How many of you would pay a monthly fee to play Call of Duty?

Nobody has confirmed anything, but let’s assume someone on Activision Blizzard’s payroll is currently creating a massively multi-player Call of Duty game. The company’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, recently expressed enthusiasm toward subscription-based games during the company’s fourth quarter conference call. “If you think about the success that we’ve had in other product categories on subscription [presumably World of Warcraft, which had as much to do with Activision as I did with the Manhattan Project], you can get a sense of the direction that we want to take that franchise [Call of Duty],” he said. Or translated from corporate-speak into English: “You’re damn right we want to make a Call of Duty MMO. Monthly fees to have people play pew-pew-pew? Yes, please.” But is that a wise move?

First, what would a Call of Duty MMO look like? Would it be, as its detractors claim, nothing more than WoW with guns? The fact is, the game’s online multi-player mode already has some of the aspects that make MMOs so popular: by playing the game more and more, your character grows stronger and gets access to power-ups. People would be motivated to play the MMO so their toy soldier could be decked out in the military equivalent of Tier 10 plate. Then all you’d need is a world or setting and some sort of “story.” The developers could try to re-create WoW‘s sense of struggle—Horde v. Alliance, roar—by pitting, say, the combined US+UK forces against ultra-nationalists from somewhere Over There. Nobody likes an ultra-nationalist.

But those are details, and we don’t want to get lost in details over something that might not even exist. All we need to envision is a persistent, growing (new maps/areas every so often) world wherein you take your character on some sort of calculable progression while filling your enemies with manly bullet holes.

Now let’s talk price. Let’s assume the game is amazing. Somehow, by the grace of God and all his little helper gods, the developers actually make a game that both fans and cynics can say without hesitation, “Yeah, it’s pretty good, actually.” Where is most of the Call of Duty fan base these days? I’m going to guess, generally, on consoles, and, more specifically, on Xbox 360. That presents a bit of a problem for Activision. Xbox 360 gamers already pay $50 per year to play games online (with nary a dedicated server in sight!), so Activision would have to first convince these people that paying to play Call of Duty isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. And since Bobby Kotick is all about monthly fees—it’s the whole point of this little exercise—, they’d have to find a monthly fee that people would be willing to pay. WoW costs $15 per month—do you really think the average person who plays Call of Duty is willing to pay $15 to play it? What about $10? Maybe $5? I’d say right around the $5-$7 mark would be the sweet spot—is anyone really going to miss $7 from their bank account each month? I should rephrase that so as not to sound so crass: will enough people be cool with spending $7 per month to play a game they enjoy? I’d be OK with that. I mean, $7 is the cost of two large coffees in New York; it’s not going to put me in the poor house. (Well, I’m already in the poor house, so I can’t, like, go there twice or anything.)

But still, is that wise? It’s not as if Call of Duty is without its flaws. Yes, Modern Warfare 2 sold a boatload of copies, with more than $1 billion in sales to date, but how many of those people are still dedicated multi-player mode players, a mere three months after its release? The game’s multi-player mode is riddled with bugs and glitches—imagine how many an MMO would have! How many people soured on the franchise after suffering through its single-player campaign? By the end I was like, “You know, Russia is totally in the right here…”

I don’t know, it just seems like the rush to a Call of Duty MMO, based on the broad, console-based success of Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2, may be a little crazy.

It really does come down to this: would you be willing to pay a monthly fee to play pew-pew-pew over and over again? Considering how broad Call of Duty‘s audience is—not all of these people are comfortable with the idea of a subscription-based game, surely—I really do wonder. Well, “wonder”—I
m pretty sure I’ll forget all of this as soon as I hit “publish.” Never mind that MMOs tend to be giant time-sinks in order to for you to “get good.” A quick round or two or two of multi-player before going to work? Sure. $XX + many hours required per month, every month (lest your character disappear into the void)? Not too sure.

Image swiped from NeoGAF