Will Call of Duty MMO Trigger Cross-Platform Activision Network?

By Jon Ireson

July 9, 2010

[Feel free to chime in with your own opinions in the comments section once you’ve read through mine and give us your raw reaction to this revolutionary way of thinking for the Call of Duty franchise. Keep in mind, this is not just about being able to play with each other across other systems, although that is the main idea, but also the huge evolution that Call of Duty could experience as a result and how it could re-ignite the passion that a few of us gamers have lost with playing the series.]

With the realization of one monumental cross-platform feature after another in the video games industry it only makes sense that the big dog should share in the innovation that is taking place on services like Steam, which now allows Mac gamers to pair up with Windows PC gamers for a good time, and of course Sony Online Entertainment’s upcoming DC Universe Online allowing PC/PS3 gamers to unite. Who can forget past miracles like Final Fantasy XI allowing PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox 360 gamers to play together.

Recently Activision echoed the sentiments that a good portion of Xbox Live users primarily play Call of Duty games as their main title on the online service, or as their only title in some cases. Beyond this there have also been talks for some time now about making Call of Duty a subscription-based game in future iterations, this would likely include an expansive re-think of the franchise which could very well add a lot to the game experience being offered.

Taking all of this into account, one thing that has always annoyed me as a gamer is the fact that I have to go out and buy another system if I want to play video games with a friend who only owns one or the other. In the case of Call of Duty we have PC gamers, PS3 gamers, and Xbox 360 gamers and if you want to play with these crowds you must own each machine respectively.

Not only is this a hindrance for gamers and their convenience/ability to play with friends online enjoying the game series, it is also a huge missed opportunity for Activision, and I believe they have realized this as well. The company states that over 75% of their profit is made without the help of gaming consoles, this is a scary statistic to anyone who prefers gaming on these consoles but we need to stop and think about how much better this game could be on the console before becoming worried that it’s all about PC/consumer devices for future COD games.

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What if you could jump into a match at any time with your friends on Xbox Live from your PlayStation 3? What if you could play with your console friends from a PC? And for that matter, why can’t we attach our Wii friend codes to some type of online system that actually makes sense and lets us join the massive crowds of gamers playing these Call of Duty games that we simply cannot stay away from?

Before you get all up in arms telling me this will never happen, I realize your point. This is not entirely Activision’s decision. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and any other game device manufacturer for that matter, would likely have to be sat down and convinced that this was a good deal for them and shown why it makes sense for them to allow this type of cross-platform gaming to exist. Let’s take a trip into such a meeting and see how that might play out, shall we?

Convincing the Big Dogs

With Activision acquiring Blizzard, Modern Warfare 2 being the largest entertainment launch in history, and MW2 download packs selling for 1/3 or more higher than the average DLC, it is no secret that the company is able to bathe, brush their teeth, and floss with freshly printed trillion dollar bills (as opposed to the crusty old ones frozen with Walt Disney). But how much is enough?

I tend to believe that with Sony and Microsoft’s current strategy of taking initial losses on console hardware while making the return on that investment from software sales, they need all of the Call of Duty games they can get their hands on. Activision could simply offer up an ultimatum, but no one likes to see things get to that point (okay maybe we do but that doesn’t make it right). Really Activision would have to create their own self sufficient network capable of drawing and handling the massive amount of fans they have attained over the years and somehow sell the idea to the big 3 as a viable way for them to sell more games, more bandwidth, and ultimately make more profit to cover those hardware losses.

Nintendo, being without a centralized online network still for the Wii, may be the hardest to convince because they still tend to view online gaming as the developer’s problem. To contrast, this may also provide an easy-in for Activision’s network because they would not be competing head on with anything Nintendo-based other than WiiWare digital distribution. I’m pretty sure that some sort of deal could be worked out however, if only Nintendo were given a large enough percentage of this online network, then again Activision might not be too keen on sharing so let’s move on to Micro and Sony.

