Call of Duty Elite Free

By all accounts, Activision hit a home run with the introduction of Call of Duty Elite, its online stat-tracking/interactive service for the eponymous first-person shooter franchise. Offering $50 annual premium memberships to access year-round Call of Duty DLC and fancier community features, the publisher declared all the way back in May that Elite had amassed over 2 million subscribers – only months after launching with last November’s Modern Warfare 3.

But what looked to be a long-term revenue source for the company has now come to an abrupt, somewhat surprising restructuring. Activision announced today that the all features of service are going free – no memberships, no expenses – when Call of Duty Black Ops II releases on November 18. The only caveat is that DLC will be sold separately – a plan the company also outlined – but the move, according to Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, is aimed at bolstering enjoyment across the entire Call of Duty community:

“We’ve learned a lot in our first year of Call of Duty Elite, and we’re very proud that we over delivered on our commitment of playable content to our premium members.  What we have realized is that several of the Call of Duty Elite services which are currently only available to our premium members for Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare® 3 are things that would further unite, engage and delight our player community. So we are going to make them free for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.”

In lieu of paid memberships, Black Ops II will be adopting the popular Season Pass structure for DLC. Releasing on Xbox Live first, four packs, delivering content across Black Ops II’s multiplayer and Zombies modes, will be offered through the pass at a price of $49.99 (4000 Microsoft Points), an expected $10 savings (each DLC will release individually at $15). Unsurprisingly, the Season Pass is already available for pre-order at GameStop.

Though its defining appeal might have been monthly infusions of downloadable “content drops,” a paid premium membership to Call of Duty Elite unlocked some of service’s more elaborate interactive features, such as clan leveling, strategy guides, daily prize-fueled competitions; and the satisfying but slightly-too-ambitious-at-the-start Elite TV. All of those features look to return as the buttresses of Black Ops II, and Activision released a new Elite trailer (above) and some official press details (below) to tease their new improvements:

  • Player HQ – Track Call of Duty: Black Ops II performance with rich game statistics, including enhanced match information such as heat maps and recent match data; track challenges and extensively modify your classes like never before using Treyarch’s new Pick 10 Create-a-Class system.
  • Clan HQ – Join an existing clan or start your own, invite friends and then take part in Call of Duty: Black Ops II clan competitions with cool digital prizing.
  • Zombies Support – For the millions of Zombies fans out there, now you can track your Zombies personal statistics and compare it to other players’ around the world.
  • Call of Duty Elite TV – Launching with tablet support with Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the new Call of Duty Elite TV will deliver a renewed community focus featuring developer tips and strategy programming, custom class overviews and more.
  • Social Sharing and Notifications – With Call of Duty Elite’s new notification system, you can stay updated with what is going on in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, as well as communicate directly with your clan.

One thing not yet clarified is how Activision hopes to handle current premium memberships; the eager Black Ops II fan who purchased a full year yesterday might like to know. Essentially, any outstanding memberships will be devoid of value once Elite goes 100% free, and so what now seems to have been a yearlong pricing experiment might threaten the company’s good standing if they can’t offer some level of reimbursement to, well, anyone who made the purchase a week after Elite’s launch.

Ranters, what are your thoughts on the new and (hopefully) improved Call of Duty Elite? Why do think Activision nixed the premium memberships? Could they have felt that free, full access to Elite would breed even more hardcore Call of Duty fans?

Call of Duty: Black Ops II releases on November 13, 2012 for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, and November 18th for the Wii U.

Follow me on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.