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There’s no Peace on Earth for this holiday season for hardcore gamers who are busy playing the multiplayer version of the Call of Duty Black Ops combat game. And the online warfare will get a boost come Feb. 1 when the first Black Ops map pack will debut on Xbox Live.
The first map pack for Black Ops — which in its first five days of sales generated $650 million in revenue for publisher Activision Blizzard — will debut as a time exclusive on Microsoft’s online gaming service, meaning it will be available only on Xbox Live for a month or so, according to the Major Nelson podcast, which is the official voice for Microsoft’s game business.
Spouses of gamers may care about this so they can plan their solo vacations and make sure they don’t plan any romantic holidays around Feb. 1. But the game industry will also care because Call of Duty map packs — sold for $14.99 as downloadable content — generate as much revenue as major blockbuster games. On top of that, they consume the time of hardcore gamers as they extend the value of online play with new multiplayer arenas. A year ago, the two map packs for the previous Call of Duty game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, sold more than 20 million units. That generated roughly $300 million in sales for Activision Blizzard.
The First Strike maps will include four settings: Discovery, in the Antarctic research station that is a scene in the game; Kowloon, set on the rooftops of the district of Hong Kong; Berlin Wall, featuring a firefight at Checkpoint Charlie, where the Americans and Russians squared off; and Stadium, set in an American hockey rink. It also includes a Zombie map dubbed Ascension.
Clearly, Activision Blizzard planned this map pack in advance. Last year, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 sold more than 20 million units. But the first map pack for Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t ready until March 30, or 4.5 months after the first game debuted. That may have had something to do with the turmoil at Infinity Ward, which imploded into litigation during the spring.
This time, Activision Blizzard is debuting the first map pack for Black Ops just 84 days after the debut of the game itself. That’s smart, as it leaves very little opening for rivals such as Electronic Arts, which makes the Medal of Honor and Battlefield combat games.
I think it’s going to be harder to lure away gamers from Black Ops than it was last year. I’ve hit level 45 out of 50 on multiplayer. I like the capabilities I get as a Major General, and so far I’m not getting bored with the game play or the maps.