Microsoft has an online network yet to be rivaled in the console arena in terms of accessibility, features, and general popularity. The fact that Xbox Live charges a monthly fee poses a huge problem for any type of Activision network which would hope to do the same. The two would be in direct competition of each other. With so many technical and legal issues to tackle conquering such a deal, I still hold out hope for this possibility. If Call of Duty were able to breach the Microsoft executives office and throw down a few billion dollars on the table and say “this is how much you will make in the first month” then I think they would have their attention right then and there. Tip-toeing around the subject is probably not going to work because both parties feel they have the better service concept and coming to terms over anything other than a lust for cash would probably be a rare occurrence.

That being said, Xbox Live already charges users what many consider a reasonable fee, but it might be hard to ask them to cough up extra. However, with the advantage of garnering income from multiple consoles rather than just one, an Activision network (were it to come into existence) would be able to charge a lower fee, possibly half that of Xbox Live, making it much more appealing to consumers already paying for online play in the Call of Duty universe. Again, it seems a win/win scenario if the two video game giants can come to terms. Call of Duty gamers on Xbox 360 would also benefit from the ability to take their skills and dominate PS3 players, further increasing respect for the Xbox 360 brand and giving an enjoyable experience for those who prefer a more challenging fight as well as those who enjoy totally “owning”.

Sony runs an open network on the PlayStation 3. Epic Games has been able to bring mods to Unreal Tournament 3 because of this and in a tribute to the enhanced abilities decided to make the game a “timed” exclusive on PS3. Square Enix praises the open network concept model as well and has claimed that Xbox Live is not getting Final Fantasy XIV because of their lack of such an open infrastructure which would allow the developer much more control over their own game and online services. If this is any indicator on how Sony would react to Activision’s idea of their own online network, it seems like the ideal situation for their console efforts.

The sheer amount of Call of Duty games already sold on the PS3 should be an indicator that this type of deal would only benefit the big 3, and with Sony’s current stance on online services they would probably understand this quickly. More players, more services, more content all means more reasons to pick up that next Call of Duty game and if you primarily play on PS3 then that is what you will buy it for. The big 3 make cash off of each disc sold (through licensing) so this is another win/win scenario.

Convincing the Gamers

To get everyone on board, the main selling point would be the evolution of the Call of Duty franchise. This would have to be something huge along the lines of typical MMO content delivery whereby users get more and more added to their game without having to create 1,000 forum blogs begging and practically designing it for the developer. The other main selling point would be the amount of people that would get on this network. One of the huge draws of World of Warcraft is simply its popularity. We all know Call of Duty is perhaps the most popular game on earth right now in the shooter genre, such a network would not be difficult to pitch to gamers if it contained even more players now. The fact that no boundaries would exist between friends is another huge selling point for this type of radical paradigm shift in the Call of Duty business model and overall direction. I’ve always thought an idea so huge as this is as real as these companies allow it to be. Activision is one of the biggest and if Square Enix was able to achieve this for Final Fantasy XI then the only thing stopping Call of Duty from soaring that high and prosper with these concepts would be their lack of action towards this goal.

In Conclusion

A lot of people play Call of Duty, millions upon millions. And some of those people are beginning to wonder if the game will ever dramatically evolve. This step would be a massive “hell yes” from the people who run the show for COD and keep everyone interested for a lot longer than some new maps will. How they would implement, operate, and expand on such ideas is completely unpredictable but the foundation has been laid by Activision themselves and anyone taking a few leaps of logic along the obvious stone walkway can see that this is a great idea that would go down in gaming history as legendary. I, for one, am excited that something like this is even possible and being hinted at but until we see some solid moves we would be foolish to assume this is a sure thing. Here’s to hoping Call of Duty‘s owners quit talking about great ideas like these and begin to make them a reality for gamers worldwide.

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Jon Ireson

Jon is a gamer above all else. He plays all types of games. You can find him mostly in War games. He is very passionate and a hard worker and it shows through his writing. Favorite Games: Warhawk, Soldier of Fortune 2: Double Helix, Final Fantasy 6

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