Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 hits the online auctions ahead of release

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is expected to break video game sales records when it goes on sale Tuesday. But it looks like a number of copies of the first-person shooter game are already available in online auctions.

Sellers are offering photos of the plastic cases for the game. We already know that at least one of the two disks in the game package was stolen from a shipping warehouse last week. Pirated copies began to emerge soon after, and Activision Blizzard dispatched investigators to politely ask the pirates to surrender and delete their copies or face fines of $5,000.

The Modern Warfare 3 games are a hot commodity and pirates hope to cash in on the sales, which in legitimate channels could top 20 million units sold. Microsoft Xbox Live director of policy and enforcement Stephen Toulouse posted on his Twitter account that those caught playing the game before pre-release may encounter trouble, saying “Playing early may impact your account.”

Piracy has always been a problem with video games, especially for PC titles. But the pirates go after Call of Duty because it’s the big prize. Every year, a cat-and-mouse game ensues. Activision Blizzard closely monitors manufacturing in the weeks leading up to shipment, since it only takes one stolen disk to set off the viral spread of pirated copies. But it’s hard to stop inside jobs. Here’s an example of a site where piracy discussions are happening.

And now with the online auctions, it looks like legitimate copies are being sold for anywhere from $59 to $175. As far as piracy goes, the same thing happened before last year’s launch of Call of Duty Black Ops and the year before that with Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. But sales of the franchise keep climbing.

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