Activision Blizzard is shifting gears and making its Call of Duty Elite paid service into a free service with the release of the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II video game. In doing so, Activision will separate the Elite service — which offers enhanced social networking and community engagement for gamers — from the multiplayer map packs that Activision will continue to sell. Eric Hirshberg, chief executive of Activision Publishing, responded to our email questions about the change. Here’s a transcript of that email interview.
GamesBeat: Why is Activision doing this? Is it because Activision already monetizes Call of Duty users in another way?
Eric Hirshberg: For Black Ops II, we’re offering a season pass, and we’re still offering (downloadable content) DLC map packs à la carte. The best thing for our business is to keep our players engaged. What we’ve found, Dean, is that Elite offers a lot of really engaging services that were only reaching a portion of our community. We think that by making these services available to a much wider audience, it will be better both for our players and for us.
GamesBeat: This is good for the community. Is it true what they say about that? What’s good for the community is good for the bottom line?
Hirshberg: Absolutely. Our mission from the start with Elite was to make multiplayer a more social, more connected experience. And we accomplished that, but only for our premium members. So we’ve come to the conclusion that Elite has more value as a community-wide platform to drive engagement and connectivity than as a paid, members-only service. This is truly a win/win.
GamesBeat: Are you still investing heavily in new features for Call of Duty Elite?
Hirshberg: Yes. Elite is now an essential part of the game. In addition to carrying forward things like leveling clans and new Elite TV content, we are adding features like League Play, eSports, and other features, all with the goal of making Call of Duty a more connected, more social experience. You’re seeing a lot of multi-screen strategies now from the first parties, and Elite was sort of early to that party. We’re offering that connected experience for one simple reason: The more engaged we can keep our players with the game and their friends playing the game, the better.
GamesBeat: What has been the most popular Call of Duty Elite service?
Hirshberg: Well, beyond the DLC itself, I’d have to say it has been clan ops and competitions. Those are great examples of the kind of services that really drive increased engagement. So it only makes sense to make them fully available to a wider audience for Black Ops II, not just premium subscribers.
GamesBeat: Is it easier to sell map packs/DLC because they are tangible assets, compared to the less tangible services of Elite?
Hirshberg: We have sold over 2.3M Elite memberships. I think we’ve shown that people are willing to pay for services if those services are compelling. We’re not making this change because services are harder to market. We’re making this change because we think there is a greater benefit to making these services available to a wider audience.