Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard boasted record sales for 2014 and beat market estimates for its fiscal quarter ending 31 December, but share value fell after the company announced it was unlikely to meet revenue projections for 2015.
In an investor call on Thursday evening, adjusted sales of $2.2bn were revealed for the last quarter, beating estimates of $2.1bn, thanks to strong sales for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny. The company projected 2015 earnings of $4.14bn for 2015, lower than the $4.4bn it previously estimated. Activision blamed weakened foreign currencies, higher tax rates and investment into Blizzard’s free-to-play online battle game Heroes of the Storm.
Here’s what else we learned.
Treyarch is answering the Call of Duty in 2015
Not announced during the investor call but revealed concurrently on Twitter, developer Treyarch confirmed that it is developing 2015’s Call of Duty instalment. The creator of the Black Ops titles didn’t mention whether its game would be a continuation of that series, but considering Black Ops 2 remains the most successful title in Call of Duty history that seems pretty likely.
Bobby Kotick also revealed that the culminative earnings for the Call of Duty franchise now stand at over $11bn. So yeah, Call of Duty isn’t going anywhere.
Destiny has over 16m registered users
It was a successful launch for Bungie’s online sci-fi shooter, even though the ambitious project received mixed reviews when it arrived in September. Activision claimed that data from market research company NPD made it “the most successful launch of a new video game franchise in history”. The mix of role-playing and FPS elements has certainly proved compelling: active players are averaging three hours of alien blasting a day. Three hours. There are no figures on how much of that time was spent hanging around outside the loot cave.
Skylanders is still ridiculously successful
The “toys to life” series, which combines kid-friendly role-playing adventures with compatible action figures, is another ongoing success. So far, Activision has sold 240m Skylanders toys, outperforming all other action figure lines in 2014. The series has made over $3bn so far.
The company is promising an “innovative” new title in the series this year, which is good news for fans, but bad news for parents: if there are significant new features it’ll probably mean a lack of backward compatibility with the current Portal of Power peripheral that connects the game to the toys. Hence, new starter pack. Oh Activision.
The World of Warcraft ship has steadied
The long-running massively multiplayer online game has been losing players over the past two years, but thanks to a boost in interest delivered by new expansion pack Warlords of Draenor (which sold over 3.3m copies within 24 hours of its November launch), it ended the year with over 10m subscribers. Considering the influx of free-to-play alternatives, that’s impressive form for the ageing MMORPG warlord.
Digital and free-to-play are the big growth areas
Like its rival publishers Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, Activision is moving away from a concentration on boxed-copy game sales and toward digital distribution. This includes full downloadable games on smartphones, tablets and consoles, and extra downloadable content for big titles like Call of Duty and Destiny. Indeed, the company boasted record digital sales in 2014, making up 46% of its revenue, and over the winter quarter it made $685 million from digital content. Demand for Call of Duty map packs doubled in 2014, and its likely that Destiny’s expansion packs – the already released Dark Below, and forthcoming House of Wolves – will provide a financial boost, especially at their £20 price point.
In January, Activision launched an open beta of Call of Duty Online, a free-to-play version of the hit shooter, specifically targeted at the Chinese market, where the freemium model dominates. The game is co-published by China’s Tencent, which runs several of the regions leading free-to-play role-playing games.
The company’s free card-battling game Hearthstone has also performed well with 25m registered players. Activision didn’t give separate revenue figures for the game, which makes money from microtransactions; it did, however, claim that, combined, Destiny and Hearthstone had generated $850m in revenue.
There are new “franchises” to come
“This year we expect to expand our leading franchise portfolio to ten, up from five franchises at the beginning of 2014,” said Activision Blizzard CEO, Bobby Kotick. “Franchise” is business speak for “games”, FYI.
Anyway, this boosted line-up will include Blizzard’s two newcomers Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch, a six-vs-six online shooter clearly aimed at the growing eSports market. What else? Well, we can expect at least one new title – or maybe even a return of a favourite legacy series for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One era. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Guitar Hero are both rumoured. We’d love to see Interstate 76, though: the apocalyptic road adventure from the 90s would look astonishing on current machines. Well, if there’s money in it, Activision will sniff it out.
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Friday 6th February 2015 09.18 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010