December 12, 2011 7:29 pm

‘Call of Duty’ sales outstrip blockbuster films

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the latest instalment in Activision Blizzard’s hit war-game franchise, has realised $1bn-worth of sales in 16 days, outpacing blockbuster movies including Avatar and Harry Potter, but marking a slowdown after its record-breaking first week.

MW3 outsold Activision’s two previous Call of Duty instalments, Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2, with $400m in first-day sales and $775m in its first five days, demonstrating the growing importance of a Hollywood-style opening weekend sales and marketing blitz.

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Activision is claiming a new high-water mark for video games in the entertainment wars by reaching $1bn in sales one day faster than 20th Century Fox’s Avatar, an indication of the ever-wider appeal of gaming beyond its teenage-boy origins. James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic set the previous record for reaching that milestone in 17 days in 2009, before going on to overtake Titanic as the biggest-grossing movie of all time, with total takings of $2.78bn, according to Box Office Mojo, the film website.

Some industry observers have suggested that MW3’s stronger opening might lead to a faster fall-off in sales, after three-quarters of the 16-day total were achieved in the first five days.

But Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, told the Financial Times that sales of Black Ops remained stronger than he expected a year after launch, due to online multiplayer gaming.

“Those prior releases are continuing to sell at rates higher than what we’ve seen previously,” Mr Kotick said. “Even though MW3 is selling faster, the thing driving the success of those games is the social experience and online play.”

Black Ops leads a ranking by NPD Group, which tracks American sales of the biggest-selling games titles in the US, with $900m in sales to date after selling $360m on its first day. Estimates suggest that MW3 has sold more than $500m in the US so far while Black Ops has sold around $1.4bn to date globally. NPD says MW3 US sales in November were 7 per cent higher than Black Ops during the same period last year.

MW3’s $1bn global sales figure is largely comprised of physical disc sales but Activision’s new COD Elite online service, which provides extra statistics and add-ons for players, has also sold a little more than 1m premium subscriptions.

The world’s two largest video-games companies are set to go head to head again next week with EA’s Star Wars: the Old Republic taking on Activision’s long-running massively popular multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft.

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