Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA ) surged on the release of its fiscal report. The second-largest American games company substantially outperformed analyst projections as well as its own full-year guidance, doubling earnings per share over the previous year on net income growth of 14%. Operating cash flow approximately doubled, jumping to $712 million from $324 million in the previous year.
The most impressive takeaway from the numbers released is just how well diversified EA is across the gaming landscape. Earnings from mobile accounted for a record $460 million in revenue, or approximately 13% of the company's $3.6 billion yearly business. Revenue for the quarter ending March 31 was down 7% from the previous year, but the company showed strong presence on the new platforms from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) and Sony. From January through April, 40% of games purchased on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were published by EA. Digital sales accounted for 45% of total revenue, compared to 34% of revenue for publishing rival Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI ) . Still, the last fiscal year wasn't all wine and roses for EA. How is the current one shaping up and how does the publisher look going forward?
Titanfall falls short?
EA's last quarter wrapped up with the release of Titanfall on Xbox One and PC, and it appears the game has underperformed relative to the company's expectations. The title was long hyped as a game that would reinvent the first-person shooter genre and give Microsoft's new platform an edge in the console wars. EA has already announced that it will partner with developer Respawn Entertainment to produce more games in the Titanfall universe, but the fact that the publisher did not give numbers in its fiscal report is telling.
Chief operating officer Peter Moore later revealed during an investor call that Titanfall sold approximately 925,000 North American copies in March. Not too shabby, but not the explosive debut that EA and Microsoft company was looking for. Future installments in the series will likely land on Sony's PlayStation 4 in hopes of reaching a broader user base.
EA won't release many retail games in current fiscal year
EA's recent financial briefing also laid out the company's planned retail release lineup for the remainder of the fiscal year. The company plans to release just 10 games between now and the end of March 2015. Those titles are: FIFA World Cup 14, EA SPORTS UFC, FIFA 15, Madden NFL 15, NFL 15, NHL 15, The Sims 4, NBA LIVE 15, Dragon Age: Inquisition, an unannounced golf game, and a TBA game slated for release in the company's third quarter. That otherwise mysterious game is almost certainly an entry in the Battlefield series.
EA CFO Blake Jorgensen stated earlier in the year that the series would be big for the company in the current fiscal year, and annual entries have become the rule rather than the exception. To be sure, the performance of the unannounced Battlefield will be big for the company. Rival publisher Activision will release two high-profile first-person shooters (Destiny and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare) before the calendar year is out, and EA must retain its presence in one of gaming's most popular and lucrative genres.
Sales of the impending Battlefield will also provide an indication as to how much damage was done to the series by Battlefield 4. Although the 2013 title reviewed and sold well, its abundance of bugs and problematic online experience generated outrage at the consumer level and even prompted several lawsuits against the company. While the damaging effects of a disappointing entry on a broader property are often overstated, the issues surrounding Battlefield 4 and the crowded state of the first-person-shooter genre will cause some consumers to be hesitant toward a new game in the series.
A small but potent lineup
The rest of EA's lineup for the current fiscal year looks to be filled mostly reliable earners. FIFA will generate great numbers, as will The Sims 4, while Dragon Age: Inquisition will be a test of the franchise's liability. UFC should do good numbers and become a regular series. The only likely dud on the list looks to be NBA LIVE 15. EA's basketball series has routinely shipped with game-breaking bugs and been soundly supplanted by the NBA2K series from Take-Two Interactive.
EA leads in diversification and digital push
With Titanfall off to a slower than expected start and EA's retail release calendar looking sparse, there are reasons to be cautious about EA's performance for the current fiscal year. Taking a more long-term vantage, the company's greatest strength is its market leading pushes toward digital distribution and mobile. The company is well diversified for the changing games market, with talks currently under way between the games publisher and Comcast to provide streamed games services without the need for a dedicated console. It's these types of deals, rather than its retail release lineup, that will push EA forward in this year and beyond.
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