Playability is one of the most unheralded qualities of a great video game. Some titles look great; others pose a worthy challenge to the die-hard gamer. But can that diversion pass the test of time? Can it still be a rewarding gaming experience years from now, when console generations have come and gone?
If an investor has doubts about how well Madden NFL 2004 will sell when it hits the market next month, it's probably a short. The EA Sports football property has been a best-seller staple for 15 years running. In less capable hands, The Sims may have been a fluke. In the grubby paws of EA, it's a cash machine with the gradual release of expansion packs and the basis for a growing online community.
So while some of its smaller video game publishing peers are mired in bankruptcy and others such as Acclaim
Last night, EA raised its full-year targets. After posting a strong fiscal first-quarter showing, it is now looking to earn between $3.25 and $3.40 a share on revenue just shy of the $3 billion mark. If console makers move aggressively to mark down their systems later this year, that would drive software sales higher. It would make even those new and improved profit projections obsolete.
Shareholders have been rewarded for EA's "playability." The stock is up nearly 50% since being singled out as one of the Stocks Fools Love back in February, and it's up 26% since David Gardner selected it in Motley Fool Stock Advisor in May of 2002. Despite the gains, shares are trading for less than 25 times this year's earnings guidance. Cash-rich and never prospect-poor, EA finds itself in the lucrative position of mastering a market in which most of its competitors are struggling and it can cherry-pick any suitable acquisitions on the cheap.
It's a game well played by EA. And something tells me that if you were to tuck away those EA stock certificates for more than a few years only to dust them off later, the game would only be bigger, fresher, and more exciting than it is now.How has Electronic Arts managed to grow while leaving its rivals behind? Are the accounting allegations against some of the company's peers valid? What video kids will kids be craving over the holidays this year? All this and more -- in the Video & PC discussion board . Only on Fool.com.