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The End of Free Online Multiplayer As We Know It? The Call of Duty Elite Subscription Service

by: Gabriel Rose ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 5/2/2012 • Leave a comment

As Modern Warfare 3 inches ever closer to release day, so does Call of Duty Elite, a subscription based stat tracking and clan management service. Could it possibly be the end of the truly free multiplayer FPS experience we've come to know and love?

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    Sound the Alarm! Call of Duty Elite?

    CoD Elite Logo  

    With the announcement of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 came a second announcement: Call of Duty Elite, a subscriber based service that is meant to compliment the new game. For an undecided monthly fee, players gain access to stat tracking similar to Halo's Waypoint system or Bad Company 2's statistics, as well as other features. A complete feature list isn't currently available, but you can expect to have to subscribe if you're interested in obtaining future map packs. Whether or not it'll work like Playstation Plus, where the map packs are available for free while you're a subscriber, is yet to be known.

    The announcement sparked a lot of controversy, as Activision is looking to essentially charge for what other online multiplayer games give for free. And whereas some players may enjoy the idea of being able to play the map packs freely as a subscriber, others feel that the what's looking to be a $60/year fee is a ridiculous power play on Activision's part.

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    What Exactly Is Call of Duty Elite?

    More details about CoD Elite were released at this year's E3. CoD Elite is being touted as something much more than it is by it's developers. A quick look at it shows you that it is very similar to Black Ops' stat tracking system. Much more than just counting your K/D ratio, it carries hit maps for where you shoot people, and heat maps for where you've died in various maps. This has all been included for free in Black Ops. Elite does boast one feature that will appeal to the more hardcore CoD crowd: a dedicated clan management system. Clan members with Elite can be in a clan of up to 100 members, and organize clan battles, and create custom leaderboards to track stats.

    For the casual user, Elite offers nothing that hasn't been included for free in the past. For the clan battling gamer, it offers a simplicity in clan gaming that could be very desirable, as well as the ability to easily upload games to youtube, and tag players as well. The service rolls into beta next month, and whether or not it's much more than Black Ops remains to be seen.

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    The Basic Free Features

    CoD Elite Screenshot  

    Call of Duty Elite has added a limited free account after outrage of the service became widespread. A limited Elite account will gain access to the basic performance stats, tracking your individual gun stats and match stats in MW3. Free users will also be able to join 'Groups', similar to Steam groups, based on interests. They will also be able to sync their Facebook account to the service, and join their friend's groups. Clan services will also be available, but limited. Free users will most likely not be able to compete in competitions that have rewards, and be limited in some of their clan actions.

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    The Competition Disagree

    Many people feared that following in the footsteps of Activision, publishers such as EA would follow suit and introduce subscription models into their games. Thankfully, at E3 2011, the team at DICE have come out and said that everything about Battlefield 3's multiplayer will be free, from the stat tracking to the additional maps, throwing out a small jab at Activision in the process. In fact, the Battlefield 3 team has made a point of stating that online multiplayer should always stay free, and that any sort of subscription service is ridiculous, and should not be a part of online multiplayer in a FPS.

    As of E3 this year, no other FPS has announced a subscription based model, for stat tracking or otherwise.

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    Online Multiplayer in the Future

    CoD Elite Groups  

    Whether or not Activision's CoD Elite service spreads to other publishers will be determined based on the performance of the service itself. Activision is hoping to get somewhere between 20%-40% of CoD players subscribed to the service. If their predictions are accurate, then it very well may spur the end of free online multiplayer. When people begin to pay for a glorified stat tracking and clan management system, it's only a stepping stone away to adding in game content that changes the way the game is played. If it were any other game, I'd say that there's no chance, but Call of Duty is a huge colossus of a franchise that has 20 million unique players a month, and will have even more with the release of MW3. If anything could take down free online mutliplayer, this would be it. As of next month, first impressions of the service should roll in, and with it, a more conclusive idea of what could happen to the world of free multiplayer.