Digital platforms boost Activision’s bottom line

Company will release new 'Call of Duty' next week

As Activision Blizzard readies to release “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” next week, the industry’s largest videogame publisher reported better-than-expected third quarter sales of $841 million boosted by coin collected from digital platforms.

Revenue from digital sources, including subscriptions for its online “World of Warcraft” game, represented 51% of Activision Blizzard’s earnings during the three-month frame that ended Sept. 30.

Results beat Wall Street estimates, with analysts having expected sales to decline over 6% to $708 million. That’s largely due to Activision reporting lower sales during the three prior quarters.

But “World of Warcraft” expansion pack “Mists of Pandaria,” as well as “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” and “Wipeout: The Game” sold well for Activision during the quarter. “Diablo III” also continues to perform well; it’s been the top-selling PC game in the U.S. and Europe since its release in May.

Company released new James Bond title, “007: Legends,” “Skylanders Giants” and “Transformers Prime” in October.

Because of the success of its games and the upcoming release of “Black Ops II,” Activision is raising its revenues forecast for the rest of the year.

Activision is focusing much of its marketing resources behind the launch of “Black Ops II,” with the company spending more on it than previous games in the franchise to make it “one of the most successful launches of any form of entertainment in history,” a feat achieved by previous titles in the series, Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick said.

Last year’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” became the biggest entertainment launch when it sold 6.5 million copies in the U.S. and U.K. within 24 hours, earning $400 million.

“We’ve put more resources behind ‘Call of Duty’ this year than we ever have in every area,” Kotick told Variety. “Not just the money (to make it) but the inspired creativity reflected in the game and marketing programs will get audiences really excited about it.”

David Goyer, fresh off Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the upcoming “Man of Steel,” both at Warner Bros., penned the script for “Black Ops II.”

Hiring scribes like Goyer is “one of the unique positions we have as a company,” Kotick said. “Being here (in Hollywood) and not in Silicon Valley and having a history with entertainment companies has given us a unique perspective in how you use super talented people who work in film and television and incorporate their ideas into our games.”

After seeing paid monthly subscriptions for “World of Warcraft” fall below 10 million users for the first time since 2008, during the second quarter, “Mists of Pandaria” lured back some of those gamers.

Release sold 2.7 million copies in its first week, less than previous expansion pack “Cataclysm,” which broke records when it moved 3.3 million copies during the same period in 2010.

“Mists of Pandaria” also went out in China, making it the first game to be released there as part of a global launch.

“As we look to 2013, we are cautious about business prospects given a continued challenged global economy, the ongoing console transition and very difficult year-over-year comparables due to Blizzard’s record-shattering ‘Diablo III’ sales in 2012,” Kotick said. “We expect that over the long-term, we will maintain our position as the world’s leading interactive entertainment company and continue to provide strong returns to our shareholders by delivering great games to audiences around the world.”

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