Activision's bigwigs have long expressed an interest in monetising the Call of Duty multiplayer experience, and while they have vehemently ruled out charging for gamers to play online, that doesn't mean that they don't have other ways to turn a buck. During Activision's pre-E3 media events, we had a chance to try out Call of Duty: Elite, the company's subscription-based social service launching later this year. We sat down with Beach Head Studio boss Chacko Sonny to discuss the origin of the idea and where the company may take the service in the future. For an overview of What Call of Duty: Elite is, check out our first look preview at the service in action.
GameSpot AU: Why is Facebook important to Call of Duty: Elite?
Chacko Sonny: We like Facebook integration in the sense that it gives us another way of enabling discovery of people. The way Facebook integration works now is that if you have linked your Facebook, you will be able to import your friends if they've played Black Ops or, going forward, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 if they've linked a console identity.
There may be people, we know this is the case from people we've spoken to in closed beta, and within the studio, we showed them this function and they were like, "I don't even know this person was playing Black Ops, or this was this person's gamer-tag." It becomes a really great way to get additional ways of discovering people who you can connect with around Call of Duty. The other element we're looking at around Facebook is potentially using some of your data from Facebook, if people give us access to it, to automatically populate you within groups. It's a way to say, "These are the friends I'm interested in. Let me have a group created around them." And that's a great way to get them into the groups instantly.
GS AU: Tell us about the evolution of the Call of Duty: Elite concept.
CS: Evolution is a really good word for it--the term I always use, at the risk of overusing it. The lead project started very much under the radar. A lot of people kind of knew this was something we wanted to do, but there was a lot of research into what was the right way to do this with the Call of Duty community. I think the "aha!" moment, where we really started to understand this was something we needed to do, was when we saw how tremendously we were fragmenting the audience for Call of Duty with every successive game we were releasing. As the franchise continued to push forward, people weren't abandoning these old games. They kept on playing them in massive numbers, and as a result, we had all these communities that were separate and discrete. We wanted to find a way to bring them all together to create this overall Call of Duty: Elite identity that can persist across the franchise. That was the moment where we really picked up steam, and the integration with the game teams and the coordination with Treyarch and Infinity Ward helped propel that forward in terms of what we could do with all the data being pushed out of this game.
GS AU: You wanted to bring this service to market, but was this something the community was actively asking for?
CS: Community was huge in the development of Elite. There was a tremendous amount of feedback we got from Treyarch in terms of figuring out what the community wanted and how to use that data, as well as ways to better surface the information that was already there, and new ways to use that information. Community will always be a critical part of that development.
GS AU: Beyond simply serving it up for users in a digestible format, what are you doing with all the data being generated by these games being played? Is that being fed back to the development process as a form of telemetry data to help with future game development?
CS: I won't speak for the game teams, but there is a tremendous amount of data coming out of the game. That information is valuable from a design perspective, but I can't say anything more than that.
GS AU: We saw that Elite includes a levelling system based on the number of users in a particular group. Will we see that system expand to include support for World of Warcraft guild levelling-style bonuses?
CS: I can't speak to anything other than what we currently have planned. Right now, groups are our loose affiliation. The goal there is to get people into a number of groups, and we will try and incentivise that in a number of different ways. One of the ways that we're going to do that is with events going on from time to time, like baseball playoffs. We'll sponsor groups and say, "Hey, join this group and we'll see who's the biggest group, Yankees versus Red Sox," so there will be motivation there. That's what we're talking about right now.
GS AU: Let's talk regionalisation. In terms of competitions like the iPad screenshot competition we've seen, will that be offered to all global players, or will it be done on a region-by-region basis?
CS: The whole service organisation is dedicated to making sure we have content that is suitable and appropriate for each of the territories we're going to be in. The best example I use is that while NFL playoffs are really popular here, we don't necessarily want that set of featured groups over in England. Premier league might be more appropriate there, and we'd do the same thing for rugby.
GS AU: How will it work, and what can people win?
CS: There are two tiers of prizing: there's digital prizing and real-world prizing. Digital will be badges and awards. In terms of real-world prizing, there's everything from, on the smaller end, belt buckles, or Xboxes, or iPads, all the way up to Jeeps. There's going to be some pretty big giveaways that we're going to be managing, so there's a full range there, and we really want to make it such that everyone feels like they have a chance to win something.
GS AU: Chacko, thanks for your time.