In what has so far been a fairly unexciting year for tech stocks, Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI), the largest American video game company, is wowing investors. Activision Blizzard is best known for its multiple franchises, including “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft,” as well as the popular “Skylanders” figurine-to-console collection. The company, which is a component of the Russell 3000 index and a member of CNN Money's Tech30, a portfolio of the “most important tech stocks in the world,” is outpacing the average gains of these growth indicators. In 2014 alone, Activision Blizzard's stock is up nearly 27%, compared to the Russell 3000 YTD gain of 3.87%, and the Tech30 YTD gain of 7.4%. Last week, on August 6th, the company traded at a new historic high of $23.79 after beating analyst expectations for both EPS and revenue (for the third quarter in a row). The company’s $.06 EPS was well above the consensus estimate of $.02 and revenue rose 8.2% to $658 million, easily outperforming the $607.6 million expectation. Activision Blizzard's stock, which hit a low of roughly $12 in early 2013, has rewarded patient, long-term investors. However, the good news for both current and potential investors is that the best is yet to come.
In Activision Blizzard’s 2Q statement, the company expressed its excitement over the prospects of 2014, projecting the remainder of the year will be the “biggest second half in company history.” Personally, as both an investor and an avid gamer, I am just as excited. Not only will Activision Blizzard’s second half introduce “Warlords of Draenor” and the newest installment of the “Call of Duty” series, but the company will also release “Destiny,” the most anticipated console game of 2014. These three games uniquely position Activision Blizzard to continue its momentous trend (click here to find out how this will benefit GameStop).
“World of Warcraft” is a flagship game managed by the “Blizzard” sector of Activision Blizzard Inc. The subscription-based game was released in November 2004 and was easily the most popular multiplayer RPG of its era. At its peak in 2010, “World of Warcraft” had over 12 million subscribers. Since then, the game has witnessed a decline in its subscriber base, especially over the past two years. “World of Warcraft’s” user base now dwindles at an eight-year low of 6.8 million active players. However, as the game cycles through expansion add-ons, subscription numbers greatly fluctuate. Since "World of Warcraft" is now in the final quarter of Activision Blizzard's most recent expansion, “Mists of Pandaria,” it's not surprising that the subscriber count is so low. With “Warlords of Draenor” set to release before the end of 2014, investors can expect subscriptions to increase, along with revenue (given over 1.5 million players have already pre-ordered the game). Moreover, the last expansion, “Mists of Pandaria,” sold more than 3 million copies in its first week alone. Given these startling figures, I expect Activision Blizzard to acquire 8-9 million new players following the release of “Warlords of Draenor.” This further improves the company's prospects, especially when one considers it trumped analyst expectations in the face of declining user engagement.
Additionally, “Call of Duty” is one of the most popular console series in existence. By the end of 2011, the series had surpassed sales of 100 million copies and, as of March 31, 2012, there were over 40 million active players series-wide. With the recent release of Sony's PS4 and Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One, the “Call of Duty” franchise is positioned for continued success. “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” is to be released on November 4, and although the game’s pre-order figures are low, as acknowledged by Activision Blizzard, investors should still expect the game to sellout upon release.
Although both “Warlords of Draenor” and “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” are considered “highly-anticipated” releases, the hype surrounding these titles pales in comparison to the excitement surrounding “Destiny.” Developed by Bungie, the video game studio best known for its “Halo” series, “Destiny” has both the pedigree and following needed for it to be the most successful “next-generation” release to date. The game already has ~1.4 million pre-orders, which is stunning when one considers the next most pre-ordered game figure sits at just 135,000. Furthermore, the game’s open beta phase, which launched mid-July, was well received by gamers. From a gameplay perspective "Destiny" is a first-person shooter, like “Call of Duty” and “Halo,” but unlike these games, it will occupy the online realm; in doing so, Bungie hopes to create a dynamic gameplay interface for gamers, and an evolving development experience for the company's engineers. In essence, Bungie hopes to standardize its adaptive gaming experience.
The releases of “Warlords of Draenor,” “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,” and “Destiny,” guarantee lucrative upcoming quarters for Activision Blizzard. Potential investors should take advantage of current "correctional" market conditions and buy into the company before its upcoming releases, so as to maximize ROI. Moreover, I believe that Activision Blizzard will use this extremely profitable second half of the fiscal year to invest in future growth; such favorable circumstances make Activision Blizzard both a sound short-term and long-term investment.