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Headwind Ahead for Video Game Publishers?

By Sean Chen – Feb 11, 2014 at 7:58AM

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An analysis of outlook for EA, Activision Blizzard, and Take Two Interactive following GameStop's latest holiday sales report

On January 14, GameStop reported 2013 holiday sales results below investor's expectations and subsequently sent shares down nearly 20% in a single trading day. New software sales were especially disappointing with year-over-year decline of 22.5% despite strong hardware sales of next generation video game consoles from Sony and Microsoft. The company attributed the underwhelming number to a sharp decrease in current generation PS3/XBOX 360 game sales coupled with lackluster demand for next generation PS4/XBOX One games. I believe the result does provide some implications in regard to what we can expect this year from three major video game publishers Electronic Arts (EA 0.50%), Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI), and Take-Two Interactive (TTWO 2.22%).

Troubling Development For Electronic Arts 

On January 28, during the earnings call EA lowered its 2014 outlook citing steeper-than-anticipated declines in current generation software sales, which at the moment account for 53% of the company's quarterly revenue. With only average year-over-year growth of 13% in mobile game sales  , EA's success is still strongly tied to game sales from consoles at least for the foreseeable future. There is no doubt Xbox 360/PS3 game sales will continue to decline as the transition to Xbox One/PS4 picks up pace.

So far it remains to be seen whether EA can translate its enormous current-gen video game catalogs to next-gen platforms without major hiccups while achieving similar or greater success. If the company's disturbingly slow response to numerous gameplay issues surrounding its PS4/XBOX One release of Battlefield 4 is any indication, investors should expect EA's game sales and earnings to have a bumpy ride in 2014 and beyond.

Even More Risks For Take-Two Interactive

Take-Two Interactive is often criticized due to its   lack of pipeline visibility and heavy reliance on very limited high development cost video game franchises  .  Much like EA the company doesn't have meaningful revenue sources other than video game console software sales. Therefore If the weak sales of current-gen video games persist in 2014,  , Take-Two Interactive might end up in a much worse position than EA should any of its upcoming major releases miss sales projection. 

Less Impact For Activision

Despite the decline in subscriber numbers, World of Warcraft is still a major source of revenue for Activision along with Call of Duty video game series. As long as Activision can develop enough new content to retain the subscribers in World of Warcraft like they did in the most recent quarter, the potentially lower Call of Duty sales figure due to softening demand can be easily offset  by the company's major next-gen game releases such as Destiny.

It's also encouraging to see the company utilize the World of Warcraft brand more by collaborating with Hollywood for a motion picture based on the game's plot and upcoming release of microtransaction-based strategy card game Hearthstone featuring the most highly recognizable characters from the Wold of Warcraft. As Hearthstone will also be released to the fast-growing Android/iOS mobile devices in 2014, It has the potential to become another major revenue source for Activation in the coming years.             

Foolish Bottom Line

Of course more data will be needed to confirm whether GameStop's subpar holiday results are only company specific or a wider industry trend. However out of the current three major video game publishers, I believe Activision is the best positioned to overcome any possible hurdles during the transitional period to next-gen consoles. Coupled with strong financials and the possible expansion into mobile gaming market via Hearhstone, the company deserves consideration by investors.       

Sean Chen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Activision Blizzard and Take-Two Interactive. The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Electronic Arts Stock Quote
Electronic Arts
$132.28 (0.50%) $0.66
Take-Two Interactive Software Stock Quote
Take-Two Interactive Software
$108.76 (2.22%) $2.36

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

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