Blizzard positive about Q3 earnings, but..

Posted by Daeity On Thursday, November 4, 2010

With everything Blizzard has been bragging about over the past several months (e.g. successful WOTLK China launch, largest ever "12 million subscribers", huge number of people returning to WoW in anticipation of Cataclysm, etc.) you would expect this quarter's World of Warcraft earnings to be highly successful.

I think you'll be shocked by the results:

World of Warcraft revenues were $289 million for the 3rd quarter.

That's the exact same amount of revenue as their previous quarter.

In 2009 during the same quarter, they made $306 million (even though they have much larger subscription base in 2010).

During the 2nd Quarter (Ending June 30 2010), they released the Celestial Steed, the RAF Flying Mount, and introduced the Remote/Mobile Auction House service at the end of the quarter (so revenues for that new service actually carried over to the 3rd quarter.)

To help put things into perspective: even with ALL OF THAT FANFARE, the China launch, the "huge climb" of subscriptions, and Cataclysm coming soon, they still only made the same amount of revenue that they did during a quarter when absolutely NOTHING happened.

This is bad news indeed.

It gets much worse though. According to ActiBlizzion, they raked in $745 million in revenue with only $51 million in actual profit. That's a huge amount of expenses that cut deep into their revenue. (Although, they put a very positive spin on their Q3 results.)

World of Warcraft generated $289 million in revenue but their own expenses (staff costs, server operating costs, etc. according to Blizzard) were only about $13 million for that quarter.

So, WoW generated over $270 million in profit - but the Activision side of the family laid a gigantic smackdown on their overall profit, They must have some pretty insane expenses and I wonder what the investors feel about this? Look at it this way: if there was no "Activision", that $51 million profit would have been over $270 million instead.

World of Warcraft, by the way, is ActiBlizzion's flagship product and amounts to almost 40% of the entire company's revenue stream. You can see that Vivendi is incredibly dependent on Blizzard, but without WoW there would be a massive deficit. (See "What Vivendi Fears Most".)

* Addendum: Back in March 2010, Kotaku had an interesting article.. Activision's reports pointed out that World of Warcraft amounted to 98% of Blizzard's revenue which was up from the previous two years (97%). WoW also accounted for ~70% of Activision's net revenue. 'nuff said.

During the Q3 earnings presentation, Activision also kept bringing up Starcraft 2 and how successful the launch was. They mentioned everything else I said they would, but I was surprised they kept talking about Starcraft 2. Details had already been announced during the previous quarter and was talked about at great length at the time. But, I didn't think they were desperate enough to bring it up again ("SC2 launch! SC2 launch everybody!".. you know, even though the information was released already last quarter.)

Starcraft 2 sales figures were also very disappointing. They only sold 3 million units to date. By comparison, Red Dead Redemption (a more recent release) sold 5 million units in less than a month and it was considered a moderate success. Using that same time frame as a basis of comparison, the original Starcraft sold almost 2.5 million units (SC1 launched in 1998 plus BW units which launched 8 months later during that same year). Tiberian Sun (1999) sold 3 million units by year end, and Red Alert (1996) sold 1.5 million in under 4 weeks - and another million more over the next few months.

Keep in mind that those sales were from over a decade ago, and they're comparable to Starcraft 2 sales as they are now!

Worldwide, the video game industry revenues in 2007 were about $41.9 billion, in 2004 they were $25.4 billion, and in 1994 they were $7 billion. So, since 2001 video game revenues have almost tripled in size (2.7x actually), and even with that explosive growth, SC2 still only sold the same amount as Tiberian Sun from over 10 years ago (within the same timeframe, the only difference is that SC2 sold more on opening day).

"Professional Analysts" had initially predicated that SC2 sales would be significantly higher: 7 million sales within the first 5 months, 4 million within 3 months, 6.5 million within 5 months, 5 million in 5 months, and finally 6 million in 5 months. Apparently, Cataclysm is also supposed to sell 6 million copies on the first day, according to one of the analysts.

Keep in mind that these "professional analysts" are the best and brightest in this field. Man, were they off.

So anyhow.. overall the Q3 conference turned out just as depressing as Blizzcon 2010 - no news, no major announcements, just very boring and disappointing. If I was a major investor in the company, I would be very angry and asking a lot of questions.

* Quick Update:

One of the readers didn't understand the comparison of Blizzard's "3 million in the first month", compared to analyst predictions of "7 million sales within 5 months", etc. If you read back over past posts, this makes more sense as I've talked trends and sales figures.

What happens is that the largest amount of sales occur on the first day. And then the numbers steadily drop each follow day. SC2 for example sold 1.5M on the first day, on the next day they sold half that amount, and then 50% of that figure, and so on.

Almost all game releases follow the same trend, here's an example:

5 million during the first week (largest amount on the opening day)
800,000 during the second week
600,000 during the third week
400,000 during the fourth week
200,000 during the fifth week
150,000 during the sixth week
100,000.. 70,000.. 50,000 etc.

As of right now (4 months after release), Starcraft 2 is at about 3 million units sold. With only 1 month to go, there's a very unlikely chance that SC2 will suddenly sell 4 million units within the next few weeks. I hope that clarifies.