Signs excellent for next 'Call of Duty'

Activision Blizzard has one number in its scope to take down as it released “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ on Tuesday: $360 million.

That’s how much “Call of Duty: Black Ops” earned in the U.S. and the U.K. from the sale of 5.6 million copies in its first 24 hours last year, breaking sales records for the videogame biz. It went on to topple five-day figures with $650 million and crossed the $1 billion mark this year. Previous installment “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ also surpassed $1 billion after selling 4.7 million copies in its first day and earning $550 million its first week.

For Activision, the largest videogame publisher, “Call of Duty’s” success means it can boast the biggest release of any entertainment title, not just a game.

The sales signal that the “Call of Duty” franchise is helping to broaden the gaming audience and provides “confirmation that games are becoming as important as film and television as a mass-market form of entertainment,” said Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick.

And all signs are that “Modern Warfare 3″ will surpass previous sales records. Early pre-orders and viewings of trailers and other mar keting materials surpassed those for previous installments, and reviews are strong, suggesting the game will haul in $400 million or more in its first day. Game was released at 13,000 store events at midnight.

The military actioner retails for about $50, easily eclipsing the price of a movie ticket and thus not providing an entirely fair comparison to B.O. But the amount of money generated from a game’s release is still hard to ignore.

The launch comes as Activision Blizzard reported strong third-quarter earnings Tuesday.

Net revenue for the three-month period that wrapped Sept. 30 was $754 million, up from $745 million, and profits were $148 million vs. $51 million a year-ago.

Digital channels accounted for more than 57% of the company’s earnings during the quarter, or $427 million, as Activision Blizzard has been pushing to monetize more of its games through online channels. Year-to-date, that figure has grown 25% to $1.28 billion, accounting for 38% of net revenues.

Activision’s “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures,” a new property that bowed Oct. 16 and includes a traditional game with an online component and interactive toy figures, generated a stronger-than-expected consumer response during the third quarter, the company said.

“Millions of Skylander toys are already in kids’ hands, and we expect the game will be a great holiday success,” Kotick said.

Activision will also send more of its “Call of Duty” fans online with the launch of “Call of Duty Elite,” a social network that combines Facebook-like features with original video programming — at a $50 subscription fee. It’s a way for Activision to offer gamers year-round exclusive “Call of Duty” content.

“Black Ops” players have already logged more than 2.8 billion hours of online gameplay since its release, 29% more than for “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ during its first 11 months.

“We’ve changed the way we’re delivering content,” Kotick told Variety . “What’s important for us is to have seasonal events combined with a constant flow of content” that’s influenced by what fans have asked for. “The audience has helped design future features of what they want to consume,” Kotick added. “These games are really the result of the audience’s interest.”

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