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Forget Electronic Arts; Activision Blizzard Is a Better Gaming Stock

By John Ballard – Aug 21, 2020 at 9:30AM

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The owner of "Call of Duty" has all the qualities you could ask for in a growth stock.

The video game industry is a good place to look for growth stocks. More than 2 billion gamers around the world will spend an estimated $159 billion on games in 2020. Newzoo expects that to reach $200 billion by 2023.

There are several qualities to like about all the top gaming leaders. I personally own shares of both Electronic Arts (EA -1.11%) and Activision Blizzard (ATVI -4.07%), but there are a few things that I believe make Activision Blizzard a more rounded investment for your nest egg.

If you're looking to add some money to a video game stock, here are three reasons I would prioritize Activision over EA.

A group of guys playing video games.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Consistency

When it comes to which company has delivered more consistent results for shareholders over the last few decades, there is no video game company better than Activision Blizzard.

Activision stock has outperformed Electronic Arts over just about every period going back to 1995. Whether you look at the trailing 1-year or 25-year comparison, Activision has beaten its rival in total returns.

ATVI Total Return Price Chart

ATVI Total Return Price data by YCharts.

The only period EA has won is the 10-year return comparison. EA stock slightly edged out Activision, delivering a return of 771% since August 2010, while Activision stock climbed 654%.

EA's stock was trading at a cheap valuation around 2010, as the company was going through a turnaround after weak operating performance at the time. It was losing money from a bloated cost structure from basically making too many games. CEO Andrew Wilson took over in 2013 and significantly improved EA's profitability.

But Bobby Kotick has been CEO of Activision Blizzard since 1991. While it hasn't been a smooth ride, Activision has maintained a constant culture that has delivered market-beating returns for nearly 30 years. Kotick said it best in his 2019 shareholder letter: "Delivering this level of long-term performance in a dynamic industry requires both a constant commitment to providing superior returns to our shareholders and a willingness to transform the business during pivotal periods in its history."

Kotick's crowning achievement so far might be the merger with Blizzard Entertainment in 2008, which was a real game-changer for the company.

Most recently, Kotick guided Activision through a transition in 2019, cutting resources in less promising areas, such as selling the rights of Destiny back to Bungie to focus on the more promising franchises like Call of Duty. That decision has worked out very well so far considering the performance of Call of Duty through the pandemic.

2. Activision pays a dividend

Some investors will appreciate that Activision Blizzard is still one of the few video game companies that pays a regular dividend. Electronic Arts has yet to pay a dividend, but Activision has been issuing an annual payout since 2010.

Activision's dividend has grown from $0.15 per share in 2010 to $0.41 in 2020. Activision pays out less than 20% of its profits in dividends each year, with the current dividend yield at 0.50%.

It's not necessarily the dividend itself that makes Activision a better gaming stock but what the dividend says about the company's confidence in future earnings growth and management's commitment to making moves that provide shareholders a satisfactory return on their investment.

3. Activision has a bigger presence in mobile games

EA makes several mobile games, including mobile versions of its sports franchises. But recently, its mobile bookings have been stagnant, growing just 3% over the last year. EA's net bookings from mobile totaled $767 million over the last four quarters.

Activision was more patient with its investments in mobile gaming. In 2016, the right opportunity presented itself, and Activision acquired King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 billion. King ended the last quarter with 271 million monthly active users, making up the majority of Activision Blizzard's total of 428 million users across the company.

King earns nearly as much in operating income each year as EA generates in mobile net bookings. Last year, King generated $740 million in operating profit or about a third of Activision's total operating income. Those results are thanks to the enduring popularity of King's biggest title, Candy Crush.

An all-around great gaming stock

A more consistent operating history, dividends, and its greater presence in the growing mobile market position Activision Blizzard as a more rounded video game stock. Will it outperform its rival over the next decade? That's difficult to say, but given its history, the odds are in Activision Blizzard's favor.

John Ballard owns shares of Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard. The Motley Fool recommends Electronic Arts and recommends the following options: long January 2022 $75 calls on Activision Blizzard and short January 2022 $75 puts on Activision Blizzard. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Activision Blizzard Stock Quote
Activision Blizzard
ATVI
$73.47 (-4.07%) $-3.12
Electronic Arts Stock Quote
Electronic Arts
EA
$129.50 (-1.11%) $-1.46

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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