Shares of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) are down more than 11% since Destiny, its newest video game, hit store shelves on September 9, costing investors more than $1.5 billion in lost market capitalization.

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The next Call of Duty
Confused? You should be. Stores reported $325 million in sales during Destiny's first weekend. For perspective, Guardians of the Galaxy grossed $117.9 million in its first five days in U.S. theaters. Today, the film is 2014's top domestic box office earner.

Players also logged more than 100 million hours of online play during those first few days, participating in 137 million activities. According to Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, the engagement stats were "on par" with the company's most popular Call of Duty games. Signs already point to a sequel.

"Destiny is a platform that will grow and evolve and we will continue to work closely with our partners at Bungie to bring a long line of new experiences and content to life in the game," Hirshberg said in a statement. Here's a closer look at what that might mean financially.

What makes for a top franchise at Activision Blizzard
Historically, Activision Blizzard has developed several minor, and two major, franchises. Most of them have proven to be lucrative.

Consider Skylanders. The toys-to-life franchise has generated more than $2 billion in sales since its 2011 debut, including 175 million action figures and related toys sold. Merchandising deals with General Mills (NYSE: GIS) and Crayola are in the works right now. A new version of the game -- Skylanders: Trap Team -- is due on Oct. 5.

Other franchises have been slower to develop. Take StarCraft, a space adventure released in 1998, that so engaged fans that they demanded a sequel. They got one in 2010, three years after Blizzard and Activision merged. NPD (via Statistic Brain) credits StarCraft with $679.5 million in lifetime gross sales from 14.1 million units.

Impressed? Don't be. Activision Blizzard's best names have done far better:

Video Game Franchise
Titles*
Units Sold
Years On the Market

Call of Duty

10

139.6 million

11

Warcraft, World of Warcraft, and expansion sets

5 plus 5 more WoW expansions

52.1 million

20

Sources: Activision Blizzard, NPD (via Statistic Brain).
* Includes all platforms.

Hirshberg's comments suggest that his team is aiming for Call of Duty-like numbers with Destiny. Can you imagine? A decade of new console titles selling for at least $50 apiece would result in $7 billion or more in retail sales. Activision Blizzard -- which sports a 65% gross margin -- would claim a meaningful share of that total.

Yet, there's no guarantee that Destiny will become the billion-dollar franchise investors hope it will be. Reviews compiled at Metacritic score the game 77 out of 100 for the PlayStation 4 edition, and 78 out of 100 for the Xbox One edition. Users rated Destiny 6.5 out of 10, and 5.8 out of 10, respectively. Players like, but don't love, Activision's latest.

The good news? It may not matter. Call of Duty: Ghosts for both the PS4 and the Xbox One scored similarly among critics, and worse among players. The title sold 14.5 million copies anyway. If Destiny fails to put up similar numbers, it will be because Call of Duty already has a brand name and an installed base.

Making good on a billion-dollar bet
Hirshberg, for his part, has to be hoping Destiny outperforms Ghosts. Why? Fool colleague Keith Noonan did the math, and found that the game probably sold just more than 5 million copies during its opening weekend. That means, to get to the coveted $1 billion mark, sales need to triple from here.

If that happens -- if Destiny makes good on its name to become the next great Activision Blizzard franchise -- the next billion, and the billion after that, should be a little easier to come by.

Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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