Activision Blizzard (ATVI) reported earnings that were below the expectations of Wall Street analysts during its traditionally strong holiday quarter. And its stock price has fallen 16 percent in after-hours trading as a result.
The earnings for the fourth fiscal quarter ended December 31 draw hordes of watchers, as Activision Blizzard is the largest independent video game publisher in the U.S., and its results are a bellwether for the $91 billion global game industry (based on market researcher Newzoo’s estimates). The company fell short of expectations even though it had an outstanding performance from Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the latest installment in a series that has generated more than $15 billion over a decade.
The game company reported non-GAAP earnings of 83 cents a share on revenues of $2.1 billion. Wall Street expected non-GAAP earnings per share of 86 cents a share on revenues of $2.2 billion. A year ago, Activision Blizzard reported earnings per share of 94 cents on revenue of $2.2 billion. Digital sales were a record $780 million in the quarter, accounting for 37 percent of non-GAAP revenues and up 14 percent from a year earlier.
Activision Blizzard said that Skylanders: SuperChargers and Guitar Hero Live fell short of expectations for the quarter. Skylanders may have suffered from more competition in the “toys to life” market (such as Disney Infinity, which released sets based on Star Wars, and Lego Dimensions) as well as a shift of casual players from consoles to mobile games.
But Call of Duty: Black Ops III had a strong performance, as did Destiny, which saw the launch of its expansion, The Taken King. Destiny now has 25 million registered users who have played the game for more than 3 billion hours.
In after-hours trading, Activision Blizzard’s stock fell 16 percent to $25.65 a share.
“With our expected closing of the acquisition of King Digital later this month, we will have the largest game network in the world, with over 500 million users playing our games every month,” said Bobby Kotick, the chief executive of the Santa Monica, California-based company, in a statement. “Our entertainment franchises, including Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and soon Candy Crush, will reach people on mobile, console and desktop devices in almost every country in the world. This gives us the opportunity to engage our global audiences and create revenue streams from content and services.
“Our esports initiatives, enhanced by our recent acquisition of Major League Gaming, allow us to reward our players around the world for their dedication and investment in our games. We expect to generate approximately $6.25 billion in revenues and over $2.0 billion of operating income in 2016 and we will have over 9,000 of the most talented people making, marketing and selling great games around the world.”
The company didn’t say exactly how many Call of Duty copies it sold since Black Ops III launched in November, but it did say that Call of Duty is now the No. 1 game in sales on next-generation consoles. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s big mobile and PC fantasy card battler game, has more than 40 million registered users now.
Part of the problem was the strong dollar, which made American goods more expensive overseas. When using constant currency compared to a year ago, the company’s 2015 results were stronger than 2014’s.
Activision Blizzard is in the midst of buying King, maker of Candy Crush Saga and other mobile games, for $5.9 billion, and it also moved into the esports market in a big way by acquiring Major League Gaming.
The Activision side of the business was 70 percent of revenues, while Blizzard was 22 percent. (Other was 8 percent). Blizzard’s revenues in the quarter were $459 million, down from $531 million a year ago. Activision’s revenues were $1.5 billion, flat compared to a year ago. Activision Blizzard stopped breaking out World of Warcraft subscriber numbers, but the drop in Blizzard’s revenue suggests that the number must be falling still. In the previous quarter, the flagship massively multiplayer online role-playing game had 5.5 million subscribers, compared to 12 million back in 2011.