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Modern Warfare 2's Record-Breaking Launch

Activision/Blizzard debuts "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" tonight at midnight: this is expected to be the biggest game debut ever, already breaking pre-sale records.

Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2

Thanks to those pre-sales the game could sell as many as 5 million copies in its first day — $300 million dollars in retail sales.

That would be more than any other single entertainment product has ever sold in a single day, far bigger than any movie's first day box office gross.

Before the end of the year the game is expected to sell around 11 million copies, making it the fastest-selling video game ever.

Why is Modern Warfare 2 poised for such huge success?

For one thing, it's building on a very successful franchise. "Call of Duty" games have sold some 48 million copies and the first "Modern Warfare" edition has sold 14 million units. The fact that there's a larger "installed base" of consoles in homes than when previous games were released should also help — there are simply more potential players. Activision/Blizzard has also made a huge promotional push, including an estimated $50 million worth of TV ads that kicked off with a commercial blitz at the NBA finals this past spring.

Modern Warfare two is a crucial growth driver for Activision/Blizzard; in fact it's the company's most important property this quarter.

MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler estimates that sales of "Modern Warfare 2" will generate a third of the company's fourth quarter earnings. He projects the game will be responsible for 16 cents of EPS of the 44 cent in EPS he expects from the company this quarter.

This game is also good news for retailers, and should help them break out of a trend of declining sales. Analysts tell me that a high-profile game like modern warfare is sure to be one of the biggest properties this holiday season, and even better, should drive the kind of store traffic that should help other games as well. GameStop is making the game's debut a huge event, and is poised to grab a third of the game sales in the first few months it's on shelves. Game Stop says it's done more pre-sales for this game than any other game it's ever sold, and is opening 4,250 stores for midnight sales, more than it's done for any other midnight debut. Best Buy is also opening 500 stores around the country for midnight sales. Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart will all benefit if the game's a big hit.

"Modern Warfare 2" has been well reviewed, has a huge amount of buzz, and is reportedly incredibly violent. Rumors of a scene in which the player effectively acts like a "terrorist," shooting civilians, have only helped grow excitement. There's sure to be backlash against the egregious violence. But with the audience for games like this, it'll only be more reason to try it out.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.