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‘Call of Duty’ heads to China

Activision Blizzard, Tencent ink long-term deal

Call of Duty” is ready to invade China.

Activision Blizzard has inked a long-term deal with Tencent, China’s leading Internet service provider, to launch its wildly successful military franchise in the region as “Call of Duty Online.”

With videogame consoles like Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 not having much of a presence in China — devices on which “Call of Duty” is played in the U.S. — Activision needed to develop an alternate way for the game to be played in the country.

As a result, Activision said it is introducing “a new gaming model designed specifically for the Chinese market,” that comes in the form of a free multiplayer version of “Call of Duty” that can be accessed on PCs and played online at the more than 140,000 Internet cafes that operate in China. Activision generates revenue from microtransactions — weapons upgrades, character enhancements and the purchase of new weapons to the series made through an in-game store.

“In most Western markets, games are played on a console,” Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, told Variety. “Here, they’re played in a place, in an Internet cafe, making it a very social experience.”

“Call of Duty Online” “is a completely different game” than what players are used to anywhere else in the world, said Kotick, adding that “it’s unlikely that the game would be successful in any other market.”

Activision Publishing has been developing “Call of Duty Online” with Tencent over the past two years through its Shanghai studio. Tencent has the exclusive license to operate “Call of Duty Online” in mainland China.

The Internet company will help with the technical aspects of the game but also market the title through its instant messaging, email and microblogging systems.

“We are thrilled to work with the world’s premiere game developer and publisher to bring this much-awaited title to Chinese game players,” said Martin Lau, president of Tencent. “We believe ‘Call of Duty Online’ will attract tens of millions of loyal fans in China, and our game platform and operational expertise to run massive multi-player online games can provide strong support to deliver the immersive and highly interactive game experience to game players in China.”

Deal with Tencent is similar to pacts Hollywood’s film studios are brokering in China for the co-production of films.

“You’re required to have a partner in China if you’re a game company,” Kotick said. “Even if we didn’t have one, they do so much that would be hard for us to do and duplicate. They have so much reach and knowledge of the marketplace.”

Until now, Activision scored with Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” and “Starcraft,” which are also played online.

“We think China is one of the most exciting places in the world for us to grow our business and to develop innovative new games,” Kotick said.

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