Yesterday, Activision announced a shift in their DLC strategy for Black Ops II, this year’s entry in the annual bottom line boon, Call of Duty. Call of Duty Elite, the social arm of the bestselling franchise launched last year, marking a major change to how new maps and modes were delivered to the enormous community of fans. In previous years, the publisher pushed the price boundaries for DLC, dropping four map packs throughout the year at $15 each. It’s only the power of the Call of Duty name that allowed them to work past the sticker shock of paying the $60 price of the base game over again during the following months.
Last year, things got a bit more confusing with the introduction of Call of Duty Elite. Not only were there two different tiers (free and Premium), but the now-regular foursome of DLC packs were seeing a shift… for Premium members. As a way to entice people into the $50 subscription, Activision took a risky step and promised monthly content drips in the form of maps, modes and Spec Ops missions. It was ambitious, but given that the subscription was included with the Hardened edition of the game, it was an easy hook for the devout.
Looking back over the year of coverage though, it seems the law of unintended consequences kicked in on the promotional side. In prior years, a new Call of Duty map pack was an event. There were teaser trailers, hints at the inclusions and a great deal of anticipation. It’s hard to generate that same level of enthusiasm for content in packs that the diehard players already have. Without that same fervor, it’s harder to entice and motivate casual players.
In addition, casual players couldn’t as easily jump in with their Elite Premium friends. In the past, casuals might drop the $15 (or more) to catch up for a game night. With the monthly drops, those that don’t have a subscription couldn’t throw their money at the Marketplace or PlayStation Store to get completely up to speed. The content was simply inaccessible for them.
This year, Activision will be separating out Elite from the DLC. Not only does this shift the schedule back into a four-DLC routine, but it also splits out the social features, giving all players access to things like Clan challenges and Call of Duty TV. It’s a smart move, and frees the development team from having to meet monthly deadlines. It re-unifies the player base (at least as much as it was before), and with a season pass ($50), allows players to save the same $10 on the yearly add-on content.
The change to Elite and the delivery of DLC is a smart move. It reduces confusion, adds value to the entire player base, allows for greater promotional buzz around the map packs and ensures that casual players can catch up on content when they want to play with their friends without restriction. Most importantly for Activision, it can only help the bottom line. Diehard fans will buy their season passes up front at the same price that the company charged for Elite last year, and casuals will likely hear more about map packs before they launch leading to more sales. Perhaps Call of Duty Elite didn’t work out exactly as Activision planned, but there’s no doubt they learned a lot from the endeavor.