So, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 came out this week. You noticed that, right? Despite the obligatory bitching and whining from everyone across the Internet about the franchise being "stale" or "boring" or whatever, it still appears to have done remarkably well for itself. According to a representative from Amazon, Black Ops 2 dethroned Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 as the "most pre-ordered" game ever, "shattering" that game's record. Not only that, but pre-launch it was already on pace to become the biggest launch in GameStop's history, too. GameStop president Tony Bartel said last month, "We are seeing the highest pre-orders in history. With its current pace, this Call of Duty is on track to break records and is likely to be our biggest game launch of all time."
By Wednesday this week, things were already looking very good for the game. Bartel said in an email to Bloomberg that the speciality retailer sold more than 1 million copies of Treyarch's new shooter at its midnight launch alone. Additionally that day, analyst Michael Olson did that analyst thing of pulling numbers out of his ass, and guessed that Black Ops 2 would shift between 6.5 million and 7.2 million units in day-one sales, which is on par with Modern Warfare 3's day-one haul of 6.5 million in 2011.
By Friday morning Activision announced that the game had taken $500 million in its first 24 hours, outperforming Modern Warfare 3 by a cool $100 million (although that game's numbers only factor North American and European sales numbers, while the Black Ops 2 number is global) and more than doubling the numbers of Halo 4 from the week prior. Although, Black Ops 2 is multi-platform, and Halo 4 is Xbox 360 only. In a statement, Activision CEO Robert Kotick said life-to-date sales for the Call of Duty franchise have now surpassed worldwide box office revenue for the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises.
The Future of Halo
Halo 4, the most expensive game Microsoft has ever made, is off to the hottest start in the franchise's history. Microsoft announced on Monday that Master Chief minted $220 million on his first day and is poised to haul $300 million in first-week global sales. Impressive stuff for a game released on a single platform. Halo 4 blasted past 2010's Bungie Studios-developed Halo: Reach, which hauled $200 million on its first day (in the US and Europe). Additionally, Halo 4's launch day sales are better than 2007's Halo 3, which took did a US total of $170 million in the first 24 hours. Total combined Halo series life-to-date sales now stand at about $3.38 billion, Microsoft said. In netting $220 million in day-one sales, Halo 4 surpassed the first-day US box office tallies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Avengers.
Halo 4 also broke the franchise record for most players at launch. During the game's first five days, more than 4 million players spent time in the game, logging some 31.4 million hours. This pushes the total number of gameplay hours across all Halo titles to "well beyond" five billion. By Friday this week, more than 1.1 million players had beaten the campaign, with six percent doing so on Legendary mode.
As you'd expect, all this activity led to the game owning the weekly Xbox Live activity chart. For the week leading up to the game's release date, Halo 4 dominated the chart and tallied more unique users than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and FIFA 13.
Microsoft may be trying something new with its Halo franchise. A recent job posting at 343 Industries calls for a senior game designer to join the franchise creative team and "lead the creative vision for incubation projects" at the studio. Additionally, a successful candidate will contribute to "other AAA Halo experiences spanning across the breadth of the studio," further confirming comments that executive producer Kiki Wolfkill mentioned last week regarding potential games in other genres. "I think we'd look at what the most interesting genre, medium, delivery mechanism is to tell a certain story, and if it moves the IP forward in an interesting way, we'll do it," she said. Microsoft has previously confirmed Halo 5 and Halo 6 by way of announcing the Reclaimer Trilogy, but no other game projects at the company have been revealed.
By The Way, Xbox Live Just Turned 10
Xbox Live first launched on November 15, 2002. If you are good at math (and at looking at calendars) it will become pretty obvious that this means the service celebrated a notable anniversary on Thursday this week. Microsoft has been celebrating with a variety of promotions, including giveaways of downloadable items to long-term members. The most exciting promo is the giveaway of custom Xbox Live-edition 360 hardware to those who have "been with [Microsoft] the longest." If you've been an Xbox Live member for 10 years (your tenure is the number in the top right of your profile) you are automatically entered into a draw for the console. If you've been a member for less, you can still enter by downloading the anniversary gamer pic. You can do that from the console, or you can log into your Live account and download it from here. If you want two entries into the draw, being an Xbox Live Rewards member (signed up before November 22) secures that.
It's worth noting at this point that without Halo, Xbox Live may not have survived. "I think Xbox Live wouldn't have made it. I don't think the Xbox would be where it is today without Bungie and without Halo," said Bungie studio manager Harold Ryan in a GamesIndustry International story this week. "As a group, we provided both technical and creative guidance and thought leadership that really pushed the limits. We weren't just a game developer using the service. We were integrated in the design of the service and how it worked. Systems for groups and matchmaking and skill ranking were all things that were pushed the furthest and the hardest by us.”
