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While 2012's been a good year for many stocks, don't tell Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA ) that. This video game publisher's stock has sunk more than 30% year-to-date, and numerous pieces of bad news and flubs have marred the year. While the industry, as a whole, hasn't done well recently, EA has truly stood out as the worst of the major video game stocks. Taking a look back at the year, several major trends -- from a costly collapse to an unsettling industry trend -- have sparked this stock's fall.
The video game industry hasn't had a year to write home about. Fellow video game publishes Activision-Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI ) and Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ: TTWO ) have seen shares sink alongside EA's -- but not to anywhere near that level of destruction.
Admittedly, there are a number of factors in play. Video game sales have been steadily declining as of late: November sales dropped 11%, with the industry's total retail spending down to $2.55 billion for the month (as opposed to $2.87 billion in November 2011). It's not just November: Sales have been falling for a while, decreasing by a full 20% back in February.
Console makers are heavily to blame for this trend, with very little evolution in gaming hardware since last decade. Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Xbox 360 console was launched back in 2005 and hasn't seen a replacement yet; Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) Playstation 3 similarly was launched in 2006 .
While Nintendo (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY ) has done a little better with the recent release of its Wii U console this year, the game industry hasn't been shy about its disgruntlement with the longest console generation ever. French game publisher Ubisoft's CEO and Chairman sounded off on the issue, saying:
We need new consoles. At the end of the cycle generally the market goes down because there are less new IPs, new properties, so that damaged the industry a little bit.
New worries for Old Republic
It's not all the console industry's fault, however. EA missed spectacularly with its much-maligned massively multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic, which was launched in December of last year. After kicking off with massive hype as the long-awaited rival to Activision's blockbuster MMO World of Warcraft, the game went free-to-play earlier in the year in the face of dwindling subscriber numbers. Previously, it had cost players $15 per month to play -- but that's now simply an optional expense for a more complete game.
The game's downfall is the talking point of EA's 2012 after The Old Republic cost an estimated $200 million to market and develop. While World of Warcraft allows limited free-to-play options, that game still boasted 10 million paying subscribers as of October, boosted heavily by an expansion that sold extensively. Old Republic, on the other hand, has seen paying subscriptions fall from 1.7 million at launch to less than one million by late July.
There's numerous other incidents to recount through 2012, as well. Between the fan outrage over the ending of EA, and Bioware's Mass Effect 3 released in March, to the company being voted the worst company in America by disgruntled voters on The Consumerist's online poll in April, there's plenty about this year that EA would rather forget.
It's not all bad: EA's digital game growth has helped soften the aging console generation and The Old Republic's decline, and it's projected to grow 33% next year. Seeing social gaming rival Zynga's (NASDAQ: ZNGA ) stock absolutely implode has to make EA's management smile, also, especially after the legal spat between the two companies earlier this year. If Zynga continues to decline like it has this year, EA could see a rival effectively removed in the path to social gaming dominance.
Still, the stock price won't lie to investors: EA Shareholders have to be bummed about how 2012 has gone.
Time to turn the page
It's up in the air what 2013 will bring for EA. The company's European exposure could still very well come back to haunt it, but its social gaming push could also take off if that market can recapture some of its former steam. Regardless of what's in the future's cards, however, one thing is for sure: Investors and EA management alike will be happy to see 2012 fading away in the past.
The year 2013 may hold a new future for EA, and investors could certainly be tempted to buy on this year's drop. Does EA's decline make this stock a buy? We can help you decide: Our new special report breaks down the risks and opportunities facing the company to help you decide if EA is right for your portfolio. Click here to get your copy now, and we'll throw in a year of free quarterly updates as news breaks.