Activision Blizzard beats estimates, boosted by mobile games

(Bloomberg) — Activision Blizzard Inc. beat analysts’ estimates for bookings and profit in the third quarter, boosted by its mobile gaming division.

The video game publisher reported net bookings, which excludes deferred sales from online purchases, fell 2.6% to $1.83 billion. That was still ahead of the $1.7 billion average analyst forecast, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Adjusted earnings per share were 68 cents, ahead of analysts’ estimates for 50 cents, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Activision said its mobile platform net bookings grew 20% in the period from a year earlier to about $1 billion, reflecting the enduring popularity of games like Candy Crush and Diablo Immortal, which launched in the US in June and in China– the world’s largest gaming market — in July.

Diablo Immortal was Activision’s big release for the first half of the year and ranked among China’s top 10 highest-grossing mobile games, according to the company. Made in partnership with Chinese technology company Ne Tease Inc., the mobile iteration of Blizzard’s popular horror role-playing game franchise earned the top spot on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, receiving more than 20 million downloads across smartphones. However, the game has an average 4.1 review score on Android and 4.5 on Apple’s App Store, indicating that some fans have begun to cool on it.

Concerns about a licensing deal covering several Blizzard titles in China that expires in January could weigh on the company’s success in the country going forward. “We are in discussions regarding the renewal of these agreements, but a mutually-satisfactory deal may not be reached,” Activision said, noting that the agreements contributed about 3% of net revenue in 2021. Diablo Immortal is covered by a “separate long -term agreement,” Activision said.

Microsoft Corp. is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard for $69 billion, although regulators are heavily scrutinizing the deal for signs it could limit Call of Duty to Microsoft’s Xbox console, cutting out Sony Group Corp.’s PlayStation. Microsoft has disputed that it will limit the game to Xbox.

Activision’s current quarter is stacked with new releases, including the recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. The latest title has been an overwhelming success, topping more than $1 billion in sales in the first 10 days of its release, the fastest pace of any game in the highly successful franchise. A separate mode of the game, the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0, will be released Nov. 16. Another hit, the popular hero-shooter Overwatch 2, also released in October, attracted 35 million players within its first month. Also coming this month, the next World of Warcraft expansion, Dragonflight.

Investors will be focused on the success of these games, and particularly on their potential for repeatable revenue through 2023, when Activision Blizzard will skip its annual mainline Call of Duty release for the first time. A continuation of Modern Warfare II, developed by Foster City, California-based Sledgehammer Games, will be out next year in lieu of a brand new game and will be sold at a premium, according to people familiar with the studio’s plans.

Activision said Monday it’s planning the “most robust Call of Duty live operations to date” next year, the next full premium release in the annual series and more free-to-play experiences across platforms.

The next mainline Call of Duty game is planned for 2024 from its Treyarch studio.

Overwatch 2’s much-anticipated player-versus-environment mode — the game’s greatest deviation from its blockbuster 2016 predecessor — will release sometime in 2023 with the much-anticipated Diablo IV and Call of Duty: Warzone Mobile.

Activision shares closed at $71.10 in New York and have gained 6.9% this year, outperforming rivals due to the Microsoft purchase.

–With assistance from Jason Schreier.

(Updates with closing share price in the final paragraph.)

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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