What's Beachhead doing for Call of Duty?

And will you have to pay for it?

Overnight Activision announced the formation of a new studio with a single aim: to create "exclusive content" for the Call of Duty community.

But what does this mean for gamers?

Here's what Activision Publishing boss Eric Hirshberg said during the company's fourth quarter 2010:

"Today, we're pleased to announce our new wholly-owned development studio, Beachhead, which will lead the creation of our all-new digital platform for the Call of Duty franchise.

"Beachhead will create a best-in-class online community, exclusive content and a suite of services for our Call of Duty fans to supercharge the online gaming experience like never before.

"The platform will support in-game integration and bring online experiences and console play together for the first time. The platform has been in development for over a year, and we're very excited about the increased value we can bring to the community. We look forward to sharing more specifics on this exciting new endeavour with you in the near future."

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick also weighed in on Beachhead.

"Today, we have multiple teams and studios fully dedicated to online development and service operations," he said.

"Our leadership in online entertainment technologies continues to grow, as illustrated by our announcement today of our studio called Beachhead, which is focused solely on the development of an innovative new digital platform and special services for our Call of Duty community.

"And we believe we are best positioned to take advantage of retail and digital distribution channels that can collectively deliver content to more players in more places and with better economics than ever before.

"We've always said that the big are getting bigger but not only are the big getting bigger in retail, as players gravitate to the best experiences and we push the limits on our best-in-class execution, we have also leveraged our internal platforms to offer audiences choice and convenience through the provision of direct distribution of Blizzard games.

"We expect to enhance the Call of Duty experience in similar ways with our new digital platform from Beachhead."

Following the announcement, speculation mounted that Activision planned to charge Call of Duty players for elements of its online component.

But Activision, Treyarch and Infinity Ward have all been vocal in their insistence that they will "never, ever charge for Call of Duty multiplayer". Surely they can't go back on their promise?

As some have suggested, Beachhead may be preparing to launch an application that apes Microsoft's Halo Waypoint, which gamers use to track their Halo careers through the Xbox 360 dashboard.

Or it could be a Call of Duty version of Blizzard's Battle.net, which links World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo players in one online space.

For Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who has consistently called on Activision to charge gamers to play Call of Duty online, the Beachhead announcement can mean only one thing.

He told Eurogamer: "It's pretty clear that the 'value-added, exclusive premium content' can only be 'exclusive' if somebody is asked to pay for it."

Last month Wedbush predicted the launch of a "second tier" of online Call of Duty multiplayer and that gamers would be charged for it.

"Activision remains a top pick, primarily due to the company's potential to create and monetize a second tier of multiplayer online gaming for its Call of Duty franchise," Wedbush reported.

"We expect this to occur during the first quarter of 2011."

Bobby Kotick has of course expressed a desire to make more money from the online portion of his crown jewel. Last year he said that if he could do one thing, he would make Call of Duty "an online subscription service" as soon as tomorrow.

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