There is a subscription fee, but Activision says you won't have to pay it to play online.
Activision has thrown back the curtain and revealed a new online service for the Call of Duty games, called "Call of Duty Elite." Elite is the work of the recently announced Beachhead studio, and is designed to expand the Call of Duty experience beyond Xbox Live or PSN.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Elite will run alongside Modern Warfare 3, offering additional content that is separate from the content that is on the disc itself. Besides having social aspects like groups and leagues, the WSJ says that Elite subscribers will gain access to new multiplayer maps. If this is the case, then it raises certain questions, like what maps will be offered, and how the service will be managed. It's hard to imagine Activision giving away the $15 map packs it sells online, but the occasional individual map is a different story. Elite will also track statistics, giving players the ability to see how well they perform on different maps and with different weapons. If you're a fan of graphs and heat maps, then these features will undoubtedly prove exciting.
Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear how much the service will cost and exactly what parts of it people will have to pay for. The WSJ said that Elite will be a subscription-based service with some free elements - like the social networking side - and posits a price point of $8 a month or less. On the other hand, Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling indicated that Elite would be a free service, which would feature some premium elements.
The trailer for the service - which you can see above, for however long it remains available - confirms that some parts of Elite are for subscribers only, but again, doesn't specify which ones. Both the WSJ and Bowling have made it clear though, that Activision is not going to charge people to play Call of Duty online. In an interview, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick defended the subscription fee, saying that Elite was a major undertaking, and it wouldn't be able to offer the same level of support if it was completely free.
Activision will reveal more details about the service later today, and we will update once we have them.