COD XP: The Bug and the Windscreen • Page 3

From the archive: A true story about guns, money, Kanye and the biggest game in the world.

"Step up! Come on. What are you waiting for? Listen, you guys have paid a LOT of money to be here. Don't be shy!"

There are other fan events based around single games, of course; both QuakeCon and BlizzCon command significant attendance. But COD: XP is not an event requested by the fans. Rather, it's an endlessly lavish production put on for their benefit by a company eager to... to give something back? Eager to humanise themselves? Eager to soften core gamer perception of a company best known for its dead-eyed annual franchise updates, high-price DLC, and the stewardship of arch non-gamer Bobby Kotick, effortlessly the most disliked CEO by gamers thanks to his apparent disdain toward them?

COD: XP is, let's say, a smart way to both give back to the community that makes it wealthy and to counter a series of setbacks and unpopular decisions made in and around Modern Warfare.

Setback-wise, there's the departure of Call of Duty's parents Jason West and Vince Zampella, the founders of Infinity Ward who left the company in a cloud of controversy and bitter words last year, taking almost half of the studio with them.

Few journalists breathe a word about this momentous, still largely untold event during the press day roundtable with Infinity Ward staff. But questions burn in the pockets. Is it really so easy to maintain the leading series in the leading genre while losing all of that institutional knowledge and talent midway through production?

Activision doesn't want anyone pondering such things and who can blame them? Bugs and windscreens. So instead we are given a military-themed Disneyland to splash about in for two days, filled with zip-wires, jeep rides through rigged explosives and men cosplaying as ghillie suit snipers.

So COD: XP is a distraction then? Perhaps.

But then there's the cloud of scepticism surrounding the announcement of Call of Duty: Elite, a subscription-based multiplayer service that launches alongside Modern Warfare 3. For gamers tired of premium-based paid-for services, it was a difficult sell. But the news unveiled at the show that an annual subscription to Elite will cost just $49.99 (34.99) was favourably received, especially as this is set to include all DLC released over the course of that year.

It's not an overly generous price-point, but few would argue it's not a fair one for those who would be interested. Then, the news that the $150 COD:XP ticket price would include a Hardened edition of the game, and that every nickel of profit thereafter would to go to the Call of Duty Endowment, Activision's charitable program to help veterans secure jobs, further softened attendees' view of the event and the company that paid for it.

Finally, zoom up and it seems likely that Elite is an evolutionary stepping-stone not only for the series but also the medium. In five years or less, Call of Duty multiplayer will surely be a cloud-based service. If that's the case, and few technology prophets would bet against it, COD: XP is an educational exercise, actualising the virtual community that exists around the game in real life, and winning the core influencers within that community - the kind of people who would pay $150 and a plane ticket to 'elevate their soldiers' - to the Elite cause.

After all, nobody wants to be the bug in the brave new cloud-based world of our near future.

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"Tell me: how does it feel to be $100,000 richer?"

"I don't wanna work at McDonalds any more."

In the final showdown, US-based four-man squad Optic beat British team Infinity to take the $400,000 prize money, a frankly ridiculous trophy made from scale replica automatic rifles and the prestige of being the best Call of Duty players in the world.

A huddle of white men in their early twenties, college students with tidy hair and broad smiles who no longer need to support their education with minimum wage jobs, bounce on their back feet. Gleeful for their winnings, they fail to match their skill with eloquence on stage in the post-fight interview. That doesn't matter much. To the assembled throng, they are twitch heroes who have let their reflexes speak louder than any weepy Grammy acceptance speech.

Indeed, to many here, they are now the most important attendees at an event that is all about establishing hierarchy.

2

Murder on the dance floor.

"Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic."

Kanye West stands atop a 30-foot high stone-effect pillar wearing a gold necklace that cost more than your education. He stares and sways and spits and sings a song about Power in the 21st Century, firing the word 'egotistic' from his mouth with a prissy flick of the tongue.

He plays for a full two hours, choosing to kick off his new tour in front of a hangar full of Call of Duty players and assembled celebrities (Lindsay Lohan, Jack Osbourne, David Cross - now the most important attendees at an event that is all about establishing hierarchy - all spotted in the guarded VIP area which separates the great and good from the gamers).

He's an apt choice for headline act for an event that is all about hubris and showmanship. Indeed, he's an embodiment.

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Bobby Kotick sits inside a VIP area inside the VIP-only COD: XP aftershow party at a small VIP club on an exclusive stretch of Hollywood road.

Two blonde female DJ twins with haircuts from the future - characters plucked from a Jet Set Radio designer's sketchbook - play cuts from Jay-Z and Kanye's latest collaboration to a room of journalists, tournament winners and assorted celebrities and hangers-on.

Kanye slouches in a corner, surrounded by a gaggle of seven-foot, hollow-eyed models, checking his watch surreptitiously from beneath his hoodie, waiting for his contracted appearance time to be up. His bodyguard glares at the room, clutching a Taser, primed for the melee kill.

Teri Hatcher works to break a titter through the botox sausage that is her face. Kotick leans 10 degrees too far forward and she recoils while attempting to maintain the air of coquettishness upon which her invitation tonight depended.

A tournament winner makes a move at a dancer who tells him he's "too ugly for Hollywood". To her, he is the least important attendee at an event that is all about establishing hierarchy.

Outside, one of Activision's drivers squeezes a lever and squirts water over the windscreen of his parked limousine. Two swipes of the blades and it's clean again.

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