View Full Version : Activision to Bring New, Free Version of 'Call of Duty' to China

03 Jul 12,, 22:58
Makes you wonder who the bad guys will be in the Chinese edition of COD. Separatists, Freedom fighters? Good ol fashion "evil doers" from the Central Asian Republics is what my gut feeling tells me.

Activision to Bring New, Free Version of 'Call of Duty' to China

Consumers in the U.S. frequently line up to pay $60 apiece for each year's installment of Activision Blizzard Inc.'s ATVI +4.31% biggest franchise, "Call of Duty." But when the war-simulation shooting game reaches China's shores later this year, Activision will take a different tack: giving it away for free.

Activision to Bring New, Free Version of 'Call of Duty' to China - WSJ.com (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304211804577504523702318662.html)

The Santa Monica, Calif., company is responding to the peculiarities of the fast-growing Chinese market, where game consoles barely have a presence and people typically gather in PC-laden Internet cafes to play free games that are supported by sales of virtual goods.

The new, free version of "Call of Duty" will be available online only to Chinese videogame players. Activision will try to make money by selling items to help users play the game, such as enhancements for their weapons or extra gear.

To help bring the game to market, Activision signed a multiyear exclusive licensing agreement with Tencent Holdings Ltd., 0700.HK +2.65% a popular Internet company in China that offers games, social networking and e-commerce.

The China version isn't simply a rehash of existing titles: It's completely new, with a different design and storyline that took two years to produce, Activision said. The company created the game at a studio in China to ensure it would appeal to gamers' tastes there, said Bobby Kotick, Activision's chief executive.

"The game is incredible," Mr. Kotick said. "How you play, what you play, customization of weapons, the types of characters, the equipment you use, the game modes, and the maps are all unique to the Chinese market."

The game is being fine-tuned for PC gamers' use in China's Internet cafes, Activision said. And while there will be an intricate storyline for the game—as is typical with many games from the series—Activision also is including the popular multiplayer options, with specialized digital shootout locations that were designed with Chinese players in mind.

The game will go into public testing later this year, following regulatory reviews.

Activision invested about the same amount of money producing "Call of Duty" for China as it does for one of the installments in the U.S., Mr. Kotick said. Analysts estimate the games cost at least $50 million to produce each year.

The move is a risky one, analysts say, because Chinese consumers are so different from those in the Western world. But the Chinese market is large and growing, representing an important opportunity.

"No one's done it really well yet," said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities. He said many Chinese gamers have grown accustomed to buying virtual goods in lower-quality games. So, it's possible they might be willing to pay even more in a game with higher production values. In addition, he said, war-simulation shooting games have become popular there, creating an inroad for the "Call of Duty" games. "It's a good experiment and a worthy one."

Recreating the game for the Chinese market, using a Chinese studio, also will likely help draw customers. The game will be marketed with a slightly different title: "Call of Duty Online."

"You can't simply go into China, open the doors, and say 'Here's our product, go play it'," said Edward Williams, analyst at BMO Capital Markets. He added that many game makers tend to release games in pieces over there, creating the basic struts of the game at first and then filling it in as more people play. "If you start off with as big a budget as a traditional console game and hope you generate enough money, there's a substantial amount of risk," he said.

The move isn't Activision's first in China. The company inked a deal to bring its "World of Warcraft" online fantasy game to China seven years ago.

But "Call of Duty" is an even more lucrative franchise, drawing throngs of excited fans to launches that typically come during the holiday shopping season in the U.S. The latest installment, "Modern Warfare 3," in which gamers play soldiers from various countries shooting through firefights around the globe, sold about 6.5 million copies in its first 24 hours, grossing more than $400 million, making it one of the biggest videogame launches ever.

Activision's Mr. Kotick said he believes the time and effort put into tailoring the game for the Chinese market will help to cement its success there, too.

Martin Lau, the president of Tencent—which has the exclusive license to operate "Call of Duty Online" in mainland China—said his company was devoting "substantial" resources toward promoting the game, though he declined to say how much. But, he said, the title will be positioned as a star product in the company's game lineup.

Mr. Lau added that while "first-person" shooting games—called such because the player experiences the game as if he or she is looking through the main character's eyes—are a large and mature market in the U.S., these types of games are still a nascent genre in China and have a lot of potential to grow.

"'Call of Duty' has established itself as the gold-standard in gaming for years," he said. "We believe its online version will be very well-received by gamers in China."