Dividend stocks outperform non-dividend-paying stocks over the long run. It happens in good markets and bad, and the benefit of dividends can be quite striking -- dividend payments have made up about 40% of the market's average annual return from 1936 to the present day.

But few of us can invest in every single dividend-paying stock on the market, and even if we could, we're likely to find better gains by being selective. Today, two of the world's largest game publishers will square off in a head-to-head battle to determine which offers a better dividend for your portfolio.

Tale of the tape
Founded  in 1979, Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI) is the holding company for video game publishers Activision and Blizzard Entertainment. It is the world's largest publisher of online, PC, console, handheld, and mobile interactive entertainment software. Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Activision's video game development centers are located throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, and the company's products are sold across the globe. The company also boasts industry-dominating franchises in World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Activision recently bought out the portion of its stake held by Vivendi for $5.8 billion from Vivendi to become a fully independent company. Last year, and investors have been bidding shares up ever since.

Founded in 2004 by Chi Yufeng, the onetime president of Human Software Corporation, Perfect World (NASDAQ: PWRD) is a leading online game developer and operator specializing in massively multiplayer online role playing games, or MMORPGs, for the Chinese market. Headquartered in Beijing, Perfect World offers popular Chinese MMORPGs such as Legend of Martial Arts, Zhu Xian, Battle of the Immortals, and the Perfect World series. The company utilizes a time-based payment model for Perfect World and an item-based freemium model for its other games. Perfect World also licenses its MMORPGs to leading game operators in Asia, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, and other Russian-dominant territories.


Activision Blizzard

Perfect World

Market cap

$15.0 billion

$1.1 billion

P/E ratio



Trailing 12-month profit margin



TTM free cash flow margin*



Five-year total return 



Source: Morningstar and YCharts.
*Free cash flow margin is free cash flow divided by revenue for the trailing 12 months.

Round one: endurance (dividend-paying streak)
According to Dividata, Activision has paid uninterrupted annual dividends since 2010, which equates to a 4-year dividend-paying streak. Perfect World, on the other hand, started paying annual dividends in 2012, and has been paying ever since.

Winner, Activision Blizzard, 1-0.

Round two: stability (dividend-raising streak)
Activision has been increasing annual shareholder distributions since 2011, while Perfect World's dividend-raising streak hasn't actually begun yet, as it reduced dividend distributions last year from 2012's payout. That makes this one another easy win for Activision.

Winner: Activision Blizzard, 2-0.

Round three: power (dividend yield)
Some dividends are enticing, but others are merely tokens that barely affect an investor's decision. Have our two companies sustained strong yields over time? Let's take a look:

ATVI Dividend Yield (TTM) Chart

ATVI Dividend Yield (TTM) data by YCharts

Winner: Perfect World, 1-2.

Round four: strength (recent dividend growth)
A stock's yield can stay high without much effort if its share price doesn't budge, so let's take a look at the growth in payouts over the past five years.

ATVI Dividend Chart

ATVI Dividend data by YCharts

Winner: Activision Blizzard, 3-1.

Round five: flexibility (free cash flow payout ratio)
A company that pays out too much of its free cash flow in dividends could be at risk of a cutback, particularly if business weakens. We want to see sustainable payouts, so lower is better:

ATVI Cash Dividend Payout Ratio (TTM) Chart

ATVI Cash Dividend Payout Ratio (TTM) data by YCharts

Perfect World's payout ratio doesn't show up here, but its last distribution, recorded in 2012, was a whopping 98% of its free cash flow. That's scary high, and far too reliant on steady growth in this metric's to earn the Chinese developer a win here.

Winner: Activision Blizzard, 4-1.

Bonus round: opportunities and threats
Activision Blizzard may have won the best-of-five on the basis of its history, but investors should never base their decisions on past performance alone. Tomorrow might bring a far different business environment, so it's important to also examine each company's potential, whether it happens to be nearly boundless or constrained too tightly for growth.

Activision Blizzard opportunities

Perfect World opportunities

Activision Blizzard threats

Perfect World threats

One dividend to rule them all
In this writer's humble opinion, it seems that Activision has a better shot at long-term outperformance, because of an unmatched track record of hits including Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Skylanders. In addition, Activision's sequel and expansion-pack strategy should continue to drive growth for at least the near future. Perfect World is also well-positioned to capitalize on a rise in online gaming interest across China, but unlike Activision, there appears to be no dominant franchise in its stable to hold gamers' interest -- yet. You might disagree, and if so, you're encouraged to share your viewpoint in the comments below. No dividend is completely perfect, but some are bound to produce better results than others. Keep your eyes open -- you never know where you might find the next great dividend stock!

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.