Five-day $650 million opening biggest in history

Call of Duty: Black Ops” continues to break entertainment industry records.

Activision announced Thursday that the latest installment in its multibillion-dollar franchise has generated sales of $650 million in its first five days — an 18% (and $100 million) improvement over last year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” That makes the game’s opening the highest for an entertainment property — of any sort — in history.

“Black Ops” decimated opening-day records on Nov. 9, when the game sold 5.6 million copies, earning $360 million. The franchise is now one of the largest-grossing entertainment properties of all time. Videogame analysts expect this installment to generate more than $1 billion in retail sales worldwide this holiday period.

While the opening-day figures for “Black Ops” were impressive, they were essentially foreshadowed by the game’s pre-sales, which outpaced those of “Modern Warfare 2,” the previous holder of entertainment industry sales records. At the time, “Black Ops” was pacing 16% above its predecessor. At the five-day mark, the game has increased its lead to 18%.

That’s significant, as it signals “Black Ops” has strong legs at retail and won’t see sales trail off quickly, as is common for many videogame titles. “Modern Warfare 2″ remained among the industry’s 10 top-selling titles until deep into 2010.

In addition to sales records, “Black Ops” is also setting high marks on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game consoles. By the end of the game’s launch day, more than 2.6 million had played it. Cumulatively they had logged more than 5.9 million hours in the multiplayer portion of the game.

While it’s certainly an important catalyst in Activision’s fourth-quarter financial results, “Black Ops” is considered a key part of earnings for the next several quarters. The publisher plans to release several downloadable add-on packs, a strategy that has kept players engaged well beyond their initial time with earlier editions of the game.

“You’ll see a steady stream of digital content from us, probably more than we’ve ever had before,” said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing.

In addition to providing high-margin revenue for the company, the downloadable content also helps the company combat used-game sales. (Publishers do not receive any sort of revenue from the sale of used games and have been struggling to find a way to dissuade players from turning in titles for years.)

Given the brand’s success, “Call of Duty” would seem a shoo-in for a bigscreen adaptation, but for now, Activision is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward expanding into new entertainment worlds.

“There’s obviously a ton of interest, but there’s nothing we have announced or entertained yet,” Hirshberg said. “It’s something we want to be very careful about, because we have an ongoing community relationship with people. … Our goal, first and foremost, is to do the right thing for fans that are engaging with the game and the franchise online. Whether or not a movie plays into that remains to be seen.”

The performance of “Black Ops” is a vindication of sorts for Activision and developer Treyarch, as many gamers and industry observers were doubtful earlier this year that the company would be able to match the quality or sales of “Modern Warfare 2,” produced by Activision’s Infinity Ward.

With that question definitively answered, one that remains is whether “Black Ops” will beat the overall sales numbers of its predecessor. Publicly, Activision is saying it doesn’t expect that to happen — but the consensus from industry observers is that the company’s taking its normal conservative stance to keep investor expectations in line.

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