"Call of Duty" Can't Save You Now, Activision

Diehard gamers are readying their excuses. They won't be coming in to work on Tuesday.

Activision Blizzard's (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) Call of Duty: Black Ops II hits stores tomorrow, and it's going to be huge.

The company announced during last week's earnings call that there has been a record number of pre-orders for the combat game. Last November's installment set a new industry sales record, and this one should do the same.

The gaming industry can use it, of course.

Industry tracker NPD Group is reporting a 25% plunge in sales at domestic physical retailers for the month of October. It's been 11 months in a row that NPD has posted negative trends. The last positive month -- a 0.4% increase in software, hardware, and accessories last November -- was made possible with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 leading the way.

This will be more than just a game for the struggling bricks-and-mortar retailers selling gaming gear.

GameStop (NYSE: GME  ) is planning on midnight release openings, and you can be sure that participating stores will have decent-sized queues assembling later tonight.

Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) won't even be waiting that long. Select stores will be hosting a "Play It Early" event tonight at 9 p.m. It's an opportunity for the rudderless retailer to show off its Magnolia home theaters by hosting gamers to play the game before it officially goes on sale a few hours later.

There's a reason for this. The game can be played in active-shutter stereoscopic 3-D, and Best Buy is hoping that hardcore gamers may be open to spending a lot of money on a 3-D television at one of its stores.

Good luck with that, Best Buy. 3-D HDTVs have been a bust since the retailer began pushing them a couple of years ago.

The problem for GameStop, Best Buy -- and even Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) -- is that the sale is the end of the line.

As well as Amazon has done in embracing digital media, Activision Blizzard obviously doesn't have a need for any retailers or e-tailers once it ships out the boxes. Activision Blizzard will be the one offering in-game upgrades and expansion packs directly.

However, it's not as if even Activision Blizzard is braced for a big pop here. Analysts see revenue climbing a mere 1% this quarter -- and they're already targeting a nearly 4% decline in revenue for all of 2013.

The grim reality is that blockbuster games continue to sell well, but folks aren't buying a lot of other games. Connectivity and digital enhancements make initial game purchases last longer, but the long-term prognosis for the industry is still iffy at best.

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