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Analysis: When Will The Law Of Gravity Apply To  Call Of Duty ?

Analysis: When Will The Law Of Gravity Apply To Call Of Duty? Exclusive

September 2, 2011 | By Chris Morris

Even if you slept through your high school physics courses, you're probably pretty familiar with the concept of what goes up, must come down. And given how high up the Call of Duty franchise has gotten in the past few years, there's a very vocal segment of the gaming world waiting for it to fall.

Part of that is this industry's insatiable need to declare the leading publisher evil and wish them harm. Part of it is rooting for an underdog. But whatever the reason, it looks like despite all the bellyaching by Activision opponents, gravity's not going to be pulling the franchise from orbit this year either.

As part of a conference call with analysts Thursday, the publisher announced that pre-orders for Modern Warfare 3 are at record levels " and are expected to pass the pre-order totals for Black Ops "by a significant margin."

That means you can expect the usual chest thumping in mid-November about the game setting new entertainment industry records and investors doing backflips. And, assuming the game isn't completely savaged by critics, you can expect another press release noting that sales of MW3 have topped $1 billion before Christmas.

If this pans out, it will be three years in a row that Activision's crown jewel has topped industry sales and it will be a remarkable feat, regardless of how you feel about the company and its management.

The wildcard factor of Battlefield 3 can't be discounted, of course. EA's military shooter looks fantastic and seems primed to perform much better than the Medal of Honor reboot the company was counting on last year " but it's not going to knock MW3 from its notch this year.

There's a simple reason for that: The mass market knows Call of Duty. It's familiar with it. And as it looks to buy gifts for others and keep up with its friends, it's going to stick with a brand that has kept it happy for the past few years. Can Battlefield grow to become as popular as CoD? Sure. It's an amazing looking game and based on the brief time I've had to play it at trade shows, it's a hell of a lot of fun. But that sort of success won't happen overnight.

Activision can rightly be blamed for the downfall of the decline of the music genre. Even Bobby Kotick acknowledges the company didn't give the Guitar Hero franchise the "nourishment and care" it needed.

But the company seemingly learned quickly from those mistakes and is nurturing CoD in a much more successful way " though one that's certainly not without controversy.

The beta for Call of Duty: Elite, a project that many people scoffed at it when it was first unveiled, has already brought nearly 3 million people on board. (Yes, the real test is how many stick around when the bill arrives, but that still shows notable curiosity for an untested product.) And it's hard to find fault with the fan events planned this weekend at the sold out Call of Duty XP.

23 million people bought a copy of Black Ops. And a sizable percentage of them were so enamored with the game that they pulled out their wallets again for map packs. (18 million of those have been sold since the game's launch " taking the company's digital revenues to $1.7 billion in the past year.)

Monster hits are nothing new in this industry, of course. Every Grand Theft Auto that Take-Two and Rockstar put out makes the company's financial year. And Microsoft lives and dies by its tentpole games each year. What makes the CoD story so interesting isn't that the game sets new records, but that Activision has been able to consistently top its previous numbers with an annual franchise.

EA has managed it with Madden, but it's never been done (certainly not at this level) with an action game.

You can hate Activision for its litigious nature. You can hate it for the way CoD creators Vince Zampella and Jason West were summarily dismissed. You can hate it for being the industry's most successful publisher (and thus automatically deemed evil by the masses in gaming forums). Heck, you can hate it for continuing to pump out Cabella hunting games, if you want.

But you have to give it credit for how it has managed to defy the odds with this high-flying franchise " and how it seems primed to improbably see it go higher again this year.

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