Xbox Live has grown significantly since its debut in 2002. The platform currently boasts 40 million members, with Xbox Live Gold users logging an average of 84 hours on the service per month.
PS3 Hits 70 Million
While 2012 saw Sony's game division suffering losses, the company hit a major milestone this month by reaching 70 million PlayStation 3 consoles sold worldwide. That figure refers to sell-in figures, which means units sold to retail outlets, rather than direct sales to the public. By contrast, Nintendo reported the Wii had sold 97.18 million units as of September 2012, while Microsoft announced the Xbox 360 had sold 70 million units by October 2012. Sony also announced that its PlayStation 3 Move motion controller has surpassed 15 million sales worldwide since launching on September 15, 2010 in Europe. Sony claims that Move is now supported by more than 400 software titles, including Wonderbook: Book of Spells, which launched this week in North America and Europe.
The Weekly GTA V Bit
The Grand Theft Auto series could join the likes of Call of Duty, FIFA, and Assassin's Creed in releasing a new title every year, but Rockstar Games will not do this. Explaining to IGN, Rockstar North's Leslie Benzies said the company has the capacity to make a new game every year, but doing so would ultimately hurt the franchise and its appeal. "When we were working on GTAIII we were a much smaller team doing something new and experimental," Benzies said. "We had no idea how the game would be received, just a belief that what we were working on was really special. Since then we have grown into a much larger team and our games have much higher expectations. It's not just our own faith in each project we've had to repay, but our fans' too. We could easily have churned out a new version year after year without really progressing as a franchise, but if we did that, eventually the fans would lose interest. We want every one of our games to meet and exceed the players' expectations so they always want more, and as such GTA V feels like our most ambitious project yet."
Meanwhile, Rockstar cofounder Dan Houser spoke with Japanese games magazine Famitsu about the timing of the new game. "Rockstar is a content company, not a hardware company," he said. "We use the technology we have to create content, and we try not to let ourselves get beholden to the hardware. The fact that hardware's so mature right now is exactly why we're able to go on to the next level." He added that GTA IV was Rockstar's first try at development for HD visuals, and he called part of this development "seriously difficult." Now, Rockstar understands what the technology is capable of, and the company only stands to benefit. "GTA: San Andreas came out at the peak of the PlayStation 2's cycle, and we put out a really good game thanks to that. All the best games for a console come out at the end of the life cycle, right? So now's the best timing of all," he said.
Also, in case you weren't paying attention on Wednesday, there was a new GTA V trailer. And it looks pretty awesome.
Tom Hardy is Sam Fisher
Yep, you read that right. Tom Hardy's next role is Sam Fisher. Variety reported on Wednesday that the Inception and The Dark Knight Rises actor has been cast as the lead role in Ubisoft's upcoming Splinter Cell film adaptation, which will be written by The International screenwriter Eric Warren Singer. "Tom Hardy is currently one of the biggest talents in the film industry, and he has a phenomenal ability to take on complex and varied roles with his broad range of acting skills," said Jean-Julien Baronnet, CEO of Ubisoft Motion Pictures. "Meanwhile, Eric Singer is one of the most talented writers of the moment, and … we're confident he'll bring a fresh approach and create a thrilling story … while still respecting all the codes and traditions of the franchise that are so important to fans."
What do you think? A good choice? Chatter on Twitter and across various forums this week captured some common sentiments; 1) everyone forgot that Ubisoft was working to get a Splinter Cell movie made, 2) Hardy wouldn't have been at the top of anyone's guess list, but it doesn't seem too bad, and 3) if Singer does as good a job with this as he did with the excellent Clive Owen thriller The International, then it should be a decent flick.
Ubisoft Courting Bleszinski Using Spy Movie Tactics
Speaking of Ubisoft and spy movies, Cliff Bleszinski revealed the playful way that the publisher was courting him while he was in Paris this week, in the following tweet.
Hotel called my room. A package for me? Inside? A fully charged phone with one # programmed and the Ubisoft logo on the backdrop. Now what?— Cliff Bleszinski (@therealcliffyb) November 14, 2012
He then got into the spirit of his European location, making a Taken gag and saying that he would call the number and say, "I do have a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me an asset for people like you." Before posting a picture of the phone to prove he wasn't kidding.
What, you thought I was kidding about the phone?! twitter.com/therealcliffyb…— Cliff Bleszinski (@therealcliffyb) November 14, 2012
He later mentioned that he was in meetings with David Cage while in Paris, and would be meeting Ubisoft for dinner. Since leaving Epic Games, Bleszinski has visited the offices of Activision, Zynga, Double Fine, and Electronic Arts. He has also met with God of War and Twisted Metal designer David Jaffe. His Twitter feed chronicling all of these meetings has led to much speculation from fans. Where do you think he'll end up?
