Activision Blizzard First Quarter 2021 Financial Results – Intent to Hire 2000+ Developers Over Next Two Years

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Activision Blizzard First Quarter 2021 Financial Results - Intent to Hire 2000+ Developers Over Next Two Years



Activision Blizzard just finished their first-quarter financial results conference call, announcing significantly better than expected results for Q1 of 2021. Major topics include the the intent to hire 2,000+ new developers across all major franchises over the next two years, plans to triple the size of some franchise teams by the end of the year, and aggressive hiring plans for new studios and major expansion in Poland, China, Australia, and Canada.

Blizzard Entertainment highlights include continual strong reach and engagement for World of Warcraft, including a particularly high number of new players getting into the game for the first time, and a somewhat vague statement that the Burning Crusade Classic expansion would launch “in the coming months” – seemingly confirming the leaked June 1st release date. Diablo II: Resurrected alpha had the highest ever online viewership for a Blizzard game test, with both it and Diablo Immortal on track for global release later this year. Mobile development is also a continuing top priority, citing several mobile Warcraft and unannounced initiatives in development, along with the firm the belief that franchises need to be accessible wherever there are players, which includes the projected 4 billion mobile device market worldwide. Little was shared regarding Overwatch 2 or Diablo 4 however, neither of which are expected to release until at least 2022.

In his opening speech, CEO Bobby Kotick congratulated the Activision Blizzard in continuing to serve an active community of more than 400 million players across 190 countries amid the challenging circumstances of the last year, leading to significantly better than expected first quarter results. First quarter net bookings increased by 36% to over $2.1 billion, driven by the three core franchises, Call of Duty, Warcraft, and Candy Crush, each delivering strong double digit growth. Demand for content has never been higher, and citing the continued success of the Call of Duty model resulting in an increase of over 100 million players in a year, it will be a template applied to current and future franchises as Activision Blizzard attempts to grow its audience to a billion players worldwide. The CEO also formally introduced Armin Zerza’s appointment from COO to CFO, taking over for Dennis Durkin.

Our employees continue to demonstrate exceptional performance under challenging circumstances. That relentless drive across our franchises produced strong first quarter results that were well ahead of expectations. Our continued overperformance enables us to raise our outlook for the full year.
– Bobby Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard

Highlights

Activision – 150 million monthly active users, up from 128 million in Q4 2020

The introduction of free-to-play and mobile has transformed Call of Duty, more than tripling franchise MAUs over the last two years, and leading Activision to a new record of 150M MAUs.

  • Call of Duty franchise MAUs grew over 40%, with even higher engagement growth setting a new quarterly record. In-game Net bookings on console and PC grew more than 60%. Sledgehammer Games is currently developing the next premium update.
  • Black Ops Cold War premium sales well above typical first quarter levels, due to the integration with Warzone.
  • Call of Duty Mobile March season concluding with its highest ever player investment, and April season now the top-grossing to date at this point after launch. Mobile launch in China has brought in tens of millions of new players, doubling worldwide player investment in the first quarter.

Blizzard Entertainment – 27 million monthly active users, down from 29 million in Q4 2020

The Warcraft franchise maintained its strong momentum, while Blizzard’s teams continued to make good progress on a rich pipeline and extending key franchises to mobile.

  • World of Warcraft has seen strong reach, engagement, and participation in value added services, along with a particularly high number of new players joining the community for the first time, boosted by initiatives to enhance the onboarding experience.
  • Shadowlands continues to drive strong results following its record-setting release in November, with first quarter franchise net bookings growing sharply.
  • Diablo II: Resurrected saw very positive feedback during early testing in April and online viewership of the alpha test was the highest ever for a Blizzard game test. It is scheduled to release later this year.
  • Diablo Immortal entered its second phase of testing and is on track for global release later this year.
  • Hearthstone: Forged in the Barrens is on track to deliver expansion-over-expansion net bookings growth for the second consecutive release.

King – 258 million monthly active users, up from 240 million in Q4 2020

The first quarter saw King continue to benefit from successful growth initiatives across the business, exhibiting better seasonality than typically seen following the fourth quarter, led by Candy Crush.

  • King In-game net bookings have remained strong into the second quarter, in the high-teens percentage Y/Y, accelerating further relative to Q4.
  • Candy Crush grew in-game net bookings very strongly Y/Y and was once again the top grossing franchise in the U.S. app stores.
  • Farm Heroes in-game net bookings also grew sharply Y/Y.
  • Crash Bandicoot: On the Run! has seen over 30M downloads to-date.

Q&A

The Q&A session focused on consumer behavior in a post-lockdown environment, with Activision Blizzard citing continued strong engagement across all major franchises, with player investment remaining high across regions already opening back up. While there were some early benefits from sheltering in place, much of the expansion seen in the largest franchises has been due to product initiatives such as the launch of CoD: Warzone, the release of World of Warcraft: Classic and Shadowlands, and continued focus on delivering regular content updates for Candy Crush. For example, Call of Duty’s recently launched season 3 has held similarly strong trajectory to season 1 and season 2 with over 200 million streaming viewers and crossing the line over $1 billion in player investment, while World of Warcraft is seeing very strong engagement ahead of the launch of Burning Crusade Classic, and the company is seeing a long term trend of more people gaming than ever before, across more geographies and platforms. Some studios have already reopened as needed to facilitate things that cannot be accomplished from home, such as motion capture, though strict adherence to Covid testing and separation protocols have been observed in order to ensure employee safety. Other studios are being opened or expanded in Poland, China, Australia, and Canada while facilitating their goal of hiring 2,000+ developers over the next two years.

Ongoing mobile development was another major topic, extolling the belief that franchises need to be accessible wherever players are. With nearly 4 billion mobile devices worldwide, Activision Blizzard would be doing themselves and their community a disservice if their games weren’t accessible on those platforms, citing the top 10 mobile franchises all being based on existing PC/Console IP. As a result, the company wants to eventually open all of their franchises to mobile, either through new gameplay better suited to mobile devices, or reimagining existing experiences. To facilitate this, Activision Blizzard is investing in hiring hundreds of mobile developers and leveraging what they’ve learned from the tremendous success of King since it’s acquisition five years ago.

The Blizzard content pipeline was also briefly discussed, with a focus on multiple Diablo titles in development, stating that there has never been a better time to be a Diablo fan, with the IP still full of potential. The three upcoming releases are expected to expand the audience by reaching out to different subsets of players.

  • Diablo 2: Resurrected is bringing a “true classic in gaming” into the modern gaming world, brining in both new fans and returning ones.
  • Diablo Immortal’s goal is to broaden the audience by bringing an authentic version of Diablo to mobile.
  • Diablo 4 will enhance the art of the action RPG genre with the introduction of the next mainline title.





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