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Update: Activision is slowly nursing Call of Duty Elite online network back to health

Activision Blizzard is slowly bringing the gamer social network Call of Duty Elite back to life. The service was supposed to launch last week with the debut of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. But the company was overwhelmed by a huge number of registrations and other issues that brought down the service, forcing Activision into an embarrassing apology to gamers. Now it’s slowly adding more users.

During this time, gamers have been able to play the multiplayer version of the game, but the servers for the Elite service have been spotty. Daniel Suarez, vice president of production at Activision, said in an interview that the company has been able to restore enough service to guarantee service for those gamers who have signed up for the paid service. But at least half of those who are using the free version of the service aren’t able to log in, so they are still seeing error messages when they attempt to get in.

Activision has begun to add some services such as game statistics. Beachhead allowed users to start setting up their clans, and 22,000 clans were created in the first 12 hours after that feature was restored. But the company hasn’t been able to restore every feature to the service, since each time it restores a feature the usage puts a strain on its backend databases. Those databases have been the weak link in the service so far.

Suarez said that the company is now able to add tens of thousands of user registrations per hour, so that isn’t a bottleneck like it was on the first day. The lack of progress has been frustrating to gamers who want to access data such as their career stats and competitive opportunities. The delay is embarrassing for the company because it billed Elite as a way to deepen gamer engagement on a year-round basis for the Call of Duty games.

“Registrations are OK now,” Suarez said. “The next thing is to get more people into the service and we are doing that hour by hour.”

Suarez said that Activision is not asking gamers to pay for subscriptions so that they can get into the service.

“I don’t want to create the perception that we are forcing people to pay at all,” he said. But the company is still forced to prioritize and it is allowing paying users or those who bought the Hardened edition of the game into Elite first. “In the next week to two weeks, we will be able to open the service up to all free users.”

To communicate with users, Suarez has been doing interviews with the press when new things develop, and the company is making status updates on a web site and on its Twitter account @CallOfDutyElite.

All game play data is safely stored in separate gaming servers. Activision Blizzard is extending the period for signing up for Founding Member status for the paid version ($49.99 a year) by 30 days. That means players who sign up now can get an extra month free, as their memberships will expire at the end of December a year from now.

Those who signed up to receive Founders’ status will be able to get their in-game benefits once they are able to log in. The mobile app is still offline as the company won’t start that up until it can be sure that it will work properly.

Suarez said that the company is still working on providing a free service for players who play the game on the PC. Those players will have access to stats and group features, but Activision is not planning to create a paid premium service on the PC.

Suarez said the team has postponed the launch of the web service for PC game players, mainly to ensure security for statistics. Suarez said that the entire Beachhead Team, Demonware, and Activision teams are all hard at work on restoring service.

As we noted before, Beachhead Studios worked on the Elite service as a social network for all things Call of Duty for more than two years. The goal was to integrate the service deeply with Modern Warfare 3. Since Activision Blizzard dedicated a full studio to Elite, it is considered a major investment.

Even before the launch of Modern Warfare 3, the Call of Duty community is already one of the strongest there is. More than 30 million people have played online this year and 20 million players play each month. On average, the Call of Duty player plays 170 hours of the game per year. That’s as much time spent as watching the full series of the Sopranos and Lost, combined.

Suarez said that the first competition among Elite members will be held next week and the first Friday Night Fights video will debut on the Elite TV part of the service on Nov. 25.

“We are making progress as we speak,” he said. “We know there are a lot of people who can’t get in.”


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