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Analysts predict that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare could sell significantly worse than last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, but Activision Publishing boss Eric Hirshberg disagrees.

The CEO said that analysts’ estimates are off because more people are planning to buy digitally than ever before. Advanced Warfare is available to purchase online today on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. Hirshberg thinks that a lot of consumers will choose that route. If that’s true, it could make the difference since one analyst, Cowen and Company’s Doug Creutz, is basing his estimate on physical preorder numbers from retail sites like Amazon. The Call of Duty franchise has ended the last several years as the best-selling shooter. It’s a multibillion-dollar brand for Activision and a big part of just how huge triple-A gaming has grown over the last decade.

“Preorders are a good barometer for day one,” Hirshberg said in an interview with Games Industry International. “But I don’t think they reflect the overall demand for the product. They don’t represent what they used to, because of the move to digital and all the ways people can buy the game.”

Last week, Creutz explained that Advanced Warfare’s preorders were lagging 40 percent behind Ghosts and 70 percent behind 2012’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II. While digital could make up for some of that, and publishers have recently seen an increase in the percentage of digital sales, Creutz thinks that downloads won’t close the gap.

“Unless you believe that Call of Duty will skew much more heavily to digital than other games, then the presence of digital sell-through shouldn’t significantly impact [our prediction],” Creutz said. “Even if we were miscounting say 20 percent of the units from digital, our indicator has preorders running down 40 percent year over year.”

It is also unlikely that more than 20 percent of Advanced Warfare’s console sales will come from digital. Publishers have revealed that their blockbuster releases all range somewhere from 10 percent to 15 percent digital. Nothing suggests that Call of Duty is doing anything special to break that model.

For Activision, Hirshberg is looking to metrics other than preorders.

“We see purchase intent well above last year,” he said. “And we see engagement with the brand in social media channels all being markedly up. I’m still optimistic.”

Last year’s Ghosts saw a decline that many would attribute to a lukewarm-to-negative critical reaction to the release. Advanced Warfare, as you can see in our review, is a better game — but if the decline continues, then it suggests that gamers are moving on.


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