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Earnings season is that special time when video game publishers reveal if they are actually making money. Starting today and continuing through next week, Activision, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two will all report their results for the last fiscal quarter.
We checked in with a few analysts to see what they are expecting from these three major publishers. Will first-person shooter BioShock Infinite push Take-Two Interactive over its expectations? Is the Call of Duty military first-person franchise still powering Activision’s growth? Will the Star Wars video game license have an immediate impact on EA’s outlook?
Let’s take a look.
Let’s start with Electronic Arts, which reports its earnings today after Wall Street’s closing bell.
The Madden publisher is still looking for a permanent chief executive officer since John Riccitiello stepped down from that position in late March. That hasn’t stopped EA from making big moves under the direction of executive chairman Larry Probst.
Under Probst, EA cut 1,000 jobs. It severely downsized its EA Mobile operations in Montreal. It also cut staff at Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel developer Visceral Montreal. The publisher secured the rights to the Star Wars franchise. Oh, and it also won the title of Worst Company in America from the Consumerist blog for the second year in a row.
EA also had a spate of game announcements that include two new Plants vs. Zombies titles, The Sims 4, and rumors that Respawn (former Call of Duty team) will show its shooter at Microsoft’s Xbox event later this month.
That’s a lot to fit into a single financial report.
“EA has already preannounced results ‘at or below the lower end’ of [expectations],” Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia wrote in a note to investors. “For EA, the key will be fiscal-year 2014 guidance, which is likely to be conservative given the company doesn’t have a permanent chief executive officer and new chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen appears to have a mindset of under-promise and over deliver.”
With the huge news that EA has secured the Star Wars license, however, investors may want to see a forward-looking guidance that factors in that gigantic property. That’s unlikely to happen.
“Star Wars won’t impact earnings next year,” Wedbush analyst Michael Pacther told GamesBeat. “It’s going to take a while to make a game.”
As for The Sims 4 and PopCap’s new games, those will factor into the guidance, but EA will have had them in the works for a long while.
EA seems like a company trying to reboot in order to offer a fresh start to whoever takes over as CEO. For that reason, expect an underwhelming guidance that will give the new chief executive the chance to overdeliver, just as Bhatia suggests.
Activision and Take-Two
Conflict and hardship makes for a good story, which is why EA is the big story. The other two publishers, Activision and Take-Two, are in much sturdier positions.
Activision still has Call of Duty generating huge numbers, although we’re curious to see if Black Ops II kept up with previous entries in the series.
Take-Two had critical and commercial success BioShock Infinite to push it through its last quarter.
“We believe Activision and Take-Two will likely exceed March quarter expectations,” Bhatia wrote.
Take-Two is flipping over to its fiscal 2014, so we will get a look at some annual guidance. In the past, the publisher expected Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V to bring in around $600 million before delaying it to September. Expect the publisher to roll out some major expectations for the next year.
Activision just announced a new Infinity Ward Call of Duty game that will anchor its holiday lineup. The publisher will also get help from a new Skylanders game that has its own line of physical, interactive toys, which retailers struggle to keep on the shelves.
Activision is also publishing the next game from Halo developer Bungie. The first-person shooter, titled Destiny, isn’t due out during calendar year 2013, which coincides with Activision’s fiscal year, so don’t expect that game to factor into any guidance.
Finally, any guidance through the spring quarter will likely tail downward for all three publishers. The release slate from April through July is devoid of many major releases. That’s due to the typical swing of the release schedule, but many developers are probably busy producing products for the upcoming next-gen consoles.