What Activision Blizzard Wants You to Know

The game publisher's latest earnings call with investors predicts increasing player numbers and engagement.

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos
Demitrios Kalogeropoulos
Aug 11, 2018 at 8:32AM
Technology and Telecom

Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) announced second-quarter earnings results in early August that modestly outpaced management's forecast. The video game developer continues to expect robust growth in 2018, although an unusually large portion of those gains won't come until the fiscal fourth quarter, after the release of a surge of new content.

CEO Bobby Kotick and his executive team held a conference call with Wall Street analysts following the earnings announcement to put the latest results into context and explain why Activision is confident in its long-run growth strategy.

Here are a few highlights from that discussion.

Two young men playing console video games.

Image source: Getty Images.

Audience size will rebound

The company has 352 million monthly active users this quarter, down year on year, but as I mentioned, that's in advance of the big releases coming out later this year.
-- Chief Operating Officer Collister Johnson

The active user base shrank across each of the publisher's three core divisions, with Activision dipping to 45 million from 47 million, Blizzard falling to 37 million from 46 million, and King slipping to 270 million from 314 million a year ago.

Chart showing a declining base of gamers.

Chart by author. Data source: Activision.

The declines were mostly a consequence of the cadence of new content releases, and so management isn't worried about the smaller audience. The company managed to boost sales, after all. However, the losses in the casual King gaming segment were exacerbated by technical network issues that executives say have been fixed.

Players are engaged

We've taken some of the most important first steps in meeting our fans' desires to have more of their favorite franchises in their everyday lives. In the last year, we paved the way as the industry leader in esports, making our franchises even more enduring.
-- Kotick

Across all of its gaming franchises, users spent about 50 minutes per day interacting with Activision's games. Key engagement wins in the period included surging interest in the Overwatch League tournament and a 50% jump in minutes watched heading into the Call of Duty World League championships. "Our unique approach to esports," Kotick explained, "has already started to pay off for our partners, our shareholders, and our players."

In-game purchases drive revenue

Activision had record second-quarter in-game net bookings [powered] by Call of Duty: World War II, Black Ops 3 and Destiny 2. King had 2 of the top 10 highest grossing titles in U.S. mobile app stores for the 19th quarter in a row.
-- Johnson

The company generated $1 billion of in-game spending for the second straight quarter, thanks mainly to digital expansions in the Call of Duty and Destiny franchises. King's new advertising platform, meanwhile, was profitable and grew revenue between the first and second quarters.

Expect volatility ahead

We expect revenues and operating income for 2018 to be more back-end loaded given the timing of our major releases and content slate relative to prior year.
-- CFO Spencer Neumann

Activision's third quarter forecast calls for sales and profits to fall when compared to last year, which management said was a consequence of big events like the launch of Destiny 2 in the year-ago quarter that won't be repeated this time around.

However, the fiscal fourth quarter will benefit from major new releases in the World of Warcraft and Call of Duty franchises. Put it all together, and the company believes it will achieve a strong year for sales and profits, but executives cautioned that "we still have a lot of execution ahead of us in the second half" of 2018. That seasonal tilt was likely a key reason why Activision didn't raise its full-year outlook by much even though sales are running ahead of expectations through the first six months of 2018.