The era of the video game subscription seems to be closing. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games like Star Wars: The Old Republic are giving up subscriptions after being open for just one year. It’s not just MMOs though. Activision and Electronic Arts were both hoping that subscriptions would open up a new stream of revenue from players of their big first-person shooter games Call of Duty and Battlefield. While both Call of Duty Elite and Battlefield Premium drew in a large number of members, at least Activision is calling it quits. Going forward, all Call of Duty Elite services will be free for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
Activision announced the change to its Call of Duty network via a press release on Monday morning. Unlike with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Elite members can no longer pay to receive early access to downloadable content. It is replacing this service, at least on Xbox 360, with a $50 season pass for access to the downloadable content packs planned for the next year. Wii U, PlayStation 3, and PC owners will be out of luck though, as Microsoft’s console is the only one mentioned. (Activision did tell Joystiq that it’s “working with Nintendo” to get the DLC and season pass into the Wii U version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.)
Call of Duty Elite, while a questionable success according to users, was undeniably successful as a business. As of May, Activision has 10 million registered Elite uses, 2 million of which were paying customers. That’s a fraction of the 40 million monthly active users playing Modern Warfare 3 at the time, but a substantial sum of new revenue all the same.
The method for generating that revenue wasn’t smooth enough though, and it created divisions in the Call of Duty community. Michael Olson, a market analyst with investment bank Piper Jaffray, said that by making Call of Duty Elite free, Activision stands to generate more than $80 per Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 player as opposed to the $75 to $80 generated by the average Modern Warfare 3 player.
That’s certainly good news for Activision in the long term. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is expected to be the most successful release in the franchise. GameStop president Tony Bartel told MCV on Monday, “We are seeing the highest pre-orders in history. With its current pace, this Call of Duty is on track to break records and is likely to be our biggest game launch of all time.”