Do you need a new social network in your life? Activision thinks you do. It's betting so hard on it, in fact, that it's set up an entire developer, Beachhead Studios, just to create and maintain one – or something that certainly looks like one, anyway. It's aimed at the millions of people out there who play Call of Duty multiplayer.
And, yes, that's millions. 20 million people play Call of Duty online every week, and seven million – eek! – fire a game up every day, apparently. It's almost as big as Farmville. There have been rumours floating around for years that these figures are just so temptingly gigantic that Activision will simply have to dive in at some point and start charging a monthly fee for anyone wanting to get in on the action. That hasn't happened, though, and at a recent Call of Duty press event, the publisher actually reiterated its commitment to offering free multiplayer. Then, it announced Call of Duty Elite, and that's where the whole social network thing comes in.
Call of Duty Elite has been created to organise and enhance your multiplayer COD fun. It offers players a single profile that will store all of their Call of Duty stats, and that profile will evolve with each new game Activision releases. Part of Elite will be premium content and will presumably require a subscription, but everybody will get access to at least some of the platform for free. If you really like online warfare, it's an interesting prospect.
Activision's approached the service with a multi-screen strategy, offering iterations of Elite across the internet, mobile apps, and within the COD games themselves. Each access point will serve up the content most suited to it – the iPhone app, for example, looks likely to foreground friends lists, comments and programme guides – but the PC seems to be where the most complete version of the service hangs out. Elite will launch with support for Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, and it's the Black Ops content, running on a laptop, that the publisher's currently showing off.
Elite on PC has a stylish, Steam-influenced kind of visual design to it. Log in and you'll find yourself looking at a plain black backdrop with most of your available content broken down into four tabs running down the side of each page: Career, Connect, Compete, and Improve.
Career is where most of the really interesting stuff is, offering something called an Elite Summary - which kicks off with a Twitter-type status box and a feed from acquaintances, before leading you through updates on friends, tracked players, and playlist schedules - and your Player Card. Your Player Card seems to be the heart of Elite. It's a career summary that's tailored for each game, and the Black Ops Player Card we're shown starts by displaying overall stats, then drops down into an overview of recent matches, your custom classes and personal bests, and finally provides a space to collate things like screenshots. You can compare your own data with friends and rivals at any stage, and the stat-love goes dizzyingly deep, offering stuff you'd expect – such as winning percentages, XP earnings and kill/death ratios - and stuff you might not, like nifty little heat maps for each match, complete with a timeline that allows you to see where you were and who you were killing at every moment in any of your last ten online games. You can even see recent performances rendered as graphs. Graphs! I'd like a copy on my desk by Monday, please. And a mocha. Make that a white mocha.