Playing a videogame on your home console used to be a pretty simple proposition. You bought the game in a store. You took it out of the package and inserted the cartridge into your home entertainment system. When the game didn’t work, you took out the cartridge and blew into it. (The “Blow Into It” method stopped working when games made the jump to disc technology, but toothpaste would usually do the trick.) Eventually, you got bored of the game and stuck it in the back of the closet forever, unless you got nostalgic or wanted to impress a girl with your Super Mario Bros. III speed-run (and if you found that girl then I pray you married her).
But that’s all changed in the last ten years. Online multiplayer technology has turned some games into backdoor national pastimes. That’s especially true of the massively successful Call of Duty series: The annual release of new entries in the first-person shooter has become a giant media event, and publisher Activision has attempted to reap more profits from the series out of downloadable content, including expansion packs and star-studded zombie mini-games. But like any good media company, Activision is now faced with an existential question: Now that we’ve made billions of dollars off of this franchise, how can we make more billions of dollars? The solution: A monthly subscription. Activision execs told the Wall Street Journal that they’re planning to launch “Call of Duty Elite,” a new premium service that will give Call of Duty players access to extra content, new maps, and social networking (why not?) for a monthly fee.
Now, keep in mind: Purchasing a new Call of Duty disc already costs $60, to say nothing of the start-up costs of purchasing a console, a controller, an internet connection, etc. It’s understandable that Activision would attempt to move Call of Duty into a subscription model; corporate sibling Blizzard has had monstrous success with their subscription-based World of Warcraft. And, lest gamers get in an uproar, “Elite” doesn’t seem entirely necessary — slapping “social media” onto a service and calling it “premium” feels very 2008 to me. But the apparent inconsequentiality of “Elite” is maybe the most disturbing thing about this move. In general, I’m skeptical about downloadable add-on content, and this feels like one more move towards a cash-grabbing mentality.
But maybe I’m wrong. Gamers who enjoy playing Call of Duty multiplayer at all hours might appreciate a premium subscription service. Heck, I almost wonder if “Call of Duty Elite” should separate out the more experienced players: I can’t believe all the foul-mouthed fifth-graders who have killed me literally hundreds of times actually enjoy playing against non-experts like me. What do you think, people? Would you pay a monthly subscription for a premium videogame service?
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