'Arkham City' videogame ships 4.6 million units in first week

Batman has stepped up to save the videogame industry, with “Batman: Arkham City” becoming the latest tentpole title helping to turn around months of sluggish sales.

Warner Bros. Interactive and DC Entertainment’s “Arkham City” shipped more than 4.6 million units to retailers and sold more than 2 million copies in its first week of release, easily besting the out-of-the-gate numbers for the series’ first installment, “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” in 2009.

As of August, year-to-date sales for the industry were down 5%, according to NPD Group. But the research firm expects holiday sales of tentpole titles to prop up results and end the year flat, if not slightly up, once full year sales are tallied.

Gamemakers typically collect much of their coin during the fourth quarter, and the Batgame is one of the higher-profile titles the videogame biz is counting on to boost sales this holiday season after months of decline. Also in that mix are “Gears of War 3,” “Rage,” “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception,” “Battlefield 3″ and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”

Rocksteady Studios produced “Arkham City” as a sequel to “Arkham Asylum,” pitting Batman against a gallery of villains that include Catwoman, the Joker, the Riddler, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, the Penguin and Mr. Freeze. The sequel is five times longer in play time than the first title.

After “Arkham Asylum” sold 4.3 million copies worldwide to become a sleeper hit, Warner Bros. Interactive bought Rocksteady last year to produce a followup and give it the kind of high-profile rollout Warner typically provides its tentpole pics. WBIE has been eager to turn Batman into one of its core game franchises as it builds a tentpole strategy of making games that can be treated as major franchises for the studio.

“?’Batman: Arkham City’ is one of the best action adventure games, proven by the tremendous reviews, and it further establishes the Batman brand as a marquee franchise for our growing business,” said Martin Tremblay, prexy of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

“The true test for any game is what the players think, and we have been thrilled by their reaction to ‘Batman: Arkham City,”?’ said Sefton Hill, game director at Rocksteady Studios.

That kind of robust fan embrace augurs well for the vidgame biz, which is looking to ride a handful of hot titles to improved year-on-year sales.

Earlier this year, WB scored with its reboot of the “Mortal Kombat” franchise, a former Midway Games property that has sold more than 3 million units since its release in April. More recent titles have fared even better with strong first-week sales: Microsoft and Epic’s “Gears of War 3,” passed the 3 million unit sales mark; Techland and Deep Silver’s “Dead Island” moved 2 million units; Electronic Arts’ sports juggernaut “Madden 12″ scored with 1.4 million copies, 10% more than last year’s sequel; and iD Software’s “Rage” shifted more than 700,000 units. There have been some misses, however, with Sony’s “Resistance 3″ stumbling with 180,000 units in its first month out in the U.S.

All eyes in the vidgame biz will next turn to Activision’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” out Nov. 17.

Last year’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops” broke sales records, moving 5.6 million copies in its first day and besting “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s” 4.7 million units in 2009. “Black Ops” went on to earn more than $650 million in its first five days; it’s since passed the $1 billion mark.

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