E3 Preview: 'Call of Duty: Black Ops 2', the 'Avatar' of Video Games?

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"Black Ops 2" could sell 20 million units by year’s end.

All eyes are on Activision's latest project.

This story originally appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

What would happen if someone turned America's greatest military strengths into its greatest weakness?

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Sounds like the premise of a Hollywood blockbuster -- and that's no accident. As thousands of video game insiders congregate at the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 5 to 7 for the annual E3 conference, all eyes will be on Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which many believe could become the biggest-selling game title of all time. 

To create a cinematic feel, L.A.-based developer Treyarch looked to David S. Goyer, co-writer of The Dark Knight Rises, who worked with the studio team to create a game narrative that takes place in part in a war-torn L.A. circa 2025. "They were interested in pushing the conventional boundaries of what a gaming experience could be," says Goyer. "Not just in the gameplay but in the storytelling, the performances -- everything."

Black Ops 2, which will launch Nov. 13 and sell for $60, is seen as one key to rescuing an ailing game industry. According to industry tracking firm the NPD Group, total sales of video games through April were down 32 percent, from $930.9 million in 2011 to $630.4 million in 2012.

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Hardware sales were off 32 percent, and software was down 42 percent. Call of Duty has been a shining bright spot for the industry: The first Black Ops game sold 17 million copies at launch in 2009 and an additional 6 million since.

Last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, from developers Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games, sold more than 20 million copies at the start and usurped Black Ops as the biggest day-one entertainment launch in history. 

Michael Pachter, video game analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, expects Black Ops 2 to move 20 million copies before year's end, possibly topping Modern Warfare 3.