I don’t know if there are Activision fanboys out there. I’ve yet to come across a gamer who doesn’t like Call of Duty but defends Activision to the death. I don’t think it’s possible to be an Activision fanboy because, honestly, they don’t really care about gamers, just money.
Well, a new analysis of their business practice reaffirms what most core gamers already thought about the publisher and what investors seem to fear, detailing how despite doubling EA and quadrupling Take-Two in revenue, without World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, they don’t have any heavy hitters to sustain them.
Some gamers might jump to their defense and say, “What about Transformers and X-Men, and James Bond…?” Well, reviews of X-Men: Destiny and Spider-Man: Edge of Time according to Metacritic aren’t so hot, and with much bigger games around the corner I’m sure the NPD results for October won’t be very kind to them.
As for GoldenEye: 007 Reloaded and pervious Bond games under Activision’s publishing supervision…well, Quantum of Solace wasn’t so hot and Blood Stone had potential but lacked a lot of what made Everything or Nothing great, ultimately leaving those outings with lukewarm sales [via M16-HQ] and review scores. Then there's the upcoming 007 Reloaded, which launches a few days after Battlefield 3 and a few days before Modern Warfare 3…two of the biggest FPS releases in modern day gaming. Reloaded's linear levels and forgettable graphics don't really help, and I think that alone speaks for itself.
What’s more is that according to GameIndustry.biz, gamers aren’t the only ones feeling lukewarm to anything that isn’t Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. The stock portfolio of Activision has basically stayed the same. Investors aren’t keen of throwing more money into Activision’s pot, nor are they inclined to take it out. They’re comfortable where they are and no one is expecting much from Activision other than to rehash, re-release and keep the annual outings rolling out.
Rob Fahey from GI posted a very revealing NASDAQ performance chart of where investors see Activision, Take-Two and EA and how they are investing according to the current performance of these companies and their future endeavors; it’s kind of bleak for Activision. Check it out below (Activision is blue, Electronic Arts red, Take-Two yellow).
While most people (fanboys in this case) would say that Activision’s performance is steady, the problem is just that. In another chart in the article it clearly shows where Activision gets a boost during Call of Duty announcements and the sales season, but then the company drops down thereafter. In other words, as a publisher Activision has Call of Duty and World of Warcraft to peak their performance while everything else is just to pad their portfolio. If either of the two games above lost any sort of market appeal or value, Activision would be in serious trouble, not from gamers but from investors…the people they seem to cater their business model toward. EA predicts that they'll be able to eat away at Call of Duty's market share value this year and within two year's time the IP will be just as dead as Blur, Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero.
Now, this brings us back to a few other IPs Activision has up their sleeves, namely Transformers and Prototype. It’s likely Prototype 2 will sell well as a multiplatform title, but does it have staying power? Unlike inFamous it feels like Prototype could stay or go and no one would think twice. As for Transformers…it has a lot of marketing appeal right now because of the movies and the story for War for Cybertron was pretty good but the gameplay was extremely shallow. Depending on how High Moon addresses the gameplay in Fall of Cybertron will ultimately determine if it’s a series that has staying power and whether it will boost Activision’s financial portfolio or continue to keep things lukewarm. There's also StarCraft but no announcements have been made for it, and there's a slightly hazy release for Diablo III.
Outside of the aforementioned, unfortunately Activision doesn’t really have any high profile franchises that either push any genres forward or aim to innovate. In result, investors aren’t dumping more funds into Activision (or taking a lot out) they’re just kind of staying still and riding out the cows being milked. It’s kind of the complete opposite over in the EA, Take-Two or even the Apple camp, where they are showing a lot of growth over the past couple of years.
It’s possible with Bungie under Activision’s publishing wing that there might be a high profile launch title in the works for the next generation of consoles, or maybe a quick fix for a 2012 holiday release. But as it stands, without Call of Duty or World of Warcraft Activision doesn’t really have any strong standing IPs to rock the industry with longevity.
One thing is for sure: Gamers nagging and pestering Activision about their innovation-less publishing strategy aren’t alone, and the investors seem to be holding steady to see what happens next.