The Industry's Top Video Games

Michael, a bank robber and one of three main characters in Grand Theft Auto V. Source: Rockstar Games.

Once more, big studios dominated the list of 2013's top video games.

You know the names: Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) , Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA  ) , and Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ: TTWO  ) joined France's Ubisoft (NASDAQOTH: UBSFF  ) with more than two games each in NPD Group's list of last year's top 10 best-selling video games:

Rank
Game
Platforms
Developer/  Publisher

1.

Grand Theft Auto V

Xbox 360, PS3

Rockstar Games / Take-Two Interactive

2.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Wii U

Infinity Ward / Activision Blizzard

3.

Madden NFL 25

Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

EA Tiburon / Electronic Arts

4.

Battlefield 4

Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC

EA Digital Illusions CE / Electronic Arts

5.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC

Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft

6.

NBA 2K14

Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, PC

Visual Concepts / Take-Two Interactive

7.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC

Treyarch / Activision Blizzard

8.

Just Dance 2014

Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One, PS3, PS4

Ubisoft Milan / Ubisoft

9.

Minecraft

Xbox 360

Mojang, 4J Studios / Microsoft

10.

Disney Infinity

Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, Wii U, 3DS

Avalanche Software / Walt Disney

Sources: IGN, NPD Group, Wikipedia.

What can we take from this list? Maybe that, when it comes to in investing in video0game publishers, it's generally better to stick with the stalwarts than to bet on an upstart.

"Gamers are weird," says Justin Cavender, executive editor covering video games for Geek Legacy. "Sometimes they get bored with [big titles] and ask for something new. But then when something new comes out, they don't give it a chance."

Fickle fantasy
Consider the sad tale of former baseball star Curt Schilling, whose 38 Studios spent tens of millions to produce the action role-playing title Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The company closed its doors in May 2012, barely three months after releasing the game and Schilling -- recently diagnosed with cancer -- is still battling the state of Rhode Island, which backed the studio with a $75 million loan.

Console timing didn't help, Cavender says. Amalur launched toward the end of the last refresh cycle, just as Microsoft and Sony were developing the Xbox One and PS4. Gamers may not have been ready to bet big on a new title with new hardware on the horizon.

The next legendary opportunity?
Publishers are doing what they can to mitigate the risk. In some cases, they're avoiding consoles entirely, and making a mint in the process. Riot Games' League of Legends, for example, which The Wall Street Journal reports as serving 27 million players daily.

That's a massive number that, according to SuperData Research, accounted for $624 million in revenue from in-game add-ons. "You pay a dollar here and a dollar there for characters and [more] to customize them. It adds up," Cavender says, noting that he expects to see more publishers to embrace the model.

Rockstar, for its part, isn't waiting. Grand Theft Auto Online has become so dependent on these sorts of "microtransactions" that the game has its own regulated economy. In October, parent Take-Two injected a first round of "stimulus" to compensate for technical glitches some players had suffered in the early going.

Looking ahead
So what can we expect for the rest of 2014 in video games? That's tougher to say. Unless, that is, you ask Gamespot, which has already identified the three most anticipated games of the coming year. As an investor, I'm inclined to bet on the biggest name franchises and none come bigger than Grand Theft Auto. I still don't believe it's fair to value parent Take-Two for less than the retail sales footprint of its signature property -- especially when there are so many more games in its portfolio, from Bioshock to the 2K imprint of sports games to Max Payne and Red Dead Redemption.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Which do you rate as the industry's top video games? Would you buy, sell, or hold Take-Two Interactive stock at current prices? Leave a comment in the box below to let us know what you think.

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  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2014, at 3:24 PM, speculawyer wrote:

    Maybe Take-Two and Ubisoft should merge. They could then get a combined market cap to rival EA & ATVI instead of their two independent tiny market caps.

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