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Why Did Activision Blizzard End Up on Top?

By Brandy Betz - Feb 16, 2014 at 3:00PM

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Activision Blizzard won earnings season. Why did the company best Electronic Arts and Take-Two?

Shares of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI) have risen over 13% in the past week following positive fourth-quarter and full-year reports. The company is fresh off the launch of Call of Duty: Ghosts, which became the second best-selling game of the year behind Take-Two's (TTWO -2.09%) Grand Theft Auto V. The shares of Take-Two and Electronic Arts (EA -1.50%) fell after these companies' recent earnings reports as investors decide what to do with gaming companies now that the next-gen consoles have launched. How did Activision avoid a similar fate?  

Analysts estimated the company would report revenue of $2.2 billion for the fourth quarter and $4.3 billion for the year. Earnings per share estimates for the periods were $0.73 and $0.91, respectively. Activision Blizzard's fourth quarter included $2.3 billion in revenue along with EPS of $0.79, while the full-year result met on revenue and beat on EPS by three cents.  

Activision might have missed the top slot in game sales, but the company still has reasons to celebrate the year. 

Thriving franchises
The Call of Duty franchise in combination with World of WarcraftDiablo, and Skylander accounted for 80% of Activision Blizzard's revenue in 2012. That dependence likely deepened in 2013 with new game launches.   

Call of Duty: Ghosts has sold over 19 million units worldwide since its November release which earned the game the runner-up spot on NPD Group's list of the best-selling games of the year. However, that news wasn't surprising considering that Call of Duty games always perform well at launch and Activision engaged in a public numbers race with Take-Two, pitting Ghosts sales against those of Grand Theft Auto V

The surprising news from the quarter came from massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Subscriber count for the game has declined slowly in recent years as new expansion packs failed to win over players. The game had around 7.6 million subscribers in the third quarter and this increased to 7.8 million in the fourth quarter. A new expansion was announced last fall and players continue to return in advance of its release. 

The real ace up Activision Blizzard's sleeve is the Skylanders series which combines video game play with add-on packs of toy-like character controls. The Skylanders games have achieved $2 billion in worldwide sales and sold about 175 million toys since the first title launched in 2011.    

What's next? 
For the near future, Activision simply plans to keep expanding its existing games while it has some fresh hit titles. Call of Duty: Ghosts will receive downloadable expansions through both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 of Microsoft before rolling out to other platforms. A new expansion pack for Diablo III arrives in March and World of Warcraft's announced expansion should come along soon. 

How'd the competition fare last year? 
Electronic Arts reported third-quarter revenue of $1.57 billion and EPS of $1.26. Analysts estimated the company would report $1.66 billion in revenue and EPS of $1.24. The company struggled with technical issues related to the launch of Battlefield 4, which caused delays that pushed the game into the fourth spot on the best-selling games list for that title and the general development pipeline. EA's next quarter will show the benefits -- or risks -- of the company's strong market share in early launch games for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 of Sony

Take-Two shares dove following the company's third-quarter report despite the record-breaking success of Grand Theft Auto V. The company reported fourth-quarter revenue of $767.7 and EPS of $1.70. Analysts had estimated the company would report revenue of $709 million and EPS of $1.40. The reason for Take-Two's share price drop could boil down to investors not having a warm attitude toward the company in general. Take-Two has Xbox One and PS4 games in development, but its current titles lean toward the older consoles and PC players. 

Foolish final thoughts 
Activision Blizzard ended 2013 on a high note thanks to the continued strength of two massively popular franchises -- Call of Duty and Skylanders -- and the surprise rebound of World of Warcraft. The company is well-positioned to keep expanding those franchises throughout this year. 

Brandy Betz 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. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.

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Stocks Mentioned

Electronic Arts Inc. Stock Quote
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$130.48 (-1.50%) $-1.99
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Microsoft Corporation
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Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. Stock Quote
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TTWO
$127.74 (-2.09%) $-2.73
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Sony Corporation
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