Call of Duty franchise coming to China as free online game

"Call of Duty Online" uses a "freemium" business model popular in China

A new version of the "Call of Duty" series is coming to China, and will be free to play, eschewing a US$60 price tag to instead generate revenue by getting users to buy in-game items.

The U.S.-based publisher Activision Blizzard said on Tuesday it will bring its new "Call of Duty Online" game to China by partnering with local Internet giant Tencent, a major provider of online games in the country. The two companies have signed a multi-year agreement, that will have Tencent as the exclusive operator of the game in China.

Unlike other games in the series, "Call of Duty Online" uses a so-called "freemium" business model, meaning users can play for free, but have to pay for access to advanced features or items. In China, the model has become one of the most viable ways to generate revenue from the market, which has been plagued by piracy.

The gaming model for "Call of Duty Online" was designed specifically for the Chinese market, according to Activision Blizzard. In development for about two years, "Call of Duty Online" has its own original story, and features different game modes and maps, along with an in-game store that will allow users to improve their weapons, equipment and other perks.

In China, Activision Blizzard already operates its hit "World of Warcraft" online game. Users purchase pre-paid minutes to continue playing their game.

To launch in China, "Call of Duty Online" must first be approved by local authorities as part of mandatory government check on imported online games. Tencent said on Wednesday it was working with Activison Blizzard to prepare a version of "Call of Duty Online" for submission to the government.

Other companies including Popcap Games, the publisher of "Plants vs. Zombies", have also tried to navigate past rampant piracy in the country by offering freemium games localized for the Chinese market. In May, the company announced it would launch two new exclusive "Plants vs. Zombies" games for China through Tencent, one title as Android app, the other as an online multiplayer title.

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Michael Kan

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