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Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI), Electronic Arts Inc. (EA): Gaming Companies Playing a Riskier Game

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The face of the gaming industry is changing.

The gaming industry is an alliance between the channel providers and the content providers. Both areas are facing change.

The Channel Providers

Both Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) recently launched game stores as part of their app stores. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has had one for a few years, and it already has over 100 million members.

Google is continuing its practice of challenging Apple on its home turf, and trying to further monetize its Android users, while Amazon is following a similar strategy with its version of Android. If the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) example is any indication, both of these companies have the potential for a great deal of growth in these stores. Because Android users cannot use Apple’s store (and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) users can’t use Android stores) Apple’s store and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)‘s store are not direct competitors. Most users do not choose what ecosystem to join based simply upon the gaming options available. Thus, in the case of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), since Android is larger than iOS, I think Google’s store will likely grow even larger than Apple, to a couple hundred million.

This does not tell the entire story by any means, for the gaming industry is an alliance between the channel providers and the content providers.

The consumers’ gaming device may be changing, but the types of games that they want to play is not. As a side note, the industry has become increasingly hit-driven.  Some games such as Call of Duty® are phenomenally successful, while many others languish and never earn a profit. In other words, the gaming industry is becoming more like the pharmaceutical industry or like Hollywood in that the majority of products lose money, but a few become phenomenally successful. This raises the level of risk in the industry.  The firms need hits, or they cease to be profitable.

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)

The Content Providers

This evolution has clear implications for the two main content providers: Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) and Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA).

Both of these companies have been weathering the storm well. Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) is up by about 40% this after falling about 10% last year, and Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA) is up by about 60% this year after falling about 30% last year (Yahoo Finance)

Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI)’s two main avenues of revenue are its massive-multiplier role-playing online games (MMORPGs); and several franchises of video games. Many of these games continue to be highly successful and have high margins. However, here is precisely where one of the its major difficulties lies. None of the franchises are particularly new, and several are declining. World of Warcraft ® is the largest MMORPG  with 8.3 million subscribers, but it shed over a million users over the last several months (Activision Blizzard).

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI) exceeded expectations in the last quarter and is sitting on over 4 billion in cash (Activision Blizzard).  Essentially, the firm is in something of a holding pattern; it is doing well monetizing past successes, but its investor’s guidance does not push any new franchises, focusing on further installments of already successful franchises. The most notable success story comes in its digital department — its revenues are 14% year-over-year with margins of over 50% (Activision Blizzard).

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ:EA)’ results are similar.

It is continuing to launch the newest iterations of a number of successful games, with a plan to release 11 major titles in FY2014 (EA).  It also intends to launch 15 titles for iOS and Android. It has significant cash about $1.68 Billion, about 1/4 of the share price, about the same percentage as Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ:ATVI).

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