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FEATURE: Call of Duty's next phase

James Batchelor
FEATURE: Call of Duty's next phase
WHAT IS SLEDGEHAMMER GAMES?

The third pillar of games development behind Call of Duty, that’s what. The studio was set to build a third-person title based on Call of Duty but was drafted in to help with Modern Warfare 3 following an exodus of staff from Infinity Ward.

Sledgehammer was founded in 2009 by veteran developers Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, who have gathered a team that has worked on the likes of Dead Space, Ratchet & Clank and Afro Samurai.

Schofield tells MCV how it feels to be entrusted with Activision’s most valuable franchise: “You do your best with every game you make. We know there are millions of eyes on us, and the pressure I feel most is whether we will live up to the fans’ expectations, or whether they will accept us.

“And I think the more the fans have learned about us and the award-winning games we’ve worked on, they’ve given us a shot. And that’s all we’ve asked for, because we’re putting everything we can into this game.”

ELITE FORCE: HOW SOCIAL NETWORKING WILL GROW CALL OF DUTY

Extravagant?activities and Modern Warfare 3 demos were just the spectacle at CoD?XP. The substance was provided by Activision’s unveiling of CoD Elite’s premium membership.

Once the social network launches alongside MW3 in November, users will be able to sign up for a year for £34.99. This will earn users free early access to all DLC, prized competitions, video content from Hollywood talent – not to mention the stat-tracking and community features in the free version. 

Both free and premium users will be able to access Elite via Facebook and a dedicated mobile app.

The scope of Elite shows how seriously the publisher is taking its new social network, and how determined it is to justify the service and fee to the fans.

“Traditionally up until this point, Call of Duty has been about the experience within the console, within the game itself,” says Beachhead’s studio head Chacko Sonny. “We’re expanding that outside of the game, in dimensions that haven’t been done before.

“I think people forget that social networks start with naturally established communities. CoD already has a massive community. All of the things we’re doing with Elite are things those fans were already trying to do themselves. There’s tons of clan pages out there but there was no way to directly intergrate that with the game until now.”

Activision’s VP of digital Jamie Berger adds that the response at XP to the premium announcement “made a good positive impact” and that the company “expects good things” at Elite’s launch, not only from typical CoD fans, but also from those new to the online world.

“One of the interesting things is that Elite is actually bringing in a lot of people who are not traditionally DLC buyers. So we hope it’s going to broaden the series’ consumer base.”

The moment of truth comes on November 8th when Modern Warfare 3 arrives, which also marks the official launch of Elite. Despite some initial confusion when Elite was announced, both Beachhead and Activision are confident the masses will soon appreciate what the service offers.

And Berger says games retailers will be absolutely vital to successfully rolling out Elite – particularly the premium membership.

“The first place you’ll be able to get the premium version of Elite is at retail,” he explains. “The retailers are thrilled about this, because it allows them to engage with consumers about a digital offering in addition to the traditional boxed goods.

“The vast majority of consumers don’t know what DLC means, and they aren’t coming to our sites to learn these things. They need help, and I think retailers are going to be a tremendous part of that proposition.”

Call of Duty is now more than an annual retail release. It’s a year-long responsibility for Activision, with fans constantly craving new content.

So far, the answer has been map packs but with the launch of Call of Duty Elite, it will be even easier for the publisher to keep its fans engaged until November arrives each year.

“We’re catching up to how consumers have been behaving for the last few years,” says Berger.  “They have been playing as if Call of Duty is a 365-day, multi-year thing. But we’ve been treating it like a once-a-year thing where we stop and reacquire consumers with each new game.

“Elite is an acknowledgement that those consumers are not Black Ops players or Modern Warfare players – they’re Call of Duty players and they’re evolving with the franchise.”

BUT IS CALL OF DUTY GETTING OLD?

Of course?not, cry the studios behind Modern Warfare 3, despite critics suggesting the formula was wearing thin with last year’s Black Ops.

“The franchise is in a really good place at the moment because we have multiple developers,” says Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling. “We each have our own personality, our own flavour of game that we actually deliver. Modern Warfare is a very different experience to Black Ops. Every year is refreshing because you’re getting something new.”

Sledgehammer’s Glen Schofield adds: “MW2 broke sales records, Black Ops broke those records, and we’re certainly hoping to sell a heck of a lot. 

“If you think about it, people watch sitcoms and other shows for ten years. So if we continue to deliver a great story, we innovate, we add new stuff to the game all the time, quality is never sacrificed, people are always going to want it.”

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Tags: interview , call of duty , xp , elite , feature

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