Call of Duty: Black Ops launches in Hollywood style

Latest game in Activision’s Call of Duty franchise poised to become biggest-selling title of all

As premieres go, it was unconventional. Held in a cavernous temporary structure in London’s Battersea Power Station, rather than the cosy confines of Leicester Square, the assembled celebrities – along with the likes of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Alex Reid, Duncan James from Blue, Goldie, Calum Best, Gail Porter plus, ahem, the girls from The Only Way Is Essex – for once happily mixed with the non-VIPs.

But that was because rather than celebrating the launch of a film, they were participating in the video game industry’s annual moment in the pop-culture limelight – the launch of a new Call of Duty game, this time subtitled Black Ops.

It would be easy to scoff at the lack of mega-celebrities, but the attraction of the event was obvious – Call of Duty: Black Ops has a good chance of being crowned the most successful entertainment launch of all time. Its predecessor, last year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, is the current holder of the Guinness World Record for most successful entertainment launch of all time, with day-one global sales of £242.4m, comfortably beating any previous movie, as well as previous game holders Grand Theft Auto IV and Halo 3.

But instead of posing, the celebrities got stuck into demonstrating their credentials as gamers – an online match-up between European celebs saw Manchester City and England footballer Wayne Bridge come a close second to his Dutch counterpart, beating the rest of Europe in the process.

George Lamb compered proceedings, which included a tantalising glimpse of the game’s early stages (games are too long to play in full at such an event) and culminated with a live set from Tinie Tempah.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sold more than 20m copies worldwide, staggeringly grossing over $1bn (£618m), and Activision hopes that Black Ops will do even better than that. Few would accuse it of over-optimism. Analyst Nick Parker, director at Parker Consulting Ltd, says: “With a growing installed base of consoles in homes, especially after the recent price drops, Black Ops could very well become the best selling Call of Duty iteration.”

The glitzy premiere was backed up by the midnight opening of more than 400 stores around the UK – including 70 branches of HMV – at which fanatical gamers queued to be among the first to get their hands on the game, which casts players as various US military black operatives during the Cold War era, in locations such as Russia, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam.

Many retailers enticed gamers to their stores at midnight with discounts if they either bought or traded in games from the current charts. Cheekily, HMV, for example, is offering CoD: Black Ops for £7.99 if you trade in a copy of the recently released Medal Of Honor, published by Activision’s arch-rival Electronic Arts.

On paper, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Black Ops would achieve the success enjoyed by Modern Warfare 2. Activision employs two developers, Infinity Ward and Treyarch, to ensure that a new version of Call of Duty arrives every year, and Black Ops is made by Treyarch, previously the less favoured of the two. But Treyarch has upped its game, concentrating solely on Black Ops and employing a massive team of more than 200 people, and previews of the game have been overwhelmingly positive.

The games industry could use the boost provided by Black Ops, as well as this week’s high-profile launch of Microsoft’s innovative body-sensing controller, Kinect. Retailers have reported games sales as being down on 2009 so far, although we have yet to move into the crucial Christmas sales period.

But Andy Payne, chairman of UKIE, the UK’s trade body for games publishers bullishly argues that games consoles have greater penetration in UK homes than last year. “Black Ops, Football Manager 2011, Fallout New Vegas, FIFA 11, Fable 3 and others have boosted the market for AAA boxed games releases, for sure, and Kinect and Sony’s Move will refresh everyone’s hardware,” he says.

“But, given the huge audiences for games on all formats, 2010 has been a year of unprecedented activity and focus. The industry has widened beyond all expectations and will continue to expand exponentially in 2011.”

If Black Ops does out-gross Modern Warfare 2, it will suggest that the argument that video games are relatively immune to recession holds up, because people still buy products which offer long periods of entertainment. In terms of quality, the games industry certainly isn’t slacking, with the titles Payne mentioned – plus the hotly anticipated Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, followed by the likes of Gran Turismo 5, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Dead Space 2 early next year – all deserving to sell well.

But Call of Duty: Black Ops looks nailed on for the coveted Christmas number one slot, which was snaffled so comfortably by Modern Warfare 2 last year that bookmaker Paddy Power paid out early.

Although the all-format FIFA 11, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit could well be worth each-way bets. Things, at least, are looking rosy for gamers this Christmas.





Steve Boxer © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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