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Activision Blizzard said today that it plans to launch Call of Duty Online, a free-to-play version of its modern combat video game, in the Chinese market in the first quarter of 2015. That’s big news, since the shooter has been in testing in the Chinese market, which is now generating more revenues overall than the U.S. game market, for some time.

The online game will be a way for players in the rest of the world to enjoy what has become one of the biggest video game properties of the West. In those markets, Call of Duty generates more than $1 billion a year, but Activision Blizzard sees China as an expansion market, and the free-to-play online business model rules there. Tencent, the largest game company in the world and an investor in Activision Blizzard, will publish the title in China, as a partner for Activision Blizzard.

Ironically, the biggest competition also comes from Tencent in the form of Crossfire and League of Legends (whose maker, Riot Games, is majority owned by Tencent).

In an earnings call, Activision Publishing chief executive Eric Hirshberg said Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare preorders are ahead of last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts title, and that all indications are it will be the “biggest video game of the year.”

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He also said purchase intent, as measured by the company, is larger than it has ever been.

As we noted in our Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare console game review, many observers are trying to predict the downfall of the franchise, particularly analysts who are worried about Activision Blizzard’s stock price. Someday, they figure, the 40 million who play these shooters every month are going to get tired of it. Battle fatigue and gravity have to kick in, right? But each Call of Duty game has sold more than $1 billion worth of copies in recent years.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the 11th major installment in the first-person military combat game series, launched today for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

The series has generated more than $10 billion in revenue and sold more than 175 million games, making it perhaps the highest-selling hardcore game series next to Grand Theft Auto. Disappointment in this context is a relative term: If it sells less than 20 million copies, Advanced Warfare will be a disappointment. Advanced Warfare is getting better review scores and a better social reception than last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts.

By going to the Chinese market, Activision can ensure that the franchise will keep growing.

Hirshberg said about Call of Duty Online:

I shared in August we had just entered large scale beta testing with our partner Tencent. We have now successfully passed every development milestone, and we now plan to launch unlimited access beta testing in Q1 2015 which means the game will begin monetizing throughout China.

Call of Duty Online is a major opportunity to expand our reach and build what may be our largest player community with year around revenues. We look forward to sharing more about it in the coming months.

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