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Latest 'Call of Duty' Game Tops $1 Billion in Sales

Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Tuesday, 21 Dec 2010 | 4:37 PM ET

Any lingering fears about “Call of Duty: Black Ops” being overshadowed by its predecessor can now be dismissed—Activision-Blizzard announced Tuesday that the latest installment in the series has topped $1 billion in worldwide sales.

Call of Duty Black Ops
Source: Activision
Call of Duty Black Ops

That’s nearly a month faster than “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” hit the milestone, and it indicates the publisher could be on track to once again set entertainment and video game industry records.

Wall Street’s expectations for the game were high prior to its launch, but the overwhelming success has resulted in some analysts rethinking their outlook for the game.

“We are increasing our unit estimate for ‘Black Ops’ to 19 million from 17 million and for [‘World of Warcraft:] Cataclysm’ to 5 million units from 4 million—together generating roughly $0.04-$0.05 in additional EPS,” said Colin Sebastian of Lazard Capital Markets. “However, slower-than-anticipated sell-through of other titles will likely cost Activision $0.01-$0.02.”

Like its predecessor, “Black Ops” came out of the gate strong. In its first five days on shelves, the game had sales of $650 million. Today’s milestone shows that the title has strong legs at retail—and Activision plans to support the game with downloadable content (DLC) to keep it popular among players.

“Modern Warfare 2” had two downloadable map packs, the first of which grossed nearly $37.5 million in the first week. Activision hasn’t announced any details of its plans for “Black Ops” DLC yet, but look for more than just two map packs this time.

“I think you can expect we’ll have more content available,” says Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision-Blizzard.

While the “Call of Duty” series is still tailored to the core gamer, its growing success with the past several installments indicates the mass market is beginning to take interest in it as well. Activision is relying on that to help the franchise continue to grow.

“The reason ‘Black Ops’ has done so well is it’s more accessible as a game,” says Kotick. “The folks who are making these games are really thoughtful about incorporating user feedback into the game. Each successive iteration makes it more broadly appealing.”

Kotick says that much of the credit for the game’s success lies not so much in the content—although that is, of course, crucial—but in the impact the multiplayer element adds.

“It’s very social,” he says. “You get to talk and interact with other people and compete against your friends. Characteristics that resonate with people in Facebook are captured in ‘Call of Duty.’ What we’ve realized is there’s an unusual dynamic between the physical interaction (like using the controller), the social components and the production vales of the game. All of those things combined give you the definitive 21st Century media experience.”

Beyond the monetary milestone, “Black Ops” has also racked up some impressive engagement statistics. Since the game’s Nov. 9 launch, players have spent more than 600 million hours with the game. Put another way, this is the equivalent of over 68,000 years. Statistics from Microsoft indicate the average player logs on more than once a day and plays for more than one hour each time.

“There’s more peak concurrent players on ‘Call of Duty’ than there are people reading any newspaper in America,” says Kotick. “Look at the number of people watching Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon and combine them. You still have more people playing ‘Call of Duty’ now.”

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