Fool on Call: Electronic Arts' Dominating Dynasty

On the surface, the latest numbers for Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS  ) don't look too impressive. But the stock's recent trading action suggests that Wall Street wasn't too disappointed. As my colleague Alyce Lomax pointed out, the electronic gaming industry is cyclical, and the market knows it's about to experience a very bullish upturn.

Today, we'll dive into EA's latest quarterly earnings conference call, highlighting the game developer's forecast for the next several quarters of console, mobile, and online growth.

Healthy console growth
Early in the call, we learned that EA has four of the top five gaming titles in both the U.S. and U.K. I was previously impressed to learn that nearly one in four Xbox 360 owners have already purchased Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Gears of War. But in North America, EA commands an even greater 29% share over the entire industry.

Leading the charge for EA is Madden NFL '07, which sold more than 3 million copies in the third quarter alone. It's currently the industry's top-selling title, and like the Indianapolis Colts, the franchise will doubtlessly seek to repeat that honor in 2008.

As Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) suggested and EA further echoed, fiscal 2008 is primed to be a banner year for video-gaming. CFO Warren Jenson outlined a bullish forecast for the industry in his prepared remarks, predicting North American and European software sales growth between 13% and 18%. That five-point spread is rather wide, however, suggesting continuing uncertainty about the supply and availability of Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PS3. Despite those concerns, Jenson believes there will roughly be twice the current number of next-generation consoles plugged into homes by the end of the year.

The Wii effect
EA will be actively supporting each of the major consoles, with an unexpectedly significant emphasis on the surprisingly successful Nintendo Wii. Prior to the Wii's unveiling, this new cycle was widely considered a two-horse race between Sony and Microsoft, but that clearly isn't the case. In fact, Nintendo is pulling off a feat that has previously stymied its two rivals: attracting non-traditional users.

CEO Larry Probst pointed out during the question-and-answer session that the Wii platform "at least initially ... seems like it's expanding the overall market." He adds that it is "expanding the demographic of users and people that purchase software." The Xbox 360, and especially the Wii, have been so successful that Probst foresees both Microsoft and Nintendo gaining market share against Sony in this product cycle.

Having used the Wii myself, I'm not surprised by its popularity. Throwing virtual punches has never been more fun, and it's quite a workout, too! Given the Wii's emphasis on active interactivity, I think that EA, with its unrivaled sports line, is in a prime position to capitalize on the growing popularity of this unique platform.

EA believes so, too, and it's smartly planning to put greater emphasis on Wii in fiscal 2008. The company is pushing to secure a solid second place on the platform with a 15% to 20% market share. Probst pointed out that Nintendo itself will "always be number one on the Wii platform," thanks largely to both its licensing structure and its command over children's games.

Clearly, the company is placing greater emphasis on Wii, and it's even "redirecting some other resources" toward the platform to make it possible. But management remains convinced that such a shift in strategy "is not at the expense of the other platforms."

Mobile and online
While console-driven sales will drive a bulk of the revenues, EA sees the fastest growth coming from both mobile and online gaming. In mobile, the company is projecting industrywide growth of roughly 20% to 25%, with the greatest increases expected from Europe. However, during the Q&A portion of the call, Probst was quick to include another important region, stating, "We think there is significant opportunity on the mobile platform in Asia and we are just getting started in that respect as well."

The greatest growth should come from EA's online segment, where the company is projecting as much as 60% year-over-year revenue growth. I was especially excited to hear that FIFA Online is expected to go live in both China and Japan in fiscal 2008. That's perfect timing, since the entire sports world will have their eyes on the region with the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games.

The repeat Super Bowl champs of video-gaming?
Probst pointed out during the Q&A that EA's goals are to maintain its current No. 1 market share position on PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360, and the PC platforms. What is that, a quin-fecta? Perhaps there's a better, simpler term for it: Domination. At any rate, it's also my No. 1 reason for keeping my eyes glued to Electronic Arts.

Electronic Arts and Activision are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations, while Microsoft has been recommended by Motley Fool Inside Value. Whatever your investing style, the Fool has a newsletter for you.

Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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