(CNN) — Instant messaging, texting, Facebook, and … “Call of Duty?”
The “Call of Duty” games effectively adapt to changing communication habits, Bobby Kotick, the CEO of game publisher Activision, told CNN on Tuesday.
And that could be the smoking gun in the franchise’s takeover of the video-game industry.
The latest entry in the console-game series, “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” has netted more than $1 billion in sales worldwide since it came out on November 9, Activision announced on Tuesday. In that time, gamers have spent 600 million hours with the game, the company said.
“More people play ‘Black Ops’ every day than watch Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon, combined,” Kotick boasted. “The audience of ‘Call of Duty’ is probably greater in terms of size … than in any other interactive form of entertainment.”
Activision didn’t invent war games or first-person shooters. Even today, the genre continues to attract new big-budget entrants. On Tuesday, Electronics Arts released “Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam.”
Yet it’s the “Call of Duty” games that attract blockbuster openings and fervent support. By some estimates, “Black Ops” had the biggest five-day opening in revenue of any entertainment debut in history.
The “Call of Duty” games generally feature compelling, cinematic storylines. In “Black Ops,” soldiers are tasked with assassinating Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
But it’s the competitive play that draws the biggest crowds, Kotick said. Some 60% of traffic coming through Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service is from “Call of Duty” games, where players can take each other on, he said.
“The multiplayer is really the thing that has changed the game in such a meaningful way,” Kotick said.
Instead of getting together to watch a movie, some people huddle around the living-room game console, or strap on a headset and chat online with friends across town or across the country over some gunfire.
“If you look at the 500 million people who are on Facebook and the way that people text each other and instant message and use video chat, there is now an evolution of media,” Kotick said. “Those are the characteristics and attributes that a generation and audiences feel are very important to their media and entertainment experiences. And we expect that.”
“Call of Duty” delivers on that trend, he said. These games can be as integral to the social lives of young people, especially males, as any other form of digital communication.
Kotick rattled off various factors he says make the “Call of Duty” franchise stand out from competitors — “production value, the level of polish,” that “no detail gets left unaltered,” he said. Perhaps most important is “the sophistication and capability of the multiplayer matchup,” Kotick said.
“Black Ops” credits Activision’s Treyarch studio as the primary developer. The game came under scrutiny from video-game critics after a shakeup at Infinity Ward, the developer most often associated with the franchise.
Activision fired two executives from Infinity Ward for “wrongdoing” — “so wrong that you were left with no choice” but to dismiss them, Kotick said. Their positions have since been filled after the company was flooded with about 5,000 résumés, Kotick said.
“Multiplayer has been largely developed by Treyarch,” even in games like “Modern Warfare,” which were credited to Infinity Ward, Kotick said. “I don’t think Treyarch got their due for how much they contributed in the production and polish to the multiplayer.”
Future “Call of Duty” games may borrow some things from Activision Blizzard’s other massive franchise, “World of Warcraft,” Kotick said. For example, developers should constantly mold their games based on audience feedback, he said.
“Blizzard really created the model for how to do this successfully and effectively, making sure the community of ‘World of Warcraft’ players has incredible influence on the future of the product,” Kotick said. “There’s so much more that we can deliver to our players.”