At the stroke of midnight Nov. 8, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 went on sale around the world. As midnight came in each time zone, the midnight madness started with long lines and combat dress-up.

For a lot of gamers, launches of their favorite games aren’t just fun. They’re cultural events that are tied up in their sense of who they are. It reminds us of the launches of Apple’s iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, with crowds lined up around the world at Apple Stores.

Bobby Kotick, chief executive of game publisher Activision Blizzard, said in an interview with USA Today that he is hopeful the game will continue the record-setting pace of previous games. Analysts are predicting the game could sell more than 20 million units and beat last year’s title, which was the best-selling game of all time.

“It seems like this will be an incredibly successful launch. Pre-orders are well, well ahead of (last year’s Call of Duty) Black Ops,” Kotick said.

A bunch of stores broke the midnight sales launch time and started selling their games early. The Guardian reported that games were on sale 48 hous ahead of the midnight deadline at the Computer eXchange store in London. And some K-Mart stores in the U.S. evidently started selling ahead of the sales time as well. copies of Modern Warfare 3 were selling on eBay for more than the $59.99 sticker price on the game. Some of the listings were removed. Best Buy was offering a free smartphone with a Modern Warfare 3 purchase.

As I went on the multiplayer version of Modern Warfare 3, the indicator map show green dots where people were already playing across the globe. The map showed big swaths of green in Australia, Western Europe, and the East Coast of the United States. And more than 100,000 players were already ranked in the Call of Duty Elite Leaderboard.

For those who don’t get a Modern Warfare 3 copy, there’s still Battlefield 3 from rival Electronic Arts. That game sold more than 5 million units in the first week after it went on sale on Oct. 25.

In Australia, tens of thousands of people lined up to buy Modern Warfare 3. In the United Kingdom, more than 500 stores opened at midnight.

[picture credit: Atomicmpc: EB Games store in Wetherill Park, Australia]