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Activision Sets Sights on Women with ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’

Latest installment of the military videogame franchise adds customizable female soldiers for the first time

For years, Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise has ranked as the top selling videogame, with each installment upping the gameplay with improved graphics, storytelling and online multiplayer options to lure back fans.

This year, one of the biggest additions — which Activision hopes will keep its franchise on top — is women.

Infinity Ward, behind “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” out Nov. 5, has developed an entirely new engine to run the latest game in the series. And in doing so, it’s enabling gamers to customize characters for the first time they can play during various multiplayer combat missions. That includes a female soldier (see above) — revealed on Wednesday during the launch of a new trailer for the game.

See Activision’s full hour-long multiplayer presentation here:

Activision has long wanted to offer up both genders in “Call of Duty,” given that women make up a growing group that play the franchise. According to the comapny, around 20% of players of the series are women.

Until “Ghosts,” however, female soldiers couldn’t be integrated into the game as a customizable character. Neither could men, however.

“Up until now, you couldn’t choose which male you could play,” Eric Hirshberg, president and CEO of Activision Publishing told Variety.

The company has long received requests for playable female characters. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Hirshberg said.

But the investment to include them didn’t make sense until Infinity Ward could redesign the engine that runs the latest game — a move which now offers up detailed player customizations involving over 20,000 options, including skin color.

“It wouldn’t have made sense to do it unless we had character customization,” said Mark Rubin, the studio lead for “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” who calls the new engine the biggest overhaul of multiplayer since the original “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” in 2007.

While it’s easy to think Activision is injecting a healthy dose of estrogen to keep sales up, Rubin stresses that’s not the case.

“We said, ‘We know there are women playing, how can we be more inclusive and embrace them?’” Rubin said.

The female soldiers are hardly the only addition to the “Call of Duty” franchise.

On Wednesday, Activision revealed seven new multiplayer modes, 30 new weapons, and a co-op mode, that significantly enhance the series.

■ Squad mode enables players to create their own team of 10 soldiers that can be deployed in solo, co-op or competitive missions. The squad can also be challenged online by others when they’re not playing.

■ Search and Rescue mode enables players to revive fallen soldiers, new to multiplayer modes.

■ Cranked mode blows up players after a 30-second timer runs out. More time is added with each kill.

■ Clan Wars set up two-week long battles for territories, similar to an MMORPG game like “World of Warcraft.”

■ A season pass will include four downloadable levels, that will enable DLCs to be transferred from the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One or the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4 at no additional charge.

■ A new “Call of Duty” app, created by Beachhead Studios, will enable players to edit and manage their squads, chat, follow results from other players, post results to Twitter or Facebook. App is meant “to keep players engaged,” Hirshberg said. “The more people you keep engaged, the more likely they will come back to check out a new map pack or season pass,” which is where Activision has been generating more revenue from the franchise.

■ Eminem’s song “Survival,” from his upcoming album, is featured in “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” and plays as the key track on the game’s latest trailer and other marketing materials. Hirshberg said the song’s message fit perfectly with the game’s plot and characters. Timing of the album’s release, from Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope, around the same time as the game, also paired up well.

Rubin sees the new multiplayer options and apps as a way to keep “Call of Duty” fans interested in the franchise.

“It’s not a game for hardcore gamers anymore,” Rubin said. “It’s grown to become such a broad experience for everyone.”

Given that 10 million people play the game online on a daily basis, “Call of Duty” is too important of a money maker for Activision to rely on what may have worked in the past. Gamers can be a fickle bunch, and what keeps them buying the latest sequel — or moving on to another franchise — is innovation.

“We have a game that comes out every year and (people) play it throughout the year until the next game comes out,” Rubin said. “You always want to figure out new ways to keep them engaged.”

To watch the full version of the presentation click here.

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