Activition (NASDAQ: ATVI) has done it again. In its first week of release, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 brought the gaming company more than $500 million in revenue with 11.2 million units sold. Not only is it the top-selling game thus far in 2012, but it beat the original Black Ops opening week’s sales by 500,000 units. Plus, the figures were exclusive to Xbox 360 (6.2 million units), PS3 (4.1 million units) and PC (400,000 units), as the Wii U version wasn’t launched yet.
Call of Duty is not only Activision’s highest-grossing franchise, but is quite possibly the most popular war game franchise of modern gaming. It towers over Activision’s other money-maker World of Warcraft, as well as Electronic Art’s (NYSE: EA) Battlefield series and Microsoft’s (NYSE: MSFT) Halo. Shares in Activision are up 23 percent since 2009, stimulated by increased sales for each new Call of Duty game. In fact, COD: Modern Warfare 3 sold an unbelievable 14.7 million units on the Xbox 360 and an additional 12.5 million copies for Sony Corporation’s (NYSE: SNE) Playstation 3. Although shares in Activision have declined 8 percent in 2012, Black Ops 2 is likely to instigate a rebound.
Why do gamers continue to flock to Call of Duty? Rather than revamping the franchise with each annual release, Activision continues to give fans what they want. In the case of Call of Duty, that means a continued focus on the multiplayer experience. Although innovation is important in the world of gaming, staying true to fans’ favorite aspects of the game prevents consumer backlash, at least for several years. Instead of revamping the series, creators focus on polishing the edges of the game and introducing a new story to the design fans love. And at this point, gamers show no signs of fatigue when it comes to Call of Duty.
“They could have sat down after Black Ops and been like, ‘Well, you know, we’ll just—as the popular term is—reskin it and do another one,’” Call of Duty developer Dave Anthony told Destructoid. “At the beginning of each new project the mantra is always, since the very first Call of Duty game we worked on—Call of Duty 2 : Big Red One—the game we work on has to be better than the last one we did. Has to be, otherwise we failed. And ever since Big Red One it has been. I think Black Ops 2 is no different. I think it’s better than Black Ops 1. And I think whatever we work on next will be better than Black Ops 2.”
Still, some analysts point out that in spite of COD: Black Ops 2’s apparent success, it has sold less in its first week than the franchise’s last release, Modern Warfare 3, which sold 13.4 million units in the week of its launch in 2011. Timing is everything however. Black Ops 2 was released just one week after the newest in another monster franchise, Microsoft’s Halo 4. Therefore, many speculate gamers are holding off purchasing the newest Call of Duty game until later in the season, after they’ve satisfied their Halo fix or saved enough money to purchase another game.