New ‘Call of Duty’ Tests Holiday Dominance

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Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

People gather at the release of Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" in New York on Nov. 7, 2011.

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Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

People gather at the release of Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" in New York on Nov. 7, 2011. Close

People gather at the release of Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" in New York on Nov. 7, 2011.

Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

A customer purchases a copy of Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" in New York. Close

A customer purchases a copy of Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" in New York.

Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

People wait to purchase Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" at a GameStop Corp. store in New York. Close

People wait to purchase Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" at a GameStop Corp. store in New York.

Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

People try Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" on Microsoft Corp. XBox 360 video game consoles in New York. Close

People try Activision Blizzard Inc.'s "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" on Microsoft Corp. XBox 360 video game consoles in New York.

Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI)’s “Call of Duty” video-game juggernaut may sell more copies today with the new “Modern Warfare 3” installment than its biggest holiday competitor, “Battlefield 3,” did in one week.

The eighth “Call of Duty” may sell as many as 6 million copies in 24 hours starting today and 18 million units by Jan. 1, Arvind Bhatia, a Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. analyst in Dallas who recommends buying Activision shares, said. Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS)’s latest “Battlefield” went on sale Oct. 25 and sold an estimated 5 million units worldwide in its first week.

Investors may expect five-day revenue of at least $750 million from “Call of Duty,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles who also recommends the stock. “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold 5.6 million copies its first day last year and generated $650 million in worldwide sales in five days, according to Activision.

“It’s an annual franchise and it outsells everything around it,” Pachter said. The latest version costs $59.99.

GameStop Corp. (GME), the Grapevine, Texas-based retailer, planned midnight “Call of Duty” sales at 4,400 stores. Orders topped last year’s version and are the highest for any title this year, said Bob McKenzie, senior vice president of merchandising.

Activision’s Infinity Ward is embarking on its first release without Jason West and Vince Zampella, founders of the studio and creators of the franchise in 2003.

Legal Dispute

Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick fired West and Zampella in March 2010 for breach of contract. Both sides have filed lawsuits. Activision may take some flak from game reviewers critical of the company’s handling of the dispute, who may retaliate with lower ratings, Pachter said.

“The only people who are going to care about the founders leaving are the game reviewers,” Pachter said. “They will take it out on Activision because they don’t like how they were treated. My guess is it’s going to be great.”

Higher game scores from reviewers typically lead to stronger sales. “Black Ops,” from Activision’s Treyarch studio, was the top-selling packaged game in the U.S. last year, according to NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, New York-based research group.

“Battlefield 3” is expected to reach 8.5 million units for Redwood City, California-based Electronic Arts this holiday period, the estimate of Doug Creutz, an analyst with Cowen & Co. in New York.

Activision is trying to boost sales with the simultaneous release of an online subscription called “Call of Duty Elite.” Users who pay $49.99 annually get new downloads, videos, strategy guides and other features at no added cost.

Console games such as “Call of Duty” represented Santa Monica, California-based Activision’s largest business, accounting for 52 percent of 2010 revenue of $4.45 billion. Multiplayer online games are second at 28 percent.

Activision rose 1.3 percent to $13.74 yesterday in New York and has gained 10 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cliff Edwards in San Francisco at cedwards28@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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