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Call of Duty makes first trip to China with launch of public beta

Call of Duty, one of the most popular first-person shooters, is launching online in the world's most populous country, putting the game in front of a whole new audience.

The Call of Duty franchise is now on its way to China. Activision

The first-person-shooter franchise Call of Duty has set every sales record one can image for gaming. But for all its success, Call of Duty has been absent from the world's most populous country -- until now.

Call of Duty Online, a free-to-play version of the first-person shooter, has officially launched in China on an open public beta, publisher Activision announced Monday. The game, specifically designed for China, is being released in partnership with Internet conglomerate Tencent Holdings, which is based there.

The Call of Duty Online launch marks the first time the wildly popular franchise has been widely available to Chinese consumers. While the gaming population in China has swelled to hundreds of millions, people there for the most part play games developed by Chinese companies and other firms operating mostly outside the US. Games developed in the US, like Call of Duty, have not been available there.

For several years, traditional game consoles, like the Xbox and PlayStation, were banned in China. Last year, however, China announced that it would lift the ban and would allow console makers to launch their devices within its borders with one caveat: the products needed to be distributed by a China-based company.

Not long after, both Sony and Microsoft announced that they would bring their consoles to China. The Xbox One is currently available there, but Sony was forced to delay the PlayStation 4 launch last week. Sony has not yet said when the PlayStation 4 will launch in China.

With the ban lifted on consoles, American game companies have also flirted with the idea of launching titles in China. Last year, estimates put China's gaming population at 300 million people and a third of those were interested in first-person shooters. That was seemingly enough for Activision.

Since many games in China are free to play, it's perhaps no surprise that Activision has taken that tack with Call of Duty Online.

The title is a full Call of Duty game that takes aspects of popular games in the franchise, Modern Warfare and Black Ops. The game includes a single-player campaign, Survival Mode for co-op playing, and full online multiplayer. To make some money on the launch, Activision and Tencent are enabling gamers to purchase or rent in-game items.

Activision did not say when the game will be taken out of public open beta and officially launch. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.