Blogs & Comment

Activision cranks up the hype machine for new Call of Duty

Game developer launches campaign to hype new online service and latest installment of record-breaking video game franchise.

This week, Activision unveiled the trailer for its new Call of Duty Elite online gaming service and the upcoming Modern Warfare 3 where a player named theLEGENDofKARL gives us a tour of the new online platform and a sneak peek at the new game, set for a November 8th release.

The prospect of a seven-minute commercial would typically send most of us running from the room–or at least ordering another Magic Bullet–but this one works for a number of reasons. It’s funny, informative and speaks directly to its audience, giving us a significant glimpse at the game through the eyes of a wise-ass armchair warrior.

While there are nods to the next installment of the Call of Duty franchise, theLEGENDofKARL is primarily talking about Activision’s new Elite product, described as “like if organized sports and social networking had a baby and they gave that baby a flamethrower.” But despite it’s impressive concept, Activision is getting significant blowback from devout gamers over the plan. These fans have already backed up the money truck to Activision’s front door (the CoD franchise has sold 56 million console units in the U.S. alone, with the November 2010-released Call of Duty: Black Ops, topping $1 billion in sales in just 42 days) and see Elite as more money grab than value-added proposition. In a June 3 AdAge piece titled “How much more money can Activision wring from Call of Duty?“, DFC Intelligence analyst Jeremy Miller says brand has the strength to experiment with online models, but must walk “a very tight line between satisfying hard-core online shooter players, the pick-up-and-play crowd, and investors.”

Activision recently credited Call of Duty franchise sales for its $1.4 billion in first quarter sales. Black Ops, according to CEO Bobby Kotick, “shattered Xbox LIVE launch records, surpassing 1.4 million downloads in the first 24 hours alone… [and] players have logged more than 1.2 billion online hours of online gameplay.” Those numbers have Activision aiming to tap into new online revenue.

As far as the ad itself, it’s no surprise that it’s this good. Created by San Francisco agency DOJO, one of the creative directors behind it is Geoff Edwards, who’s had a hand in some of the best and most awarded video game marketing in the last decade. At McCann back in 2006, Edwards helped make the influential “Mad World” spot for Gears of War, which sold 2 million copies in six weeks, reportedly increased Xbox Live subscription by 50% in that time, and made the song “Mad World” the top seller on iTunes. Then in 2007, Edwards was at agency T.A.G. to create the “Believe” campaign for Halo 3, a game that went on to sell 3.3 million units in its first month (a record broken by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2009). Edwards even worked a reference to past work into the new video, as ad nerds will definitely get a laugh at theLEGENDofKARL’s not-so subtle take on the “Mad World”‘s emo-soundtrack style during one particularly violent scene.

Between the slick marketing, new online service and the Call of Duty juggernaut, chances are Activision is looking at another hit and record sales come November.