Activision Blizzard Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) is partnering with Google’s (Nasdaq: GOOG) web-video giant YouTube to live-stream multiplayer gameplay of the highly anticipated video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” when it comes out next week.
The new partnership will allow “Black Ops 2” players using either Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360 game console or Sony’s (NYSE: SNE) Playstation 3 to broadcast their multiplayer matches played on Activision’s new “League Play” network, which can then be watched on any YouTube-friendly device.
League Play, which was first announced by Activision and “Black Ops 2" developer Treyarch this past August, is a new feature for the “Call of Duty” franchise that's designed to enhance the competitive e-sport aspect of the game. The service creates a seasonal, bracket-based multiplayer mode to match players with competitors of an appropriate skill level.
This no doubt helps expand Call of Duty’s online user base beyond the most hardcore gamers without the risk of alienating casual players, something that Activision already addressed by turning its popular “Call of Duty: Elite” service into a freemium product. But recasting the game as a sport unto itself game also allows Treyarch and Activision any number of potential revenue streams -- professional sporting events, athletic sponsorships, branded tech accessories, and, of course, an extended shelf life for the game itself.
“Black Ops 2’s” game design director David Vonderhaar to the gaming site Polygon that playing up the e-sports angle of the game was a “a major, major initiative” for the company with the new game, a point that Treyarch’s studio Mark Lamia has echoed throughout the product’s development.
"Call of Duty is about competition," Lamia said during a presentation at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany last summer. "It's a sport. And Black Ops 2 has architected the framework for players to thrive at any level, and we have provided integrated tools to bring eSports to the masses.”
Live streaming games is nothing new, nor is posting gameplay videos on YouTube. But game publishers haven’t attracted the attention of an internet search giant as big as Google or Youtube before in their efforts to expand their online audiences, instead relying on gaming-centric streaming services such as twitch.
But Google has recently wised up to the viewership potential from gaming’s massive, rapt audiences. Last May, the company placed a heft investment in Machinima, a gaming-focused YouTube channel that boasts more than 1 billion views during any given month. And with Activision, Google may have found a strong enough brand to launch the growing eSports community into the mainstream of online video enterainment.
“Black Ops 2” is one of the most highly anticipated games of 2012, and is widely expected to also have of the highest-grossing entertainment product launches this year. With its strong third quarter earnings report announced this week, some analysts have even toyed with the possibility that the game could break the record set by its 2011 predecessor “Modern Warfare 3,” which made more than $1 billion in just 16 days on the market.
Google shares fell steadily during trading Thursday after a brief jump in the morning, hitting a low of $658.01 per share after noon. Activision Blizzard stock also fell after opening above Wednesday’s closing price of $11.13 per share, dropping to $11.02 in early afternoon trading.