Mists of Pandaria -- the platform's new expansion pack that hits the market tomorrow -- makes no bones about introducing the ability to play as a battling panda. The game will still have plenty of the fierce creatures and engaging levels that die-hard gamers have enjoyed, but there have to be plenty of gamers wondering what the world's largest video game publisher is doing putting martial-arts-savvy pandas front and center.
After all, doesn't Mists of Pandaria seem more like a Kung Fu Panda sequel out of DreamWorks Animation
Then again, it's not as if you can blame Activision for taking a gamble. The franchise peaked with 12 million gamers two years ago, but it has gone on to shed a quarter of its users.
Activision has responded by making the first 20 levels "free to play" to hook new gamers. It gave away copies of Diablo III to get players to extend their subscriptions. Why not bring in fighting pandas, especially since so many of its gamers these days are in China courtesy of its licensing arrangement through NetEase.com
Investors feared that World of Warcraft would get some serious competition late last year when Electronic Arts
Are consumers tiring of these rich virtual worlds, or are they simply losing mainstream gamers to the simplistic charms of social and casual games supplied by Zynga
Activision won't have time to lick its wounds if Mists of Pandaria fails to breathe renewed interest into its flagship franchise. It should bounce back in November when Call of Duty: Black Ops II arrives. That's what you would call reinforcements, as unlike World of Warcraft, Activision continues to set records with every annual installment in the Call of Duty franchise.
For now, sit back and see whether Activision Blizzard's gutsy gamble with panda warriors pays off.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.