In the time it has taken me to write this sentence, more than 900 hours of “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” have been cumulatively played around the world by its millions of fans.
In late 2011, “Call of Duty” publisher Activision created a website to track that stat and others live. Scrolling down the lengthy page exposes tickers of numbers that move so fast that it’s hard to keep up with the single digits. Instead, a curious reader has to rely on the hundreds, or the thousands, or the hundred thousands, to settle on a single number long enough to think about what it might mean.
These live global stats are the heartbeat of one of the most played video games in the world.
They can be found on the official website for Call of Duty Elite (www.callofduty.com/elite), the series-spanning service that tracks stats, improves game play and builds communities and competitions for the first-person shooter.
Elite was conceived by Activision as a service that would support fans of the “Call of Duty” franchise as they transition from one game to the next. Its initial goal was to help “Call of Duty” become a sort of national pastime and extend the experience into a player’s daily life. Now, 15 months since its launch, Elite’s goals seem unchanged, but the way it’s working to attain them has shifted dramatically.
Where Elite once was a free and paid service, now it is free only. Elite TV, once aiming to become a sort of “Call of Duty”-themed mainstream television channel, has dropped its Hollywood aspirations to become something more akin to a Khan Academy for gamers. Original video content by Hollywood talent such as Will Arnett and Ridley Scott has given way to strategy videos, replays from matches and “Call of Duty” news.
That shift was driven by a year of watching how Elite was being used. It became clear that there were three major patterns, said Activision producer Jason Ades: stats; support of persistent teams, called clans, and competition.
Responding to gamers’ thirst for stats, Elite’s Beachhead Studio developers created a page dedicated to global and personal stats, a place where a player could see what Ades refers to as “back of baseball card” information. It’s here where you can watch those global numbers whirl by or you can see how many times you’ve killed or been killed, how many shots you’ve fired and hours played. A player can also use more detailed statistics to analyze their play in hopes of upping their performance.
“It’s what people do at the end of a long play session,” Ades said.
Looking at the popularity of clans, the developers dropped their use of “groups” and pushed more clan support, which fed into an increased interest in competition.
It’s that thirst for competition that will see the biggest effort this year.
League play allows gamers to drop into formal 30-day “seasons” designed to be played on a level playing field. Before playing your first league match, gamers have to compete in placement matches. Elite then automatically determines in which of the six divisions and numerous subdivisions to place a player. Each subdivision can host up to 200 players.
The idea is that players will be more invested in a smaller competition when they know they have a better chance of doing well, rather than competing against the millions of “Call of Duty” players in the world for the same top spot.
While some of Elite’s strategy for building upon “Call of Duty’s” successes might have shifted, the core tenet for the service remains unchanged.
“I absolutely believe at the center of Elite and the ‘Call of Duty’ experience is that social aspect,” said Michael Gesner, executive producer at Beachhead Studios.
“We tried to design a lot of our features around the idea that we’re facilitating the conversation around ‘Call of Duty.’ ”