“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” is out and hopes are high that video game publisher Activision Blizzard has scored another big hit.
The first-person shooter is set in a fictitious Middle Eastern country and across Europe. The main narrative forces players to navigate the ambiguous moral choices of war, while a multiplayer mode pits teams against each other as they try to get the most kills while surviving for as long as possible.
Whereas popular shooting games like “Fortnite” and “Overwatch” contain fantasy elements, “Call of Duty” aims to appeal to hardcore gamers with more realistic scenes.
Analysts predict the new game will sell millions of units and be a mainstay hit for Activision Blizzard (ATVI). It’s the fourth entry in the “Modern Warfare” lineup and one of dozens of releases in the massive “Call of Duty” franchise.
“Call of Duty” has been the best-selling game franchise in the United States for 10 years in a row, according to Mat Piscatella, an analyst at NPD Group.
“It’s not a question of if this ‘Call of Duty’ will be a hit. The only question is how big a hit it will be,” he said. He projected that it will be the best-selling game of 2019.
“It’s as dependable a title as there is,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at private financial services firm Wedbush. He estimated that Activision takes in about $1.3 billion a year from “Call of Duty,” or 20% of its sales.
The game is a loose remake of the first Modern Warfare title, which was released in 2007. “There’s a nostalgia factor for gamers of a certain age cohort whose formative experiences in gaming were playing titles like ‘Call of Duty.’ You have good memories of these games,” said Andrew Marok, VP of equity research at Nomura Instinet.
Calls for boycotts
The game’s release comes just after Activision Blizzard was embroiled in controversy. Over the last two weeks, gamers have been calling for boycotts of the company, accusing it of censoring political views to appease China. On October 8, the company banned and disqualified a Hong Kong player, Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung, from an esports tournament after he shouted a pro-Hong Kong slogan.
Blizzard said on October 11 that “our relationships in China had no influence on our decision” and that a player who shouted a pro-Beijing slogan would have been dealt with the same way.
But the calls for boycotts are unlikely make a dent in “Call of Duty” sales, analysts said.
“My guess is that fewer than 5% of Blizzard players know what’s going on in Hong Kong, and maybe 20% of them have enough political conscience to do anything about it,” said Pachter. He estimated that a boycott could conceivably cost Blizzard about $25 million a year, which would be “a rounding error” for the company.
Jefferies analyst Alex Giaimo said he hasn’t seen evidence that a boycott could bleed into “Call of Duty,” either. In any case, he expects it would be isolated to Blizzard games, and even his most aggressive assumption calls for a 10% loss for Blizzard in Q4, or about $54 million, which translates to less than 1% of the game’s expected sales in 2019.