There are obvious and not-soobvious upgrades for Elite subscribers - such as the DLC - but perhaps the biggest is how Elite operates on the player. It feels like the free version is a passive aid to the game, letting you browse and chin-stroke over data, but the paid version is all about playing regularly - and actively improving your game.
Elite costs £35 for a year's subscription, and the biggest carrot is the downloadable content: nine packs over nine months following MW3's launch, which subs also receive a few days before general release. They'll also get the likes of Elite TV, with content from what Americans regard as 'top talent,' extended clan features that give access to another tier of levelling up, and eight times the storage space for screenshots and videos. More than anything else, they get the programme guide, which is Elite's way of dragging them back into MW3 again and again.
The programme guide is an ongoing series of competitions for real and in-game prizes. It changes daily. There are Events, which are the likes of screenshot and video challenges, and Operations, which are limited duration statistical challenges, either solo or in teams. The prizes are everything from a CoD-branded hat to a big Jeep, and Beachhead promise competition will be structured to give all skill levels a shot at winning.
"I think everyone on the Beachhead team was really excited to see a team that qualified for the tournament via Elite won the championship at CoD XP this year," says Sonny. "I think we're just starting to tap the potential for competition with Call of Duty and services like Elite."
But the programme guide isn't just a competitive structure - it's also a way to change up the maps and modes people are playing on any given day, or switch focus from team play to lone wolves and back again. More than anything, it's about keeping players playing.
"One of the best ways to improve your game is to just play more and have fun," says Puno. "This is one of our main design goals - every feature has to go through the 'Will this make me play the game more?' filter. And that's what's great about the Programme Guide, you can play Domination and focus exclusively on captures - get the most captures and win a prize.
"Winning a prize is great, but the actual competition is fun too, and I would constantly post comments on the Operation page and check out my stats after each game. It was different, but still good ol' Call of Duty."
It's while Puno's talking about Elite actively improving a player's game that we see one of its most
impressive features: a video walkthrough dedicated to a single assault rifle, outlining its strengths and stats, the production values and detail almost as impressive as the skills on show.
"We're going to have videos for every primary and secondary weapon," says Puno. But here's the cool bit. "We've structured the videos to recommend a custom class for each weapon. Post release we're bringing these videos back and adding the ability to copy the suggested class with a click of the button. So players can watch these for advice and apply it instantly."
It's clear that Elite offers a lot, whether you're a subscriber or otherwise. It's easy to be sniffy about the social side, but the simple fact it links such a large community will inevitably produce great moments. "One of the producers at Beachhead got killed by a crossthe- map tomahawk," says Puno, "He found out about it because it showed up in his cameo theatre." Another user had made a video of the kill and entered it into competition, and the producer was automatically tagged.
The Future for Elite? Neural implants with a real-time stat feed and first-person simulcast...
And the dream future for Elite? "Neural implants with a real-time stat feed and first person spectator view simulcast from in-game," laughs Sonny without missing a beat. He's kidding... right? "The future of Elite's such a wide-open question - there are so many things we're working on right now which even just a few years ago seemed difficult to imagine," says Sonny.