Game sets new record at Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts has snatched away bragging rights for the year’s biggest video game launch as the company’s much anticipated ”Battlefield 3” has sold more than 5 million units in its first week, making it the fastest-selling game in the company’s history.

The big bow unseats Microsoft’s ”Gears of War 3,” which boasted first week sales of 3 million copies in September — but it’s likely to be a short-lived victory. The launch of ”Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” is expected to set entertainment industry launch records, as the series has done for the past two years.

The strong sales are an encouraging sign for the industry, which is hoping for a retail revival this holiday season after three years of tepid sales. The figure also puts EA on track to exceed analyst sales expectations for ”Battlefield 3”. (Wall Street is looking for the game to sell between 8-8.5 million copies before the end of the year.)

The competition for the game is about to escalate substantially, however. Beyond ”Modern Warfare 3,” which launches Nov. 8, the game will have to face off against Sony’s ”Uncharted 3” and Microsoft’s ”Halo Anniversary” — as well as recent releases that are showing strong retail legs, including Warner Bros.’ ”Batman: Arkham City”.

EA has ramped up its marketing machine for the game, with an estimated spend of $100 million. Beyond plastering the airwaves and city billboards with ads for the game, the company teamed with Bunim/Murray Productions, creators of ”The Real World” and ”The Challenge,” and CBS Interactive division GameSpot to create an online reality show around the game.

The success of ”Battlefield 3” is unlikely to affect ”Modern Warfare 3” sales. That title has a built-in audience and pre-orders of the Activision title have hit record highs for the company, indicating that fans of previous games in the saga are eager to stick with it. Analysts estimate the game will sell 16 million copies this year alone — with strong sales continuing into 2012.

There is, however, certain to be plenty of cross-pollination — with ”MW3” players picking up a copy of ”Battlefield 3” to check it out — something that could set the game up for future growth.

More importantly, the sales numbers are likely to provide the shot of confidence EA needs to finally convince investors once and for all that it has turned the corner after years of less than stellar results.

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