Star Wars The Old Republic Finally Went Free to Play
After months of speculation since its release last year, Star Wars The Old Republic finally shifted to a free-to-play model (of sorts) this week. The game now has a three-tiered approach to payment, a full chart of which can be found here. Fundamentally speaking, you can play through the story for free, and if you want to do pretty much anything else you either need to subscribe (in order to be able to do everything) or you need to spend at least $4.99 to unlock a "preferred status" that gives you access to in-game mail, the ability to trade with other players past level 10, use of the /who list, being able to display your Legacy name, and a number of other niceties. There's a FAQ outlining everything on the SWTOR website.
Hell Freezes Over: Pokémon App for iOS Appears
Nintendo's staunch reluctance to embrace the smartphone market may be coming to an end. The Nintendo-owned Pokemon Company has released a Pokedex for iOS app through the Japanese iTunes app store for ¥170, or about $2. Additional creature packs are available for ¥500 ($6). The listing was first spotted by GamesIndustry International. The app was developed by Game Freak subsidiary Creatures, Inc. That company has developed a series of Pokemon titles, including 2011's Wii game Pokepark 2: Wonders Beyond. No mention was made of a release for the app outside of Japan, but it seems liked that after localization, it will eventually be released globally.
Valve on Exclusives, Newell a Hall of Famer
Earlier this month, Valve played host to a group of fans from website 4chan’s /v/ community at the company’s Washington studio. During an hour-long open question session, as reported by Valve community site LambdaGeneration, Newell provided candid answers on the Half-Life maker's business, the direction he believes the industry is moving in, and why he has no interest in exclusive content for Steam.
Newell began by setting the ground rules, asking fans, “So what do you want to know about that’s not Half-Life 3?” Attendees queried whether Valve is already at work on a successor for its Source engine, and, if so, whether any follow-up would be an update to the existing software, or a fully fledged replacement. Newell responded by saying that the team “has been working on engine stuff for quite a while”, though there were suggestions that the developer may be waiting for the right game to showcase the new technology.
Regarding exclusives, Newell said, “A bunch of people have asked us, ‘Hey, why don’t we do an exclusive, and we won’t ship on any of the other services; how much will you give us for being exclusive?' and we said, look, you know, it’s bad for you, it’s bad for us in the long run. We want lots of people to be innovating on these services. We’ll [all] benefit if somebody has some great ideas.”
Staying with Newell; it was announced on Thursday this week that he has been named to the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame. Inducted for his leadership at Valve, the company that created the Source game engine, Steam, and franchises like Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Left 4 Dead, Portal, and Team Fortress. The AIAS said these products and properties have "done much to push the interactive entertainment industry forward." Newell is the 17th member of the Hall of Fame. He follows last year's inductee, Epic Games chief technology officer Tim Sweeney, as well as BioWare founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka (2011), Mark Cerny (2010), and Bruce Shelley (2009).
"Gabe is one of the most cherished and respected figures in the industry not only for his technological innovations in advancing many of today's highly successful video games, but also for his unique stance towards leadership and management," said AIAS president Martin Rae in a statement. "Gabe's vision for the interactive industry has created lasting effects that have completely reshaped this generation's digital distribution model, paving the way for independent developers and creating an invaluable service for consumers. It is a great honor to have Gabe inducted into the Academy's Hall of Fame."
Humungous Competitive Gaming News
Competitive gaming leagues Major League Gaming (MLG), DreamHack (DH), and the Electronic Sports League (ESL) announced a partnership for the remainder of 2012 and the upcoming 2013 season on Thursday this week. Described as being for the "betterment of eSports," the collaboration will include a universal ranking system, unified competition structure, master tournament calendar, and cross-promotional efforts. This is the first time such an initiative has come to fruition between the competing league organizations, and is a huge step towards a more unified presence for competitive gaming. Talks between the head members of the leagues--MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni, DreamHack CEO Robert Ohlén, and ESL CEO Ralf Reichert--began at the first eSports Congress in Valencia, Spain last month, which was organized to help alleviate concerns for the industry moving forward. DreamHack and ESL will have their major events overlap next weekend, with the DreamHack Winter Season Finals and the Intel Extreme Masters Singapore event occurring on the same dates. "The growth of competitive gaming over the last few years has been staggering and we have now reached the point where we need to align our efforts to advance eSports on a global scale," said DiGiovanni. "The collaboration between our organizations is the first step in a united effort to take the sport to the next level while benefiting all of those involved."
Quite what this means for the large leagues noticeably absent from the arrangement; IGN ProLeague (IPL) and the North American Star League (NASL) is presently unknown. Senior representatives from both organizations were present at the Valencia congress, but have yet to make any statements about Thursday's announcement.