We ask the product director at Beachhead Studios a few questions.
Call of Duty Elite is a new subscription service which promises to provide players with the ultimate way to elevate their multiplayer game, whatever their skill level.
The service will feature lifetime statistics across multiple games as well as a multitude of social-networking options, additional downloadable content, access to exclusive competitions and advanced clan options.
Call of Duty Elite is being developed by Beachhead Studios. I caught up with the company’s product director, Noah Heller, at Call of Duty XP in Los Angeles to ask him all about Call of Duty Elite.
There was somewhat of a backlash when the Elite service was announced with some fans saying they simply didn’t want to pay anything more to play Call of Duty. Although that seems to have been largely based on misunderstanding what the service would be, some people are probably still unhappy with the idea of Elite. What would you say to them?
I would just say, don’t bother with it if you don’t like the sound of it. You can try it for free, and if we can’t convince you that way, we never were going to convince you. There’s all this goodness for free, enjoy it. And then if you want to take it to the next level, we’ve also got a premium service for you. If not, we still love you! Get in our big tent together!
And there will be no gameplay disadvantage to not joining the premium service, right?
Oh, absolutely not. Never. That is religion for us.
Beachhead Studios was working alongside both Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. What were the advantages and disadvantages of these separate teams working on the game?
It’s a huge game. That’s really the benefit. There was so much to do and so many passionate people, it was just too big for any one group. The Sledgehammer guys are awesome and gave so much creativity to single player and Spec Ops and multiplayer. Infinity Ward are holders of the flame, when it comes to just tight gameplay and making the game awesome. My own guys, all of us at Beachhead, we were there to add this whole social layer on top of things and open up a whole new world of multiplayer for people to play with together. Honestly, the features that worked out best for Modern Warfare 3 are the ones where the different developers really got passionate about it. Like, clans was a feature where we took the idea to the other guys and they were like “Oh my God! Well what if we did this and this…” and it builds and builds and becomes something awesome that no single studio could have done by themselves.
With Call of Duty XP and the Elite service, and previously being the first to have killcams and killstreaks and so on – it’s obvious Call of Duty is out there breaking new ground and leading the way with the first-person shooter genre. Do you think there have been many missteps made in the franchise?
Every game developer always does things that they would change or optimise better if they could, but I think what has happened is that every year more people are playing Call of Duty. That means the tent gets bigger and bigger for each of us. We try and change the formula every year so it doesn’t get too stale. The idea for Elite came from Activision saying ‘Let’s mess with Call of Duty, let’s change the formula – before someone else does it for us.’ You can see that the Modern Warfare 3 guys have really embraced levelling up and taken it much deeper than it’s ever been before. And we have with Elite too, like you can level up your clan and do stuff with that. Levelling up is really cool and that’s something we’re focussing on this year whereas it hasn’t been as deep a focus in years before. We’re not so much about regret, we just take what has resonated the most with the fans and do more with it.
What did you learn from the Call of Duty Elite beta testing period?
Oh man, we’re still learning from the beta. We’ve learned there are very crazy ways that people try and cheat, for example in the operations to win stuff. We’ve seen like collusion, people lying and things like that. But thankfully we’ve been able to develop tools to catch that kind of cheating.
We’ve learned that even some small, niche features become really important to people. Like the level calculators a really crazy example. Like we built this little tiny tool that just says how fast have you earned XP lately, and how long it should take you to get to your next level. All of a sudden, hundreds of thousands of people are using it. And that was something we didn’t even know if we were going to ship it or not. It was just this tiny thing and people thought nobody would want to use it, now everyone is using it. The community is really creative, they’ve given us some great feedback. But we’re still learning. Like, it’s a real beta. In the games industry betas are often BS, like just a marketing thing. But with Elite, the site’s going down, the site’s going up – we’re learning things every day.
Is there anything else that has been really pleasantly surprising that has come from the community during the beta testing?
I think the way people have gotten into groups, even though for Black Ops there isn’t a game component. In Modern Warfare 3, in the lobby or on a recent players list you can see what groups you share in common with people. You can see, like, this guy is in New Zealand, this guys is in Australia and you can have a rivalry going or something like that. So right now, all you can do is see who is in your group with you, and it’s a leaderboard so you can see how you’re doing in that group. You can’t actually see the group in Black Ops and yet, people are really getting into the feature. They’re meeting people and competing with people. Now they’ll see you can actually see that within Modern Warfare 3, I think that’ll be really cool.
You were talking about rivalries being fought across Call of Duty Elite, like Democrats vs Republicans or Kiwis vs Aussies, do you think there could be more serious rivalries involved and are you worried about that?
Of course there will be, but we’re not worried about it, we’re going to really embrace it. It’s cool when people settle those rivalries inside Call of Duty. I’d say the ones that will be really cool will be like flavour of the month, like during the world cup or the Superbowl, you can bet on the team you want to win. We even have some special logic built in, so if you join one side, you won’t be able to join the other for those special kinds of groups. So you’ll have to declare who you think the winner will be, and we’ll keep track of that – meanwhile, you can kill each other.
I was quite excited by the announcement of Elite TV and having real world rivalries played out and broadcast on the Friday Night Fights. I’d love to see like hip-hop beefs, or matches between old boxing foes and such on it. Can you give me any idea of who is already lined up for Friday Night Fights?
I was told I can’t say anything, because they want to make a big announcements out of it. But there is some absolutely classic real-world rivalries, like, ones that everyone has heard of.
Can you tell me if they come from the sport world, or the music world or give me any clues?
I can’t - they would kill me. You can print that they would kill me.
The Call of Duty Elite service is still currently in a beta phase. The full service along with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is set for release on November 8.
- Daniel Rutledge, 3 News