Shares of video game giant Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) have pulled back in recent weeks, but still trade near their post-crisis high. Year to date, Electronic Arts has rallied more than 60%, but could see further upside if sales of its video games remain robust.
Alternatively, Electronic Arts' shares could head lower -- with a price-to-earnings ratio far in excess of the broader market's, the stock is certainly not cheap. Below, I offer three possibilities that, should they come to fruition, could weigh on Electronic Arts' shares.
Next generation console sales could fall flat
With its investments in mobile and a strong presence in the PC gaming scene, it can't be denied that Electronic Arts is diversified. Still, the majority of its business depends on traditional video game consoles -- its most popular game franchises including Madden, Fifa, Titanfall, and Battlefield, among many others, do the majority of their sales on the Xbox and PlayStation platforms.
The newest consoles -- the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 -- have seen strong sales thus far, with the former selling at least five million units into the retail channel, and the later selling twice as many to end-consumers. However, there's no guarantee that those strong sales will continue.
The third major home console, the Wii U, initially saw strong demand, selling millions of units in its first few months on the market. Sales, however, soon slowed to a crawl. Though perhaps unlikely, a similar fate could eventually befall the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and given its dependence on both consoles, Electronic Arts could suffer.
Electronic Arts' upcoming games disappoint
Even if sales of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One remain strong, Electronic Arts faces a great deal of competition -- there are many other firms releasing many other games on these platforms, vying for gamers' time and money.
Electronic Arts' has many established franchises -- series like Madden and NHL are released annually, and generally scooped up by enthusiastic fans.
But, like any video game publisher, Electronic Arts runs the risk of disappointing gamers. If the quality of Electronic Arts' games declines, sales of the company's titles could fall short of expectations. This fall, Electronic Arts' financial performance will largely depend on the success of Madden 15, NHL 15, Fifa 15, The Sims 4, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Electronic Arts' titles will go up against a stacked holiday lineup that includes hotly anticipated titles such as Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and a remastered Grand Theft Auto 5.
Its most anticipated games are hit by further delays
Notably, that list does not include Battlefield: Hardline. Although originally scheduled for a fall release, the successor to Electronic Arts' Battlefield 4 has been delayed until early next year.
That delay was likely what prompted the sell-off in Electronic Arts' shares following its last earnings report. Without a Battlefield title, Electronic Arts' guidance came in a bit short of analysts' expectations.
That event underscores an ever-present risk for Electronic Arts shareholders: delays can be devastating. Ultimately, a well-made, critically acclaimed game could sell well enough to offset the decline. But, at least in the near-term, future delays could weigh on Electronic Arts' shares.
In addition to Battlefield: Hardline, Electronic Arts is expected to release Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015, as well its annual sports franchises. Other titles are a distinct possibility, including Mass Effect 4. Further delays to any of these games could weigh on Electronic Arts' shares.
Is Electronic Arts overvalued?
Ultimately, investors buying Electronic Arts at these levels are likely looking to scoop up shares of a rapidly growing company in an industry that's still expanding. In that sense, Electronic Arts' multiple may be justified, but like all video game publishers, the company faces significant risks.
For Electronic Arts' shares to head higher, gamers need to continue to purchase next-generation consoles, and spend their money on Electronic Arts' games. Its customers have been reliable in the past, but the explosion of mobile gaming and ever-growing competition remains a threat.