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New 'Call of Duty' game, social network to debut this year

Mark Milian
The "Call of Duty" games draw a massive audience. Activision Blizzard is looking for ways to better connect them all.
The "Call of Duty" games draw a massive audience. Activision Blizzard is looking for ways to better connect them all.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Activision Blizzard plans to release a new "Call of Duty" game this year
  • It will include a new social-network platform that's been in the works for two years
  • "Call of Duty" is one of Activision's two "significant investments"
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(CNN) -- Activision Blizzard is set to launch a new "Call of Duty" game for consoles alongside an ambitious digital platform later this year, Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg said on the company's earnings call Monday.

Executives have expressed an especially keen excitement about the new platform features.

They named "Call of Duty" as one of the two "significant investments" that Activision is making, which will include the company's largest marketing campaign, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said on the call. (The other investment is in PC developer Blizzard, which is working on "Diablo III" and a new massively multiplayer online game franchise unrelated to "World of Warcraft.")

"This year's 'Call of Duty' initiatives will result in the best 'Call of Duty' experiences we have created to date," Kotick said. In addition to paid features integrated into the platform, "You will see a lot of new services and capabilities that will be provided free of charge to all of our customers," he said.

The "Call of Duty" online service has been in development for two years under the name Project Beachhead, Hirshberg said. The company created a separate group, also called Beachhead, to focus full attention on the project, Kotick has said previously.

Activision will begin briefing reporters in San Francisco later this week about the project under nondisclosure agreements. The company plans to make a formal announcement in the next several weeks, Kotick said. Still more details are expected in June for the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

That a new entry in the "Call of Duty" series will be released this year isn't a bombshell. Activision has introduced a new game in that franchise each year since 2005. The most recent, "Call of Duty: Black Ops," was the top-selling game in the United States and Europe over the last three months.

"Black Ops" still draws fervent crowds for its multiplayer features and continues to sell well.

But that experience has been hampered by Sony Computer Entertainment's shutdown of the PlayStation Network, with the online gaming service approaching three weeks of downtime this week. Activision intends to release a download package for "Black Ops" in the next three months. "Hopefully the situation will be resolved by then," Hirshberg said.

Cliff Bleszinski, the design director for Epic Games, which makes another popular shooting franchise called "Gears of War," said he has doubts about "Call of Duty's" viability. "'Call of Duty' is doing well right now, but if I was one of the owners of that property, I'd be concerned about potential fatigue," he said in a recent interview.

This year's new installment may be called "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" and debut in November, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. "The game has exceeded every internal milestone," Hirshberg said on Monday's call.

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