Activision not celebrating Call of Duty Elite success just yet
To say the Call of Duty Elite service has been a success would be an understatement. As Activision revealed in their Fourth Quarter and Calendar Year 2011 Earnings Report, the new Call of Duty Elite service boasts more than seven million registered users, with more than 1.5 million subscribed to a premium membership for the online service.
Despite the early success as one of the "fastest growing premium services ever created", Activision isn't ready to celebrate just yet. In fact, CEO Eric Hirshberg even said when speaking at the 2012 D.I.C.E. Summit that there is still much work to be done - citing unhappiness with the technical problems experienced when the service first launched.
"I hesitate to talk about Elite, because even though we've had some early success with the numbers, it's far from time for us to be doing any victory laps on Elite," he said.
When Elite first launched back in November, the overwhelming response from gamers caused the service to crash, resulting in lag, problems logging in, and even signing up. Activision claimed the large demand for the service was the cause of the problems, creating a "bottleneck" that crashed the servers.
Hirshberg explained the company is still trying to solve problems, adding: "We had some technological stumbles at launch and that frustrated some of our fans. We're still making that right. But if we only talk about the things that go as planned then we miss some of the most valuable dialogue that can come out of this."
Coming up with the idea behind the service wasn't the hard part, but convincing the community to pay for a service that had been free so long before was much more challenging. He recalled:
There's this massive community of people, all passionate about the same thing, with remarkably few ways to communicate and interact with one another. Overlay that with social network and connecting over digital spaces with the things we're passionate about is the zeitgeist trend in our culture. We wanted to create a way of unlocking Call of Duty's community as a real network.
There was only one problem, we wanted to do a beta. None of the features were going to demonstrable in the beta because they were all tied into the code of Modern Warfare 3 and the beta was going to be Black Ops multiplayer.
With the launching of Elite we had a marketing Sophie's Choice," he said. "Do we do the beta, which is the right thing to do from a development standpoint, or do we make the best possible first impression, which was probably the right thing to do from the marketing standpoint."
We chose to tell people right out of the gate that while the vast majority of features would be free, there would be a premium membership. A lot people thought we should have waited and show people what they get for the premium membership before talking about its existence. But we knew this question about whether it would be free would immediately be asked. We'd be put on the spot. We chose to be transparent and tell people our intentions from the beginning. The words 'Call of Duty' plus the word 'subscription' equals 'unleash blogger hell'.
Despite some harsh fan responses at first, feedback was more than positive once the service launched. The result a few months later are over seven million subscribers, with 1.5 million paying the monthly subscription fee.
"Both Elite and XP were both experiments in how willing people are to enter a relationship, to treat it more like a brand or a lifestyle. Like I said, we're a long way from doing victory laps but we're in it for the long haul. We made it for the right reasons and believe its' right for a players and if we get it right we can change the relationship, make the game better and more fun for players."