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The Future of Call of Duty

What Activision learned from Call of Duty Elite... and what it means for Black Ops 2

The new issue of PSM3 is on sale now.

The numbers for Call of Duty are rapidly approaching ridiculous. Over 639 million hours of Modern Warfare 3 were played in 2011, and it made over a billion dollars in its first 16 days on sale. The franchise as a whole is nearing around 100 million units sold at £50 (at RRP) a pop. Ten developers have worked on it over the years: Treyarch, Sledgehammer, Raven, Gray Matter, Pi, Spark, Amaze, Rebellion, Ideaworks and creators Infinity Ward. So what next on CoD's voyage into statistical lunacy?

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There are three big strands to Activision's Call of Duty strategy. There's the main game series - which after Call of Duty 2 has been subtitled Modern Warfare. There's the 'secondary' spin off series, normally made by Treyarch, and releasing in alternate years. And now there's Elite, which is a subscription-based social network overlay. Elite's function is presumably to double the revenue Call of Duty makes from each player each year, as well as allowing social network integration to further promote the games.

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Oh, and to improve the pro-gamer's experience (as aside-effect of making pots of cash), by giving them slightly cheaper access to map packs and new content. When it launched alongside Modern Warfare 3, Elite was buggy, and it's taken a while for Activision to make it work. Indeed, Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, says: "We had some technological stumbles at launch, and that frustrated some of our fans. The words 'Call of Duty' plus the word 'subscription' equals 'unleash blogger hell.'"

He's even jokingly rebranded Elite's tagline as: "It's not a douche move". Still, early in February, Activision announced that Elite had seven million subscribers, of which 1.5 million had signed up for a monthly fee. Hirschberg has said that Elite v2.0 will be released alongside the next Call of Duty game (all clues point to Black Ops 2) and will have "several innovative features".

Not very dark arts

The worst-kept secret for Activision-Blizzard is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It hasn't announced it yet, but it's trademarked enough associated bits that it's obvious. Indeed, in mid February 2012 Amazon France put up (and quickly pulled) a page naming the game, and then Activision blacklisted websites who ran with the story before denying it would ever blacklist journalists.

"rumours of an MMO are still circulating, but there are more aborted MMOs in publishers' archives than there are any other type"

It's likely Black Ops 2 is the Call of Duty 9 game that Bobby Kotick announced to investors in November as having a 2012 release. If so, then we can safely predict an announcement either at GDC or E3, and a release date in early November 2012, where it'll find itself up against a revived Medal of Honor game. We can also predict that, given Treyarch has finally been allowed to up its team size to make Black Ops (which insiders claimed was holding their quality back for Big Red One and World At War), the game will also attempt to match the quality of the Infinity Ward products.
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