If nothing else, Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS), a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick, illustrated why it's the safest bet in the game. The leading independent video-game publisher saw sales cool off in the third quarter, falling 3.2% to $1.43 billion. Meanwhile, net income dropped 4.4% to $375 million, or $1.18 per share. Excluding certain items, EA earned $1.23 per share, beating the analyst per-share estimate of $1.18.

The numbers could have been much worse.

In the 2003 holiday season, EA's only competition for the top spot was Activision's (NASDAQ:ATVI) Tony Hawk's Underground and True Crime. In contrast, this past holiday season was filled with highly anticipated super-blockbusters, most notably Take-Two Interactive's (NASDAQ:TTWO) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Konami's (NYSE:KNM) Metal Gear Solid 3 on the Sony (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 2, and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox exclusive Halo 2. Take-Two and Sega's $20 sports games also took a bite out of EA's sales and profits this year.

EA's revenue this year did include a foreign-currency benefit of $47 million. But EA followed up last year's best-selling Need For Speed Underground by selling a whopping 8.4 million copies of Need For Speed Underground 2. In addition, the company sold 4.5 million copies of its soccer game FIFA 2005 and had seven other titles sell more than 1 million units during the quarter.

EA's fourth-quarter outlook calling for sales of $700 million to $750 million and earnings of $0.25 to $0.30 per share -- or $0.28 to $0.33 per share, excluding certain items -- is a little light compared with the analyst estimate of $0.38 per share in earnings on $736 million in sales. But more importantly, the company has moved to protect its long-term competitive interests in recent months by inking exclusive deals with the NFL, signing Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN away from rival Take-Two, and undertaking a $90 million investment in France's Ubisoft.

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Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Electronic Arts.