So here's my news report on Elite, the subscription service for Call of Duty. If you manage to read all the facts about it before you come to an opinion, you're better off than most, as the word 'subscription' is for backward reasons a dirty word in gaming, let alone when it's attached to Bobby Kotick.
But I think it's an awesome idea. I starkly do not enjoy playing Call of Duty. I will probably never be pumped to join a clan and shoot stuff no matter how social they make it. But the largest video game franchise extant is getting this entire nifty interface around it, and that interface does things way beyond what we've gotten with the online platforms we have, Xbox Live and PlayStation 3.
"It's just a social network" doesn't really do it justice. The sheer variety of data points you can measure about yourself and others, and the connection with existing social networks so you can find people to join up with based on common interests seem quite cool to me. And visually it's very pretty, very current.
Of course, the people I personally know that play Call of Duty are my neighbor's children (who are about ten years old), my friends who are stoners, and every dude I see shopping at GameStop around here. The franchise enjoys an enormous population, but how many of them will be interested in or able to use these high-level data points, these Twitter-like hashtag groups?
Not that Activision really needs more than 10 percent of its current userbase to subscribe in order to be very, very profitable off this thing. But anyway, the reason I like it so much is that when I look at it, I see the Call of Duty franchise as programming, as on television. Elite seems to hint at the end of discrete, solitary box products and promise something socially persistent, pervasive. I picture people buying T-shirts with pictures of their clan logo on it, or something.
Not that have a favorite TV show right now, but you know when you get really into a series? What if for five more dollars a month you could have access to all this additional content, info, find viewing buddies, et cetera? I know loads of people who'd pony up if we were talking about Mad Men or the Wire or something.
The Elite framework helps illustrate games as something of cultural permanence, that are legitimate desire objects to their audience, that can have a visual language just like sports do. I kind of hope it's the beginning of a trend. We'll see what happens.