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Retailers and Game Servers Prepare for New ‘Call of Duty’ Onslaught
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Retailers and Game Servers Prepare for New ‘Call of Duty’ Onslaught

With today’s release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to the highly-acclaimed original first-person shooter Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, gamers and retailers nationwide look to get in on the register-ringing action of multiplayer gaming. In what they hope to be to be the largest first week of release for a video game ever, publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward may be looking at one of the year’s few “sure things” at retail. By examining game usage trends, buying patterns, consumer awareness and internet buzz, we can get a deeper look inside the habits, profiles and retail preferences for the Modern Warfare franchise.

Online Buzz

With huge anticipation for the Modern Warfare sequel, online buzz levels from Nielsen have been consistently strong in the 4 weeks leading up to launch. At three weeks pre-launch, buzz levels spiked after Microsoft confirmed that the special edition Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 bundle would be available for the Xbox 360. Five days prior to release, the game’s launch trailer was posted on YouTube, which caused yet another surge in buzz, further fueled by ongoing discussion of high pre-order rates.

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High Game Awareness and Anticipation

Data from Nielsen’s weekly Video Game Tracking service corroborates what the online buzz suggests: Active gamers are aware of and highly eager to experience Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. In addition, there is an expectation that the game will be high-quality. Key metrics for the game have been growing steadily since the title first appeared in tracking in May of this year, with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 outperforming benchmarks across measures including awareness, purchase interest, rating and purchase urgency.

Active gamers know that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 will be available, with current unaided awareness six times higher than historical benchmarks (12% vs. 2%, respectively) and aided awareness nearly triple that of the average video game release (71% vs. 26% on average). Last week, nearly half of the gamers aware of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 report seeing the title advertised on television (46%) and approximately one-in-three (30%) note that word-of-mouth through friends, relatives or co-workers contributed to their awareness of the game while almost the same proportion (28%) saw an online preview/review.

While awareness is important, Nielsen data shows Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is also a highly anticipated game, with 3 to 4 times the proportion of gamers in recent weeks indicating they would pre-order or buy the game in its first week of release compared to the average title (9-12% vs. 3% on average). Current definite purchase interest for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is nearly three times higher than for the average title (21% vs. 8%, respectively) and overall purchase interest is almost double (37% vs. 19%, respectively), suggesting strong demand for the title at retail. These potential buyers expect the game to be a good one, with those aware of the game rating it substantially better than average (7.7 vs. 6.8 on a ten-point scale).

Likely to Buy

In addition to buying high-profile titles like Modern Warfare, Nielsen Homescan for Video Game indicates that households that bought the original title spend nearly 3 times the amount of money on video game purchases annually vs. typical video game buying household, and even outspend the average household that purchases shooter titles more broadly. These higher purchase rates make Modern Warfare franchise fans valuable, highly desirable customers at retail – which is perhaps why we see a concerted effort to entice them to not only purchase the game itself, but also special editions and limited-edition consoles.

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Nielsen data also shows that households purchasing Modern Warfare (across all platforms) were more likely to have children aged 13 to 17 (index 121), earn a household income of $100,000+ (index 148), and be of Asian descent (index 141) vs. the average game-buying household.

…and Eager to Play

If prior play rates are any indication, PC gamers in particular will be glued to their computers the minute they acquire Modern Warfare 2. Over the last twelve measured months from Nielsen’s GamePlay Metrics metered PC data, we see consistent and vibrant activity for the original Modern Warfare title. The average weekly gameplay on the single game mode was nearly two hours, while multiplayer consumed almost four hours per week. On average, nearly five sessions were logged per week, per player. Of note, multiplayer gameplay peaked in June 2009, when Nvidia sponsored a free multiplayer map pack download: during this month, the average weekly hours jumped to six.

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Of course, other titles will have to move over to make room for some PC gamers’ marathon Modern Warfare 2 sessions in the coming weeks. Judging from Nielsen’s GamePlay Metrics, cross-title play data among the most recent (September 2009) players of the original Modern Warfare game, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty: World at War, and Half-Life 2 (in addition to COD: MW) are the most frequently alternately played titles that could experience a blip in PC play with the title’s launch. This list suggests that PC gamers who play the franchise skew toward the more traditional, hardcore gaming audience, corroborated by their 70% male, 54% ages 25-54 profile.