Call of Duty Online free to play on PC as China’s Tencent doubles down on core gaming

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified might not be enough Call of Duty for some people in 2012. Maybe their all-consuming hunger for headshots and experience points propels them to do strange things. Maybe they go outside and make tiny skyscrapers with cardboard and styrofoam and then blow them up while screaming for their dog Soap to cover them. Maybe they travel the world seeking out unknown Call of Duty experiences. Before they wouldn’t have found anything unique, but now if they go to China, they’ll get an extra dose of Call of Duty in the form of the new free-to-play game Call of Duty Online.

Activision Blizzard announced on Tuesday morning that it has partnered with Internet services provider Tencent to bring Call of Duty to China in the form of a free-to-play PC game developed by Activision Shanghai and Raven Software (Singularity, Wolfenstein 2009). Though it’s an online only game, Call of Duty Online will still have a story that players can work through via Special Operations missions built off of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games.

The real juice in the game isn’t the story but its capacity to generate revenue. Call of Duty Online will be fed by the same types of microtransactions that keep the Chinese PC game market thriving: Players will kit out their characters by buying new gear, outfits, and even perks via an in-game store.

The PR release from Activision Blizzard has some pat quotes from the chief executives of both companies. Activision’s Bobby Kotick said, “We are very excited about our relationship with Tencent and the opportunities for gaming in China. We think China is one of the most exciting places in the world for us to grow our business and to develop innovative new games.”

Tencent president Martin Lau is also pumped. “We are thrilled to work with the world’s premiere game developer and publisher to bring this much-awaited title to Chinese game players,” said Lau.

Both executives are saying the same thing: Call of Duty games generate billions and we’re hoping we can make the same bank in China. Activision has certainly had great success in the country in the past, thanks in large part to World of Warcraft. The company has also learned that the Chinese online gaming audience is fickle. Even though the game remains popular in China, the decline in membership from 12 million players to just over 10 million is accredited to churn in the Chinese subscribership.

Call of Duty Online marks Tencent’s second big move into the core gaming market this summer. The company purchased a minority stake in Gears of War studio Epic Games in June, a deal that positions Tencent to start benefitting from the ubiquity of the Unreal Engine development platform.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: