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posted: 10/5/2019 6:00 AM

'Call of Duty' mobile is off to an explosive start

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  • Pro running back Sony Michel gets in on the action at the Call of Duty: Mobile launch event on Tuesday, Oct. 1 2019, in Boston.

    Pro running back Sony Michel gets in on the action at the Call of Duty: Mobile launch event on Tuesday, Oct. 1 2019, in Boston.
    (Scott Eisen/AP Images for Activision)

 
 

Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s Call of Duty Mobile attracted 20 million gamers within the first two days of its worldwide debut, a big boost for the company's ambition of adapting top-tier titles with global name recognition for smartphones.

Based on Activision Blizzard's marquee PC and console franchise, Call of Duty Mobile generated a quick $2 million in player spending after rolling out in the U.S., Europe, India and Latin America, researchers at Sensor Tower said. Its downloads rivaled those for Nintendo Co.'s Mario Kart Tour over its first two days, one of the most successful mobile game launches ever, according to their findings.

Call of Duty Mobile is the highest-profile project to emerge from Tencent's effort to convert established gaming franchises to mobile, priming a pipeline that already stretches to 2022, Thomson Ji, vice president of Tencent's TiMi Studios, said in an interview.

"We're committed to developing games to target global markets," said Ji at TiMi, which became the largest of Tencent's four main creative studios off the back of breakout success Honour of Kings. "Call of Duty is very influential globally and we hope this game can help us reach hundreds of millions of mobile gamers overseas."

Tencent, operator of the WeChat social media service, is developing new avenues for growth as uncertainty grips its home market. In May, the internet giant reported its slowest pace of sales expansion since going public in 2004, so it's casting a wider net to diversify away from a domestic economy in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. The company is moving beyond just importing famous titles for Chinese audiences and is now, conversely, designing smartphone versions of popular console games for export overseas.

Call of Duty Mobile, which launched Oct. 1., is a litmus test of Tencent's ability to wow international players. It revamps one of Activision's best-selling franchises for smartphone gamers, a group that now exceeds 2.2 billion in number. According to Tencent estimates, that's three times the size of the audience playing on consoles.

Despite a temporary glitch, Call of Duty Mobile lured six times more players upon its opening than the mobile edition of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, another Tencent project, which hit the same markets last year, said Randy Nelson, Sensor Tower's head of mobile insights. And all this is without the game launching in Tencent's home market of China.

"This is a particularly strong launch for the action genre on mobile and mobile games in general," he wrote in an email. "I can tell that Tencent has incorporated what it learned in the development of PUBG Mobile here."

The WeChat operator is betting on the popularity of hardcore first-person shooters like Call of Duty to help it break into North America. It's the company's first attempt to bring a so-called triple-A title -- one with the very highest of marketing and development budgets -- to the smartphone screen. For now, players in India accounted for the largest proportion of installs at 14% while the U.S. ranked ninth with 9% of downloads.

To ensure the popularity of the game, Tencent has introduced elements of what it knows best: social networking. The game allows people to link up with their friends from Facebook and form groups to go on missions. Call of Duty Mobile is free to play, though it features built-in incentives for people to spend real money on virtual goods such as character skins.

The mobile version was developed by Tencent but Activision Blizzard, in which the Chinese company owns a stake, is publishing Call of Duty Mobile in regions including the U.S., Europe and Latin America. Tencent oversees distribution for South Korea while Sea Ltd., which Tencent has also invested in, looks after Southeast Asia. Tencent will split revenues for publishing and intellectual property rights, Ji said without providing specifics.

"This is just the beginning," said Rob Kostich, president of Activision Blizzard. "There's much more to come."