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Call of Duty Online launches, seeks to tap huge Chinese market

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Call of Duty Online, Activision's free-to-play venture into China's massive gaming market, officially launched today, with Activision boasting in a statement that it will be "a game-changer for Chinese gamers."

"Millions of gamers in the West have come to appreciate that white-knuckled, epic thrill-ride that only Call of Duty delivers," Eric Hirschberg, the chief executive of Activision publishing, said in a news release. "And now an entire new audience of gamers will experience this for the first time."

Call of Duty Online is launched in partnership with Tencent, the massive Internet conglomerate and also a shareholder in Activision itself. Tencent also publishes Crossfire, a first-person shooter that dominates the Chinese market but has been in circulation for a very long time. Call of Duty Online is meant to be a big leap forward from the experience Crossfire offers Chinese gamers.

As a free-to-play game, Call of Duty Online will make money by selling (or renting to) users in-game items to customize their fighters. The game offers "Hero Ops" single-player missions, a cooperative Survival mode, traditional multiplayer, and a "Cyborgs" mode which replaces the popular zombie offerings in the West. Call of Duty Online came up with cyborgs to not run afoul of Chinese censorship rules concerning depictions of the undead.

Raven Software, an in-house mainstay of Activision development since 1997, is the lead developer on Call of Duty Online. It most recently helped with 2013's Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Though this is the first Call of Duty offering in China, it already is a recognized and desirable brand. Over the summer, Activision's Daniel Suarez, vice president of production for Call of Duty, noted that piracy has helped its spread there. Three closed betas generated millions of requests for keys.

Activision hyped Call of Duty Online last week with a trailer featuring Chris Evans, who has starred as Captain America in several movies. For more, see Polygon's preview of the game and Activision's goals for it from E3 2014.

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