprise. After all, here's Bobby Kotick from a few years ago:
[The games we passed on] don't have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. ... I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus... on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we'll be working on them 10 years from now.
How do you exploit people playing your game online for free? Well, charge them, duh.