There’s been a bit of controversy over the Call of Duty: Elite service, and whether subscription services on top of the price of a retail game are a good idea. Ignoring the fact that anything that has Bobby Kotick’s business intelligence behind it is going to annoy a lot of gamers, Elite is not worth the ire it’s drawing at all; and in fact I would argue that it’s the perfect demonstration that subscription models do still deserve a chance when the industry is currently so hung up on ‘freemium’ payment models.
The main benefits for Elite are twofold – there’s the social stuff, which is a nice-to-have, but by itself would need to be free; and the statistics tracking, which is where the real value of the service lies. Activision promise “thousands” of stats can be tracks and graphed, and on top of that the service will offer heat maps of your performance, giving up data on where and when your avatar was killed in multiplayer.
For the committed player, that’s the real value of this service, and I like to think of it as an analogy to sport: if you’re a casual tennis player, for instance, you just need to buy a racquet and some time on the court. That’s not a huge investment, and you can have a lot of fun.
Indeed, simply by going out and playing every day, your tennis skills will improve. But, if you’re really into your sport, you’re going to want to shell out for lessons, but more importantly, you’re going to pay for analytics. You’ll get your game videoed. You’ll create a database of important statistics. You’ll measure how your body responds to certain situations.
And you’ll then slaughter the casual player.
Competitive gaming is becoming a big business in itself – and it’s no longer just Starcraft in Korea. If you think of Elite as a training tool (and for a moment, we’ll assume it does what the marketing claims it will), then it starts to make a whole lot more sense. It’s an investment, and the data itself will improve your game.
|Heat maps are an important training tool if you want to get really, REALLY good at a FPS|
Importantly, a freemium strategy also wouldn’t work here. Would you like to pay a few dollars every time you want to see a data report? What about paying per heat map? Let alone buying “credits” to engage with some of the new social networking features. For people that really get into this service (and Elite is for people that will really get into the service), the freemium strategy would quickly cost far more than the subscription model – yes, folks, Activision is saving you money.
Are parts of what Activision is offering possible to implement for free? Yes. Heck, I could (and in fact, do) save a bunch of my games from Frozen Synapse for looking back at and analysing later, and that doesn’t cost me a cent, but it’s also not nearly as comprehensive as what Elite promises. What you’ll be paying for here isn’t so much the feature itself, but the depth that the features can go into. The comprehensive nature of what Elite promises is why it’s going to cost money. And it’s an argument this industry has had before; i.e Xbox Live vs. PSN.
Elite is something I’d like to see applied to a lot more games, though it wouldn’t work in every case, and nor would I necessarily subscribe each time – it’s a feature I’d only take up with my very favourite games. It would only work with the really high-profile, competitive games that are based on skill (after all, is anyone really that invested in generic shooter XXXX?), but it would add that extra layer of performance that would elevate the games to a more competitive, “professional” level.
It would be great in a sports game to get a detailed analysis of where your team performed well, and where it didn’t. It would be awesome in a racing game to get a break down on your cornering and racing lines. It could even work for something like Pokemon – the amount of data flowing through those games is incredible, and it would be great to see some service collect all the online battles into statistics and trends to help you tweak your own strategy.
Subscription services can be a great value-add for the competitive tier of the gaming world. It remains to be seen how successful Elite is, but I wish it all the best, because I would like to see other games take advantage of this approach if it takes off.
What do you think? Are you planning on investing in Elite? What are some of the other games that you would like to see a similar premium offering? Let us know in the comments below or on our forums!