What goes around may come around. Is Activision Blizzard
In discussing fourth-quarter results and the outlook for 2010, Activision seemed very content to rest on the cushy laurels of its existing game franchises. EA did that in 2008, and the then-king of the hill fell on hard times soon after. Madden NFL and The Sims are still virtual cash machines, but keeping those established hit series in play only maintained what sales and profits EA already owned. The growth engines were dead.
Today, EA has found success with relatively fresh franchises such as Mass Effect, and it seems to be retooling to become a leader in mobile and casual gaming. Meanwhile, Activision is leaning heavily on the long-running Call of Duty series, the equally incumbent role-playing games of its Blizzard arm, and its carpet-bombing of the music-game market with Guitar Hero spinoffs and sequels. Activision released 25 Guitar Hero titles in 2009, and management considers its 2010 target of 10 new titles for this brand to be a "focused" strategy. I still call it carpet-bombing.
I'm not saying that Activision should stop developing games under its established smash-hit franchises, but taking a few risks wouldn't hurt, either. Without fresh ideas in the pipeline, chances are that gamers will grow tired of the same old same old, and move elsewhere. Activision plans only two truly new releases this year, including a racing game modeled after Nintendo's (Pink Sheets: NTDOY.PK) hit Mario Kart. I mean, Activision boasts a market cap more than 30 times the size of THQ
For now, the Activision machine is still humming happily. Non-GAAP earnings soared 58% beyond the year-ago period, to $0.49 per diluted share, on 6% stronger sales, or $2.5 billion. Activision drew strength from price drops on all three of the modern gaming consoles just in time for the holidays. It should probably send thank-you notes to Nintendo, Sony
But unless Activision throws its considerable weight behind some fresh game ideas, the company runs a very real risk of becoming complacent, and then irrelevant.
I wonder whether anything could ever be this good again. Activision may have peaked.
What's your opinion on the current video game king? Sound off in the comment box below.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund likes to quote rock lyrics in conversation, but he holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, and Nintendo are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a synthetic long position on Activision Blizzard and a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.