The internet has been abuzz over the past couple weeks with rumors flying about Call of Duty potentially becoming “pay to play” in the near future, similar to Activision’s behemoth World of Warcraft. With articles popping up in respected publications such as the Wall Street Journal about a new service titled Call of Duty Elite, Call of Duty players everywhere were outraged that they would potentially have to pay for their multiplayer experience. It was hinted that players would be paying a subscription that would compare to Netflix’s $7.99 a month to get their Duty on.
The developers for Activision’s gold mine were on the defense force on Twitter late Monday night after the Elite promotional video leaked, ensuring gamers that nothing that they previously got for their $60 purchase would be paid for through this subscription service. Activision “officially” released this same video today detailing what the new Elite service brings to the table, without actually telling anyone what they would pay for and what would come for free. The advertising for it is exactly what one would expect when taking into account their target audience: a meme-filled, A.D.D. riddled six and a half minute video which brings up more questions than answers.
Upon first glance, the first thing we can compare Elite to would be Bungie.net, the stat database for the Halo series since its inception during Halo 2. Users of Elite will be able to view detailed stats, heat maps showcasing where they are successful on individual maps, group up with friends and create clans, and even compete in special competitions for prizes. All of these features (amongst a host of others) sound pretty great in theory, but Activision has yet to reveal what will come for free and what will be covered under the supposed subscription fees. According to some websites, such as Kotaku, sources have told them that basic stat tracking and social grouping will be free for everyone, but even these seemingly basic and necessary features are not confirmed to be free as of yet.
Activision seems like they are moving closer and closer to what killed their Guitar Hero series, over-saturating the market with games while at the same time trying to bleed the pockets of their fan base dry for “extra content”. While you would think they would attempt to get a little more longevity out of a series that has brought in the amount of money that Call of Duty has over the past few years, it appears as if the heads of the company are only concerned with leeching money out of people until they outright refuse to support their product anymore. I could pretend to be surprised, but we’re talking about a company run by Bobby Kotick, who once famously said, “The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.” Quite simply, Bobby’s company doesn’t really care about innovating, catering to their fan base, or doing things to get good press, they only care about Activision’s bottom line when all is said and done. This is evidenced by the fact that each new installment in the series since Call of Duty 4 has run on the same engine, despite the new games being presented in a different way. All the bells and whistles that IW and Treyarch have supposedly “added” to each new game reminds me of the old addage, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”
Bobby Kotick Just Looks Evil!
This brings me to my biggest issue with the new Elite service, the Call of Duty series, and the gaming industry in general. DLC is a hot-button topic amongst many gamers these days, with a real division between those on either side of the issue. A lot of people (including myself) believe that the fees that companies such as Activision-Blizzard charge for simple map packs are both outrageous and unacceptable, especially for a company that made over a billion dollars in sales alone for Black Ops, and boasted a $1.2 billion profit margin for JUST the quarter ending in December of 2010. Others justify the practice of selling this DLC as “Well its only $15! Everyone should be able to afford that!” The problem with this logic is it is not the dollar amount that is the issue at hand, but the principle of the matter.
What possible reason could a company that is essentially printing money with their game sales have to charge $15 for a few new maps, let alone start up a subscription service? These prices are especially ridiculous when you can buy a full-fledged Xbox Live Arcade or PSN game for the same $15 you would be spending on a few new maps. There is no new gameplay, no new weapons, no new game variants, and yet people still fork over the money to play a game that has not changed since they dropped $60 on the retail title. To add insult to injury, often times the maps that are released for DLC are maps that were cut from the original game. Check out the trivia section straight from the Call of Duty wiki to support these claims.
Activision certainly is not the only industry leader taking part in this practice; two memories from Assassin’s Creed 2 were cut and then sold as DLC, and it seems that DLC has slowly moved from being the exception to the rule to the industry standard, with almost every major title having some form of paid DLC. This is troubling, as some of the most popular multiplayer titles of all time (namely Counterstrike 1.6, Team Fortress 2, and even the Halo series to an extent) have thrived because of the inordinate amount of community created content that can be accessed by the players for free. Companies have moved away from old practices that connected the developers with their communities, largely because the video game industry has grown from a niche business to an enormously profitable endeavor.
While charging for DLC has already become standard, subscription services for individual games has not, outside of MMO’s such as World of Warcraft. The looming issue is that if the most profitable video game series of all time is successful in getting players to pony up for a subscription service that does what many other developers have done for free, it sets a precedent that other industry leaders will be soon to follow. I have spent as much time playing the Call of Duty series over the past 5 years or so as anyone, and it is a series that helps me stay connected with friends while we are away at school, but the day has come for me to draw my line in the theoretical sand. As gamers, we should refuse to support a company who has done nothing to change their gameplay from sequel to sequel and only seeks to bleed as much money out of its user base as possible. You’ve been thinking you should buy Battlefield 3, or Gears of War 3 instead of this yearly cash grab…
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EB Original by Liquid Swords