Activision says sharper focus will pay off

NEW YORK Fri Feb 11, 2011 6:13pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A top executive at Activision Blizzard, the largest video game publisher in the United States, defended the company's strategy of investing only in a few big hits.

Earlier this week, the company said it was disbanding the unit that makes "Guitar Hero" games and canceling the title "True Crime: Hong Kong.

The abrupt shutdown of "Guitar Hero," the well-known music game franchise that once dominated attention in the $60 billion global game industry, rankled investors, who now wonder if Activision's best days are behind it.

As consumers turn to games on social networks like Facebook and free online fare, a broad sales slump has hit the video games industry which has forced publishers including THQ Inc and Electronic Arts to trim game lineups.

Hollywood studios have also slimmed film slates in recent years as a weak box office and DVD sales have hurt entertainment companies.

"We want to look forward to the games we think have most potential and not look backwards through our rearview mirror," Eric Hirshberg, chief executive of Activision publishing, told Reuters.

Hirshberg joined Actiovision publishing, the division of the company that oversees the "Call of Duty" line of action shooter games last fall.

Activision's narrow focus has raised concerns that rivals like Electronic Arts <ERTS.O, which publishes the rival military-themed game "Medal of Honor," could chip away at the lead position held by "Call of Duty".

"Investors believe that too much reliance on one or two franchises creates more risk and it doesn't have a broad enough revenue base for most investors," Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said.

Excluding its cash, Activision is currently trading at slightly more than 11 times its earnings, which is cheaper than its competitor, EA. EA trades at 16 times its earnings excluding its cash, according to Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia.

Shares have been trading lower since the company shocked fans around the world with its cancellation of "Guitar Hero," once a major revenue driver and a billion-dollar business.

Hirshberg said he was sad to see it go but that consumers were no longer spending money on it.


"What's unique about Call of Duty is that it has grown its audience every single year," Hirshberg said. "Entertainment franchises that last and stand the test of time are rare and they do exist."

To keep fans glued to the screen, Activision said it planned to create a new studio, Beachhead, devoted to creating more digital content for "Call of Duty."

"Beachhead is all about creating new value that has tremendous appeal to people and if you can do that, you can open up new possibilities," he said, declining to say more about its business model.

Analysts say the company could use Beachhead to extract more revenue from players who are spending more time playing online with games they already own on services such as Microsoft's Xbox Live.

Online games have underpinned growth at Activision Blizzard. On the Blizzard side of the business, "World of Warcraft," the online subscription game, has thrived through the recession and has continued to grow.

Hirshberg said that Activision was still committed to launching new franchises and entering new markets. He pointed to the new children's game "Skylanders," Activision's portfolio of licensed titles and its partnership with the Bungie studio.

Shares closed on Friday up 3 cents at $10.78 on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Liana B. Baker, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Comments (3)
jscott418 wrote:
I agree, we need fewer games but better ones that make up the few. Right know their is just a race to put out games and that has been a bad mistake.

Feb 11, 2011 10:44pm EST  --  Report as abuse
LouannO wrote:
I think they slip their own throat when the said they will stop production of Guitar Hero. I am in my 50’s and love playing this game with my daughter. I sing – not good, but well enough to score, drums, and guitar on easy. I was even able to save my daughter a few times when she plays on hard. This is a family game, we were also looking forward to the real electric guitar coming in the next round of games.

Feb 12, 2011 8:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
1bagel wrote:
“Entertainment franchises that last and stand the test of time are rare and they do exist.” CoD is not one of these franchises.”

Call of Duty isn’t Madden. Gamers will eventually bore of annual updates that don’t add significant changes or upgrades. The First Person Shooter genre is crowded with competitors (including the former developers of the CoD franchise). There’s no personality or story to keep gamers attached to CoD (unlike Halo or old Nintendo personalities like Mario).

The next CoD title will undoubtedly sell well, but will it surpass Black Ops? Probably not.

Feb 12, 2011 10:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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