Activision and Chinese game company Tencent are announcing Call of Duty Online today as the first free-to-play title in the series. Available in mainland China, Call of Duty Online will be set in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare universe, likely as a way to differentiate it from Black Ops (Cold War/The Future) or World War II CoD titles.
The free-to-play model lends itself to exhaustive customization given that gamers are paying for with every tweak, color and variation to their characters, weapons and gear. It seems CoD Online will take full advantage of this phenomenon with a customization store built directly into the game that will allow players to purchase in-game perks (Stopping Power, anyone?) as well as weapons and gear specifically intended for the Chinese market.
A multiplayer-centric subscription-based version of Call of Duty as been rumored for years and this major dabbling in the free-to-play Chinese gaming space could be a major step in changing CoD as we know it. We know microtransaction-driven games can thrive with North American audiences, but we've yet to see a shooter with the power and clout of the Call of Duty series make a move in that direction.
We'll have more on Call of Duty Online especially as we see elements of that game drift into the conventional disc-based mega-releases we're currently getting. We have a clip below but don't expect it to be there for too long because that's how Activision rolls.