The success of Call of Duty in the west is unquestionable, but over in the east it's a bit of a different story. That's particularly true in China, where the games industry is dominated by freemium-type games. Activision, never wanting to let an opportunity go to waste, has changed up the Call of Duty we know and love a bit to make it appeal more to Chinese gamers with today's release of Call of Duty Online.
Kotaku reports that this is merely an alpha release and that the game's microtransaction system isn't in place yet, but the game certainly is much closer to a final launch with today's alpha roll out. Call of Duty Online is the product of a team up between Activision and Tencent, a company which among other things publishes games in China. Tencent is actually responsible for CrossFire, one of China's more popular shooters, so it could end up cutting into its own CrossFire audience with the release of Call of Duty Online.
For the moment, Call of Duty Online will remain exclusive to China. It will almost certainly stay that way until long after the game officially launches (and leaves the testing phase behind), but if it turns out to be a success, that could mean big things for Activision and for the series in general. If Call of Duty Online takes off, then Activision will have found another way to monetize the immensely popular series beyond just releasing a new game every year and selling it at $60 per copy.
If that happens, then perhaps Activision will want to test out its Call of Duty Online strategy in other countries. So long as Call of Duty remains the best-selling franchise in the west, it's doubtful that we'll see a freemium online version launch in North America. However, if the model ultimately works, then it's possible we'll see Activision try the same thing with other, less popular franchises in North America and Europe. We'll just have to wait and see how this whole thing plays out, but for now, just know that Call of Duty Online has entered alpha and will soon be showing us what one of the biggest franchises in the world can do when it adopts a freemium model.