If you know anyone who is a hardcore Call of Duty player (or are one yourself), you'll know that the time spent in the shooter franchise is nearing MMO levels of devotion.
According to Activision, more than 30 million people have played Call of Duty online. Of those, 20 million do so at least once a month. The real dedicated ones who keep up the daily playing schedule number at an impressive 7 million. All that time added up spreads out to 170 hours per player. To put that in perspective, that's more than all six seasons of the Sopranos or Lost combined.
"The average Call of Duty player spends 58 minutes per day playing multiplayer. That is more than the average Facebook user spends per day on Facebook. And yet, right now, there are very few tools to unite and super charge that social community," said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing.
Clearly there is a lot of Call of Duty loyalty out there, and Activision has given us a sneak peek at a new technology and service that will have players spending even more time involved in the game – if that's possible.
Perhaps taking a page from its Blizzard business side, Activision is developing a new online service called Call of Duty Elite. It will launch officially alongside Modern Warfare 3, but there will be a beta running this summer that'll work with Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Call of Duty Goes Social
At the demonstration that we were given in New York City, the developers at Activision subsidiary Beachhead Studios said that this is a new digital platform where Call of Duty goes social. We're not talking about social like Facebook or Twitter, though there are some interesting elements in how Elite will be able to get Call of Duty players to gather and group together.
The social aspect will allow players to join groups. Just like how people can "Like" groups on Facebook, Call of Duty Elite will allow players to be a part of as many as 64 groups. Such groups can be built on a commonality, such as a group made of LA Lakers fans, or those based in Brooklyn, or those attending the same school, or even those who have an allergy to peanuts.
Joining and playing with members of certain groups ensures that you're playing with people with whom you share common ground. This could lead to extra interaction about the on-going NBA or NHL playoffs.
For more serious play, however, there's also clan organization. While one can be a part of up to 64 groups, each player profile may only belong to a single clan. Given the competitive nature of clan play, that's the rule.
Belonging to groups (and to a lesser extent, a clan) is an important part of the social experience because of a new 24/7 service Activision is launching inside Call of Duty Elite called the Program Guide. The Program Guide is an ever-changing set of "events" that players can partake in. There may be special matches or certain requirements for groups to achieve, such as a multiplayer scavenger hunt or a screenshot contest.
Up for grabs in the Program Guide events are both virtual and real prizes. Virtual prizes include badges and other special online perks, while the real world prizes can be something as small as a Call of Duty belt buckle to as big as a Jeep. Some challenges may be completed as a group, so belonging to an especially competent group can net you some cool prizes.
For the Obsessive Statisticians
For those who have no interest in being social at all (or getting free stuff), the Call of Duty Elite service also has something to offer the lone wolves too. Beginning with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Activision's online partner DemonWare has been tracking all the statistics relevant to a player's play.
Call of Duty Elite will take all of these tracked stats and present them all in an easy-to-understand and meaningful fashion so that players can dissect their performance. Players will be able to review their performance with specific weapons, headshot percentage, and even how they kill and get killed at specific points on a given map.
Activision said that this kind of performance statistic tracking will lead to players analyzing their performance in ways similar to how golfers try to perfect their golf swing.
Sports fanatics are also known for being obsessive about statistics, which also makes the "baseball card" summary seemingly appropriate. Players will have their career history summarized in a baseball card for other players to view if they please. This will no doubt lead to some competitive comparison among friends.
Of course, friends lists will be a main part of Call of Duty Elite. Those who are friends with each other will often see how they compare on the leaderboards against each other against various other metrics. Players will be able to differentiate themselves from their friends and competitors as being stronger in some areas and weaker than others.
Making Your Game Better
Call of Duty Elite will also have built-in tutorial pieces for gamers looking to improve a part of their game. There will be special tutorial pages with tips dedicated on weapons and maps, among other areas.
Players can also share their favorite gaming moments via video using built-in YouTube integration. What's more, players can tag other players in the video, much like how tagging adds a social link in Facebook.
It Runs Inside Your HTML5 Browser
We saw Call of Duty Elite demonstrated on a 17-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.66 GHz Core i7 with 4GB of RAM. Really though, it was just running inside a Chrome web browser. The entire Call of Duty Elite service and interface is coded in HTML5, which means any compatible browser, including those on smartphone and tablets, should be able to run it.
The HTML5-powered interface was slick and polished, with pleasant transition effects between each different section of the service. Activision is also working on smartphone applications for those who want to check their Elite profiles on-the-go without going into the mobile browser.
Free DLC for Premium Subscribers
Call of Duty Elite will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC players. The social groups that players can join can be spread across platforms, but clans (for obvious reasons) will be confined to all players on a single platform.
All Call of Duty players can access Elite for free, though there will be a premium tier available at a monthly charge. Activision did not reveal pricing, but did say that it will be "cheaper than any other online service." While it's still unclear what the premium paid tier will include, what we do know is that anyone who subscribes to the premium tier will get access to all the DLC at no additional charge. Given that some of the map packs are priced at $15 a pop, it may not be a bad deal.
There will be a public beta available for Call of Duty: Black Ops players this summer, with the final service to hit its full stride with the launch of Modern Warfare 3 on November 8, 2011.
THELEGENDofKARL's Explanation of Call of Duty Elite