Activision Unveils ‘Call of Duty Elite,’ a Facebook for Frags

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What happens when one of the biggest publishers of standalone AAA video games merges with the company responsible for global phenomenon World of Warcraft? You get Activision Blizzard, currently the top dog in the video game market. But, for a while now, that’s all we’ve gotten. Industry watchers have been left to wonder when a true fusion of the merged companies’ sensibilities would surface, and now it finally looks like the other combat boot’s about to drop.

Launching in beta this summer, Call of Duty Elite represents Activision’s most significant entry yet into creating an online connected platform around a gaming experience. The Blizzard half of the mega-corporation has no involvement in Elite, though. Rather, it’s the work of the newly formed Beachhead development studio, which was announced on an investor call in February. The goals of Elite are to give COD players–one of the most rabid fanbases in all of gaming–a way to interact with each other outside of the game and deepen the experience they get from the game.

Think of it as Facebook with crossbows, shotguns and hand grenades.

I got to try out Elite at a recent hands-on event. Myself and other members of the press went at it in Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer, running around and slaying each other in the usual frantic fashion for about half an hour. After that play session, we loaded up the beta version of the Elite website and could see a wealth of information about our movements, where we died and where we scored kills. Right away, we could see how many melee kills, say, a player notched in a round. While this info is already available to players in Call of Duty: Black Ops, navigating to it through the current interface is a pain and something you may not want to do during an all-nighter.

Elite also parses the data in different ways and will give each user one single profile that will link into all future COD games. The beta for Elite will use Black Ops play sessions to test out server load and core functionality. But Activision says that players won’t get a full sense of how Elite really feels until after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 launches in November. MW3 and Elite have been built to interlock with each other and every COD game that follows this year’s release will support the Elite platform.

Most modern games mine data from their users, ostensibly to give developers feedback as to how people play and what to tweak in the design stages. Elite opens up the back-end to consumers, letting them see what loadout a particular player uses, how he or she fared in recent matches and their membership in various groups.

You’ll be able to join multiple interest groups but can only have membership in one clan. Members will also be able to participate in scheduled events like double XP weekends and watch user-generated videos via the Elite platform. Activision is positioning Elite as an online coaching system of sorts, letting players review their sessions and tune their approaches with the available data.

With Elite, you’ll be able to look at a heat map–a blueprint of a level that shows where you killed and died–with a timeline function charting the duration of the map. It’s a bit like a pro athlete reviewing recordings of his own play and that of his opponents before and after a match-up. Users will be able to log into COD Elite on Apple’s portable devices and Activision says that an Android app is on the way, too.

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