Hard core gamers are calling in sick today; tens of thousands of them were up late last night playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," the new first-person shooter game from Activision Blizzard. This morning the video game company announced that the game "shattered pre-order records set by last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," saying it's "on its way to a historic launch."
That means we can expect even bigger numbers than last year's game, which sold over $400 million worth of copies in its first day. We'll see if it maintains that momentum and can hit $1 billion faster than Modern Warfare 3, which hit that milestone 16 days after launch. Analysts expect 'Black Ops II' to dominate holiday sales, as the franchise has since 2008; last holiday season it comprised 14 percent of game sales.
Gamers came out in force last night for an unprecedented number of midnight launch events. Some 16,000 retailers around the world, including 4,400 GameStop stores here in the U.S., opened their doors for customers, many of whom pre-reserved the game online. As gamers rushed home to check out the game, many tested a new feature: the ability to live stream game play on YouTube.
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Last week, as part of its earnings report, Activision said it believes 'Black Ops II' will "be one of the most successful launches of any form of entertainment, in history." Better visibility on pre-orders prompted the game maker to raise its 2012 revenue guidance by $175 million and its earnings guidance by 11 cents per share.
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Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter predicts the game will sell 19 to 20 million copies in the quarter. He says that despite the fact that Activision's guidance presumes lower sales than last year, he's optimistic that the game will benefit from a number of factors, including the fact that Activision just last month announced it's giving away its 'Elite' extra features for free.
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Call of Duty has become a centerpiece of Activision's business: the eight games so far have sold more than $6 billion. Piper Jaffray's analyst Michael Olson says Activision, "continues to build on its reputation for strong execution." In noting the headwinds that face Call of Duty, Pacific Crest's Evan Wilson said the company "admitted that last year's game was outsold by the previous year," but ads that on the upside, " it still appears to have set its initial outlook conservatively enough." Wilson and Olson both have an "overweight" rating on the stock.
-By CNBC's Julia Boorstin
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