Activision Blizzard shooter titles picked to dominate

Last updated 12:38 14/08/2014

Call of Duty screenshot

Official Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

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Activision Blizzard, the largest US video-game company, is heading into America’s holiday shopping season with two of the most-anticipated shooter titles and less competition after rivals delayed their products.

Activision's new Destiny game and latest Call of Duty would be the top-selling action titles of the holiday season, according to Michael Hickey, an analyst with Benchmark Co.

He raised his sales estimates after Electronic Arts Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. pushed back competing titles to 2015 because their games need more work.

"It's a big win for these guys," Hickey said in a phone interview.

The timing couldn't be better for Activision, based in Santa Monica, California, and its longtime chief executive officer, Bobby Kotick.

Worldwide sales of games for consoles are forecast to grow 7 per cent to US$27 billion (NZ$32b) this year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, fuelled by demand from consumers who've bought the new PlayStation 4 from Sony or Microsoft's Xbox One. That would mark the first annual growth for game makers since 2008, according to PwC.

"There's a long history and big audience for Call of Duty," Kotick said in a telephone interview.

"It will likely be the most successful game of 2014. Destiny will also be very successful."

Activision, Electronic Arts and Take-Two are among the exhibitors at the world's largest video-game fair, Gamescom, which started Wednesday in Cologne, Germany. The event's organisers were forecasting a record attendance of more than 340,000 visitors seeking out new titles for consoles.

Shooter titles attract fervent fans. Players don headsets and battle in urban or futuristic settings, sometimes on teams. They trade insults. In first-person games, scenes unfold from the player's perspective. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare involves a private military corporation called Atlas. In Destiny, players with incredible power serve as guardians of the last city on Earth.

Hickey was forecasting 2014 unit sales of 19 million for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The analyst raised his projection for Destiny to 10 million copies from 8 million, citing the competitors’ delays.

Publishers like Activision have been racing to tap fresh demand for new and updated games since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One went on sale last November.

The new machines, the first in seven years, offer snappier effects and more life-like ways to play, whether as corporate soldiers in Call of Duty or cops in Grand Theft Auto.

While the consoles were available last year, few machines were in players' hands for the holidays, and only a handful of key titles were ready for sale. As a result, the biggest seller then was Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto V, made for the earlier PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This year's contest would be fought on the Xbox One and the PS4.

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Getting games ready was still proving a challenge. Electronic Arts, based in Redwood City, California, said on July 22 it would push back Battlefield Hardline to early 2015. New York-based Take-Two last week delayed Evolve until early next year, too.

Kotick, Activision's CEO for two decades, was part of a group, with Chairman Brian Kelly, that bought 24 per cent of the company when Vivendi gave up its controlling stake.

The CEO has said Activision may spend as much as US$500 million (NZ$591m) to create and market Destiny. The game would cost about US$60 (NZ$71), and was being released on September 9, ahead of its lead competitors.

Sales could exceed 20 million units within the first 12 months, according to Doug Creutz, an analyst with Cowen & Co, who predicted Destiny would be the top title of 2014. The game was being developed with Bungie, maker of the Halo game for Xbox.

"It's a hotly anticipated title," Creutz said.

"People are ready for a new experience on the new console. We have seen franchise transitions around the transition of new consoles."

Activision's shooter titles weren't the only action games vying for players' attention, and Creutz suggested the company may also be competing with itself.

Destiny may steal sales from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Creutz said. Call of Duty may have sold 16 million units last year and the new version could do 20 per cent less, he said. The game is scheduled to be released on November 4 and would cost about US$60 (NZ$71).

The game was being developed with Sledgehammer Games for next-generation consoles and PCs. The last one, Call of Duty: Ghosts, was made by Infinity Ward studio.

"This year is a better studio, and that matters," Pachter, at Wedbush, said in a telephone interview.

Activision also would be competing with Ubisoft Entertainment SA's titles Far Cry and Assassin's Creed Unity. Hickey, at Benchmark, estimated Ubisoft might sell 6 million copies of Far Cry through March, and 11 million units of Assassin's Creed. Far Cry 4 came out on November 18 and Assassin's Creed on October 28.

Take-Two also would be out with a version of Grand Theft Auto V that had better graphics for the latest consoles. Pachter estimated it would sell about 6 million copies. Some people won't want to buy the game a second time, he said.

Pachter anticipated potential holiday sales of about 35 million units in the shooter category, with much of it going to Activision.

"Take my word for it," he said.

"There's less competition."

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