This is a notable first for “Call of Duty,” which has set sales records for the entire entertainment industry with each successive release, year after year, for the past four years. Microsoft Corp’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) newest installment in its Xbox-exclusive “Halo” franchise recorded sales of $220 million in its first day on the market the previous week. “Halo 4” was widely seen as the primary contender to “Black Ops 2” in the holiday season market for console videogames that appeal to wide swaths of the “hardcore” gaming audience.
Last year, Activision reported first-day sales of about $400 million for "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," a game that went onto to break “Avatar’s record” previous sales record by grossing $1 billion in 16 days.
The game ultimately sold slightly fewer units than its 2010 predecessor, the original “Black Ops,” leading some industry analysts to wonder if the historic series had peaked in its potential popularity.
As a result, developer Treyarch introduced a handful of new features to extend the shelf-life of “Black Ops 2” and limit potential sales of used games that players would hand in after finishing the relatively short single player campaign.
Last month, Activision announced that it would turn its popular “Call of Duty: Elite” service into a freemium service to attract more players to online play, and the new single-player campaign added branching storylines in the hopes that it would give players reason to revisit the single-player experience.
Activision, the world's largest videogame publisher, raised its earnings outlook last week on expectations for strong holiday sales of its new "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," saying it hoped it would beat previous "Call of Duty" records.
Despite the continued success, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said that the company is still wary of how its other main franchises will compare to “Call of Duty.”
"With first day sales of over half a billion dollars worldwide, we believe ‘Call of Duty’ is the biggest entertainment launch of the year for the fourth year in a row," said Kotick.
"Life-to-date sales for the ‘Call of Duty’ franchise have exceeded worldwide theatrical box office receipts for ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Star Wars,’ the two most successful movie franchises of all time. Given the challenged macro-economic environment, we remain cautious about the balance of 2012 and 2013," he added.
As the current generation hardware line-up winds to a close, the console market has been in an extended period of decline acknowledged by industry analysts and developers alike. The strong sales of games like “Halo 4” and “Black Ops 2” therefore signify some possible signs of life for a flagging part of the industry.
The first-day sales estimate was based on Chart-Track, retail customer sell-through information and internal company estimates.
Activision shares jumped nearly 4 percent Friday, rising to just over $11 in late morning trading.