Call of Duty: Black Ops best seller on 360, PS3, PC

Activision announces sales milestone for Cold War-era shooter; Q1 earnings hit $1.4 billion, profit rises to $503 million; Diablo III beta kicking off Q3; free-to-play COD en route to China.

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That Activision Blizzard had a hit on its hands with the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops last November is no surprise, considering the game made more than $1 billion in less than two months. However, the publisher clarified how big of a hit Black Ops is, announcing today that it is the highest-earning game of all time on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in the US and Europe.

Black Ops became an all-time sales leader in the US and Europe on the 360, PS3, and PC in Q1.
Black Ops became an all-time sales leader in the US and Europe on the 360, PS3, and PC in Q1.

Unfortunately, Activision Blizzard did not release updated sales figures for the Cold War-era shooter. However, the publisher did say that the Treyarch-developed title was the number-one overall seller in the US and Europe during the January-March quarter. That performance apparently bests that of Nintendo's Pokemon Black and White, Capcom's Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and EA's Dead Space 2.

Activision Blizzard also said that unique users playing Black Ops' online multiplayer component are up 33 percent over its Infinity Ward-developed predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, during their respective first five months.

The announcement came as part of Activision Blizzard's first-quarter earnings report today, which beat expected results. For the quarter ended March 31, 2011, Activision Blizzard posted net revenue of $1.4 billion, up from $1.3 billion during the same period a year ago. Profits climbed during the quarter to $503 million, up $122 million over last year.

Activision Blizzard also trumpeted its gains in revenue from digital channels, which it said grew 30 percent during the quarter over last year. That percentage gain equates to about $100 million, according to the publisher's top executive, Bobby Kotick.

One key driver of this growth was Black Ops' First Strike add-on pack, which was downloaded more than 1.4 million times during the first 24 hours of availability through Xbox Live. Activision Blizzard also said that downloads for the First Strike add-on were up 20 percent from Modern Warfare 2's comparable Stimulus Pack.

The publisher's strong start has given it confidence for the rest of the year. Today, the publisher said that it had revised its fiscal year 2011 earnings upward to $4.05 billion, from previous projections of $3.95 billion.

In a post-earnings conference call, Activision Blizzard dropped additional tidbits about its upcoming lineup. Of this year's Call of Duty installment, the executive team noted that it will have "an unprecedented online universe that is accompanying it." The publisher also noted that the previously announced new online features developed at its newly formed Beachhead studio will be included in this year's installment.

Activision Blizzard also briefly touched upon its massively multiplayer online gaming plans for the Call of Duty franchise. Namely, the publisher expects to launch a free-to-play, microtransaction-based installment in the series in China.

Blizzard Entertainment CEO Michael Morhaime also offered an update on the development of Diablo III, saying that the game is still targeted for release later this year. Morhaime expects external beta testing for Diablo III to begin during the July-September quarter. Morhaime also said that World of Warcraft subscriber figures stand at 11.4 million worldwide through the end of the quarter, though he noted that subscriber levels have decreased faster than in previous expansions because users are completing the new content at a more rapid pace.

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