Videogame publisher posts stronger-than-expected earnings

Despite a struggling year for the videogames biz, the industry’s largest publisher showed no signs of weakness as 2011 wrapped up.

Activision Blizzard reported stronger-than-expected fourth quarter revenue of $1.4 billion for the period that ended Dec. 31, boosting profits to $99 million, after recording a loss of $233 million during the year-ago frame.

For the full year, Activision took home net revenue of $4.76 billion, up from $4.45 billion. Net income came in at a whopping $1 billion, up from $418 million in 2010.

Digital channels generated $1.6 billion, accounting for a record 34% of the company’s total net revenues for the year, made up of subscriptions and memberships, licensing royalties, downloadable content and digitally distributed products.

Activision easily claimed “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ as the best-selling game of 2011, moving more than 16 million units by the end of the year, helping it dominate as the top console and handheld game publisher in the U.S. and Europe.

Title became the first game to pass $775 million in sales in its first five days of release and crossed the $1 billion mark in 16 days. It took previous installment, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” a month before reaching that milestone. Game eventually sold more than 25 million copies.

Activision releases the first “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Content Collection,” a compilation of content previously released to “Call of Duty Elite” premium members, for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in March.

Its online service for the war actioner, “Call of Duty Elite,” now has 7 million registered users, including 1.5 million annual premium members.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops” was still the fifth-bestselling title, in terms of revenue, last year.

Company also successfully launched “Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure” as a game-toy hybrid, that has sold more than 20 million products to date, becoming last year’s top kids videogame.

“‘Skylanders’ was the biggest new IP launch in Activision’s history and it is on track to become an important and sustainable franchise,” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard.

Meanwhile, Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft,” which is facing some competish from Electronic Arts’ “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” in the MMORPG arena, claims 10.2 million subscribers, as of the end of 2011.

This year, Activision will release its next game in the “Call of Duty” franchise, grow its online “Call of Duty Elite” biz, and launch “Skylanders Giants.” Blizzard has tentpole titles “Diablo III” forthcoming.

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