Will Call of Duty Get Standalone, Pay-To-Play Online Multiplayer?S

Call of Duty publisher Activision has been talking about new ways to make even more money from its shoot 'em up cashcow for years. A new report makes it sound like a new way to play Call of Duty online is imminent.

The analysts at Wedbush Securities believe that Activision is set to reveal a new "tier" of Call of Duty online multiplayer within the next three months. "Activision remains a top pick, primarily due to the company's potential to create and monetize a second tier of multiplayer online gaming for its Call of Duty franchise," Wedbush analysts write in their January 2011 newsletter. "We expect this to occur during the first quarter of 2011." Yes, that's pretty soon and, yes, they're being awfully specific.

If accurate, that new way to play Call of Duty in some capacity may represent Activision's desires to deliver that "high-margin digital online content and further the brand as the leading action entertainment franchise in new geographies, new genres and with new digital business models." That was the company's plan as of March 2010.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops still do big numbers in online multiplayer and big sales of retail copies. But Activision brass has bemoaned the limited number of ways they can sell goods to the Call of Duty-playing masses after they invest in the game, map packs notwithstanding.

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick has been thinking about "the natural evolution of a property like Call of Duty into a massively-multiplayer environment" for some time, taking cues from World of Warcraft makers Blizzard. The company may also see the ongoing success that developer Valve has had with games like Team Fortress 2, which recently began selling in-game goods to an audience willing to spend, and want some of those dollars.

The Call of Duty publisher (and its developers) claim the boxed, retail copies of games in the series will never carry a subscription fee to play their online components. Of course, there are many other options the company can pursue beyond the box.