Unless you have a young man –- purportedly 17 or older but maybe not -- in your household, the news that Activision Blizzard released a new version of its "Call of Duty" videogame yesterday might have gone in one ear and out the other. If you do have a young man in the house, your windows are probably rattling even as you read. But the larger story is that despite how popular videogames have become, sales have been just as listless as they are in the rest of the consumer market.
Total U.S. game sales in September were $1.16 billion in the year to date, down 6% from $1.23 billion a year earlier, according to NPD Group, Stu Woo and Ian Sheer write in the Wall Street Journal. But Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter is among the analysts who believe that “Call of Duty 3: Modern Warfare 3” could itself earn more than $1 billion, becoming the highest-selling game of all time, Woo and Sheer report. That’s a lot of copies of a game that costs $60 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PCs and $50 for Wii.
Right now, “Call of Duty” is engaged in screen-by-screen combat with Electronic Arts’ “Battlefield 3,” which sold five million copies in its first week after its Oct. 25 debut, the most successful launch in EA's 29-year history. Its marketing campaign features the tagline "Above and Beyond the Call" –- a bit of “fun” at Activision’s expense, EA Labels president Frank Gibeau tells the Journal. "We can't completely isolate ourselves from the fact that we're shipping in the same window as 'Call of Duty.'”
That’s as right on as a locked-in drone. “If Activision does what they do well, which is market the hell out of games, it’ll be the biggest seller of all time -- until next year,” Pachter tells the Boston Herald’s Brendan Lynch. “And that’s nirvana for them. You want games to be disposable.”
In fact, "the record number of pre-orders from ‘Modern Warfare 3’ drove the largest day-one shipments in our history, and in the industry's history," Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg told analysts on an earnings call yesterday. “We have more than 1.5 million people stay up and stand in line at thousands of midnight events at stores worldwide to be the first to buy the game,” he said.
Writing in USA Today, Mike Snider gives “Call of Duty 3” three and a half out of four stars, writing that it “wastes no time getting you in action.” Russians have invaded New York City (and we’re not talking cabdrivers) but the “six to 10 hours of adrenaline-fueled” battles include encounters with the dark forces of Vladimir Makarov in London, Paris, Hamburg, Siberia and Somalia. What a geography lesson!
Other reviews compiled by Gamasutra, which covers “The Art and Business of Making Games,” are equally favorable. “‘Modern Warfare 3’ serves up one startlingly huge, polished, and downright entertaining shooter experience," writes Official Xbox Magazine’s Andrew Hayward in giving it a 9.5 out of 10 rating.
Writing in the Rocky Mountain Collegian (Colorado State University), journalism junior Matt Miller points to two recent surveys that indicate just how huge the market really is. NPD Group says the percentage of children ages 2 to 5 who play videogames has increased 17% since 2009. And Pew finds that 53% of all adults play video games, including 81% who are 18 to 29 and 60% who are 30 to 49.
Miller, a gamer in recovery who felt he had tested his resolve enough to go ahead and purchase “Call of Duty 3,” writes: “As users become the controller with the Wii, the PlayStation Move and Xbox connect, along with ever-increasing graphic capabilities, the line between real life and game is beginning to blur. And consumers are attracted to the feelings that games are able to produce better than ever.”
That’s what reading novels used to do for us. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the sales numbers on the bestselling trade books of all time. According to Wikipedia, there are only six titles that have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, with “A Tale of Two Cites” (1859) and “Le Petite Prince” (1943) topping the list at about 250 million copies each.
One thing we can say with some certainty, though it brings little pleasure, is that “Call of Duty 3” is not even designed to be still selling in 15 months, no less 150 years or so. For it, right now is indeed “the best of times.”