Gamers Heed the Newest “Call” of Duty

A pause in the downturn for a red-hot video game

"The best seller ever?"  It's a heady mantle to carry for a video game, especially when the slow economy is battering your industry mercilessly.  But judging by the lines for "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2," starting at midnight and continuing all day Tuesday, gamers are more than willing to part with their hard-earned dollars to get their hands on the newest military shooter.

And it's not just money people are willing to part with: I saw one young man at the San Jose Game Stop trading in his "Rock Band" guitar, along with two other video game titles, to make up for the cash he didn't have.  He was determined to get his hands on MW2, but still feeling sad about what he had to give up .. so much so, he didn't even smile at my "trading in one axe for another" analogy. 

Like most people  who play and follow video games, I've seen the newest COD, and it looks great.  There's something about running around in the snow, and this shooter really brings you into the action.  Just wait until you jump onto the snowmobile.  It's very well done, and I can see why it's such a big hit.

But it comes at a time when big gaming companies like Electronic Arts are struggling. EA just announced plans to cut 1,500 jobs, admitting that the pay for a single title plan isn't working.   It's shelling out $250 million to buy Playfish, a game maker you probably know from your iPhone or Facebook account.  So much for the big games -- it looks like small is in.

Even Activision Blizzard, the company selling MW2, saw its share price drop on the day of the big launch.  That's a lack of confidence on the part of investors.  Remember what Apple shares did when huge iPhone sales were announced?  Game tracked NPD says industry sales are down 13 percent this year, and one title won't save everyone.

But that title is doing well, despite the tough times.  As gamer (and, as he pointed out, husband and father) Shawn Williams told me after buying his MW2 copy, "It's important every once in a while to make yourself happy. We're here for a limited time only." 

Scott Budman noticed that Activision's stock market value is now more than double that of Electronic Arts.
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