Call of Duty: Elite is without doubt one of this year's most controversial products. To speak baldly, it's Activision's attempt to turn one of its two most successful franchises, Call of Duty, into the other, World of Warcraft - a digital networking platform that offers high-end services for an annual fee of $49.99, or around 32 quid.
Activision has been careful to leave only the choicest, most specialised features to Premium buyers, wary of losing users to EA and DICE's completely free Battlelog service, which launches alongside much-sung Modern-Warfare-killer Battlefield 3 in August. If you've read our breakdown of the premium content, you'll know that now-expected social tools like rudimentary stat-tracking and Friends lists remain firmly price-tag-less. But is adding paid-for online features to a boxed franchise a step in the wrong direction full stop? During an exclusive DICE studio visit, OXM's Matt Lees accosted Battlefield 3 executive producer Patrick Bach for his take.
Have you considered following in Call of Duty: Elite's footsteps?
Of course we talked about it, but to me it doesn't make sense in a product like this. If you buy a product, you expect something from it. If you rent a product - or pay for a service - you probably expect something else from it. I think Battlefield in this form doesn't lend itself to some kind of subscription model. I don't believe in it in this form.
I think there's room for products like it, for instance the freemium model is quite popular and apparently does work - simply because if you have enough people playing it some people will pay extra - but forcing people to pay for it will actually lock out more people. I'd rather sell people something new like Bad Company 2: Vietnam, where you can see an actual value in it and make that individual choice - but I don't believe in milking people without giving them something back. With a shooter like this, it's not like it's World of Warcraft - it's something quite different.
So if you were to start charging people £40 a year, would it be a struggle to give people back enough good stuff to make that worthwhile?
Yes. I honestly think that if you weren't doing it to make more money, you wouldn't do it. You wouldn't be planning on giving away more than you did before, and you're certainly not planning on giving away more than people are paying for. I still think that if you can make money from selling boxed products - you should do that.
We're selling a boxed product - start paying an annual fee for it, and who knows? In six months there might be a better game, and we want to be keeping up with the competition: If there's a better game, we need to be making an even better game - that keeps us on our toes. If we tried to charge someone for a subscription, we could go bankrupt in six months because five better games come out and you're still trying to charge for your old game. I don't believe in locking people in like that.
What's the elevator pitch on Battlelog?
It's not a gimmicky thing that we've made up to sell more copies. Battlefield has always been about playing games, having persistent stats, and joining people on your friends list - but that was kind of it. Around all that though we had marketing elements like updates and blogs, and also a bunch of cool community stuff happening on the side. What we've basically done it to get a grip on all of that, and pulled it all together.