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Activision and video game industry aiming for huge Modern Warfare 2 launch

November 10, 2009 |  1:27 pm

MW2Late Monday night in West Hollywood, two lines snaked down La Brea Avenue just south of Santa Monica Boulevard.

One was outside Best Buy and the other GameStop. What was all the hubbub? The video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 officially went on sale at midnight.

Late-night lines for new video games are rare, but Modern Warfare 2 is much more than your average release. It's certain to be the biggest video game -- and arguably one of the biggest entertainment launches -- of 2009.

Analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities has predicted the game will generate more than $500 million in revenue during its first week, which would represent more than 6 million units sold around the world. That could match or break the $500-million video game sales record set by "Grand Theft Auto IV" in May 2008.

While it may seem natural to compare a new video game's sale to a movie opening. It's apples to oranges. Movie tickets cost under $10 on average (once you get out of Los Angeles and New York), compared with $60 for a video game, and earn more revenue after they hit theaters from DVD, television and other outlets. Video games make nearly all of their money from retail sales, which are usually front-loaded.

Nonetheless, producing a massive, hugely hyped launch has been a goal for Activision Blizzard all year. Early this summer, it charged ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day to help it create "the biggest entertainment launch of all time," according to a June report in Ad Age.

Modern Warfare 2 is the sixth installment in Activision Blizzard Inc.'s hugely successful Call of Duty military shooter series and the second to take place in current day, instead of World War II. In order to keep the game on a yearly schedule, when video games take two years to produce, Activision split development duties so that Encino-based Infinity Ward, creator of Call of Duty and one of the most highly regarded development studios in the business, makes a Modern Warfare game in odd years. Santa Monica-based Treyarch makes a historical game in the even years.

2007's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sold more than 13 million units and, in a sign of its popularity, Activision didn't cut the game's price from its original $60 until last April, 18 months after it went on sale. Most games do so within a few months of launching.

"Infinity Ward is absolutely the best game maker out there," said 28 year-old Jonathan Nevis, a Koreatown resident waiting in line outside Gamestop last night. As an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, he said he particularly appreciates the game's accuracy in portraying military action.

"This is the only game that gets it right," he stated.

Modern Warfare 2 comes at a critical time for the video game industry. Through Sept. 30, game sales are down 12% in the U.S. from 2008, and there have been no blockbuster titles that have matched the performance of last year's Grand Theft Auto IV, Gears of War 2 or Call of Duty: World at War.

Even though Modern Warfare 2 officially went on sale at midnight Monday, Nevis and the approximately 100 others milling on La Brea Avenue were not the first to get their hands on it. Game Play on Venice Boulevard in West LA broke the official street date and started selling the game last week. According to news reports, it was one of many stores, including some GameStop locations, to do so.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Fans waiting to buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 outside Best Buy in Culver City on Monday night. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.