A few days before Black Friday, Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI) boasted that it owned the single "must-have" game of the next-generation console launch. Now that the early results are in, we have some evidence that this wasn't just typical bluster: Call of Duty: Ghosts really is flying off the shelves as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) pegged the game as one of just a handful of brands -- across all categories -- that were top sellers in its record-breaking Thanksgiving Day results. The world's biggest retailer said that Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One were also hot tickets, and it seems that most shoppers snapped up Call of Duty to go along with their next-gen console purchases on turkey day.
But even before the holiday crush, there were good reasons to believe that the title could be a hit. Activision reported notching $1 billion in sales of Ghosts within 24 hours of its launch, which only seems small when compared to Take-Two Interactive's massive debut for Grand Theft Auto V. And soon after Call of Duty launched, Microsoft and Sony both reported that it was the most-played title on their new consoles. The brand also topped GameStop's recent poll of its customers who called it the "most desired" game of the holiday season. (Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ:EA) Battlefield 4 was in third place, behind Assassins Creed 4.)
Activision could use some good news. The company's cash cow, World of Warcraft, is seeing its subscriber base tick lower: It most recently fell to 7.6 million from 7.7 million a quarter back. Activision also told investors recently that the latest chapter in its other tent-pole franchise, Skylanders, was off to a slower start than usual this year. And the company has been cautioning for several quarters now that overall profits could fall in 2013, particularly as Call of Duty would be up against stiffer competition from EA's Battlefield franchise.
However, the early word out of Wal-Mart and other major retailers suggests that Activision's management was right when it blamed its latest sales dips on the fact that customers were saving up for next-gen purchases around the holidays. We'll learn a lot more when we next hear from GameStop, which wasn't open on Thanksgiving Day.
Activision's management has also said that it expects the company's top brands to emerge from the console transition in a stronger position than when they entered it. That sounded a bit like wishful thinking for the Call of Duty franchise, which is a decade old, and has already pulled in $8 billion over that time. But the brand appears to have plenty of life left, and could set records of its own this holiday season.