The Warfare State

Modern Warfare 2. Not a bad little launch, hey?

Thanks to unprecedented retail activity – responsible for a large chunk of the initial sales – Call of Duty is already on course to gross over a billion dollars worldwide in this calendar year alone.

Yet only now can we start to see the real impact of the game’s release.

Countless publishers have pushed titles back into Q1 to avoid collateral damage – while another new wave of retailers are suddenly keen to stock games.

After months of hype, retail excitement and consumer teasing the game was duty-bound to succeed. Demand and pre-order numbers were eye-wateringly high; post-release sales the same.

Now we can see MW2 is on a scale no-one else can compete with. For all the talk of beating GTA IV and Halo 3, its sales numbers are in a league of their own.

Much credit goes to the 2,000 UK midnight openings and special offers run by the likes of GAME, Gamestation and HMV – and of course those plucky supermarkets (at least I think ‘plucky’ is how I heard someone describe them...).

But in the end did retailers – both bricks and mortar and online – get a fair shake at this? Yet again it was another release undercut by supermarkets, which must have caused no end of grief for indies, the specialists, and consumers who pre-ordered and were locked into prices at various shops.

Maybe that’s the cost of success – no-one said that a single creative industry can engineer ‘the biggest entertainment launch of all time’ without stepping on people’s toes.

But also, what impact – if any – did that infamous RRP rise have on last week? Did it distort the numbers, or not matter? Most consumers bought it at or under £44.99 – £10 lower than the recommended price – and ChartTrack seems to use £39.99 as the average cost of the game.

Has the extra custom this attracted helped recoup the development budget – as Activision said it would when it raised the RRP? A lot of games would dream of making a few million in months, let alone a day.

It’s probably still too early to tell – we’ll get a better grasp of the real potential of MW2 once we’ve seen the game’s second and third weeks on the market.

For now, Modern Warfare 2’s arrival is the games industry’s defining moment of 2009. Whether the trade can learn anything from the various controversies it has sparked remains to be seen.

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