Call of Duty Elite certainly had its share of stumbles out of the gate last year (as noted by Activision Publishing boss Eric Hirshberg) but the company has gone on to provide a fairly successful social service (over 1.5 million paying subscribers) for fans of the blockbuster franchise. According to Jamie Berger, VP of Digital at Activision, Elite-like services are becoming a necessary component of big games.
"I do believe services like this are going to become a necessity for real franchises that are going to be day in and day out. The world is changing, consumer behavior is changing. Social networks and the always-on connectivity of any device are changing the ways people behave," Berger told GamesIndustry International. "They want to stay engaged with things in ways that couldn't even happen five years ago. I think as a game publisher and developer you have to get ahead of that."
He continued, "You have to be able to engage your consumers wherever they want to engage with you in lots of different and unique ways. You have to provide them social experiences that add to the game."
Indeed, competitors have been watching Elite closely, and it's certainly possible that Activision rival EA could look to create a similar service for a top property like Battlefield in the future.
"When we're talking two years from now... we're going to look at Elite and go 'wow, that has no resemblance to what it was at launch'"
EA COO Peter Moore told us back in February, "Call of Duty Elite... the numbers Activision have talked about, they've done a great job. It's incumbent upon us, whether we do that or do something one step ahead, I think the digital strategy that we're executing against right now - a billion dollars on a trailing 12-month basis - shows that we're doing some good things as well."
Berger, of course, wasn't about to comment on what Activision's competitors might do, but for Elite, he believes the Beachhead studio is only getting warmed up. Berger fully expects the service to continuously evolve and improve, similar to Xbox Live.
"If you look at Xbox Live now and look at Xbox Live four years ago, it's night and day. In a way, you never noticed it because it kept happening slowly. Then the additive effect of all that hard work and all that focus is something that is dramatically more valuable and better for the consumer at launch. It will be no different for us, when we're talking two years from now... we're going to look at Elite and go 'wow, that has no resemblance to what it was at launch.' In lots of ways I can't predict because of that continuous investment. That's what we want; we want something that over time players see the value that keeps getting better and better and better," Berger said.
"They will keep seeing the money that they invest in the services as a premium member reinvested in the service to make it better and better. I think that's the sign of a great service that...they see us reinvesting into it and making it better for everyone every month."
" This kind of service - membership services like Netflix, Xbox Live, Sirius, Hulu or us - it's a game of inches. You constantly grow"
Call of Duty Elite has over seven million members, but how can Activision grow that number, and more importantly, how can the company convert more members into paying subscribers?
"Keep delivering over time. There is no magical formula," said Berger. Perhaps the biggest draw to Elite (certainly the most tangible) is the bargain subscribers get on DLC, which has been increased to 24 pieces of content. For a subscription of $50, gamers are "starting to see the value proposition," Berger noted.
Beyond that, Berger said that Activision just needs to show members a steady flow of new content and features. "What we just need to do to continue that growth is to prove that every day there is going to be something new, something interesting and evolve the service on a monthly basis. So, this kind of service - membership services like Netflix, Xbox Live, Sirius, Hulu or us - it's a game of inches. You constantly grow. It's not like magical things happen, other than the launch of course; after that it's word of mouth and constant new people coming in and them telling their friends, that's how it works. We're no different," Berger said.
With hundreds of thousands of clans being formed, "100k days" providing prizes to competitors each month, two million downloads of the Elite mobile app and a tablet app on the way, Call of Duty Elite is all about engaging the community and keeping the Call of Duty brand in the spotlight all-year long. It's a strategy that seems to be paying off.