Activision at record high after 'solid' earnings
Shares of Activision Blizzard surged to record highs Friday after the video game publisher announced strong fourth-quarter financials.
Activision's shares rose more than $2.50, up about 14% to $19.83 at one point around noon. If the stock closes there, it would be the highest closing price of the stock on a split-adjusted basis.
Activision's all-time high was $19.30, according to S&P Capital IQ. The stock closed Thursday at $17.17, up 28 cents, and rose to $18.55 in after-hours trading following the release of the earnings report.
The largest U.S. video game company, and maker of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises, beat Wall Street expectations Thursday with adjusted revenue of $2.27 billion, up 3% from $2.22 billion. For the quarter, Activision net profit rose a record 79 cents per share, up from 72 cents – that beat analysts estimates of 73 cents per share on revenue of $2.22 billion.
Activision's Call of Duty and World of Warcraft helped drive performance. Call of Duty: Ghosts, released in November, was the No. 1 game in the fourth quarter of 2013, the company said, in both units and dollars, and the top-selling game on the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One systems. And 2012's Call of Duty: Black Ops II was the ninth best-selling game of the year.
The company's Skylanders franchise, with the new SWAP Force game released in October, topped $2 billion in global sales by the end of the year. About 175 millionSkylanders toys have been sold.
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Blizzard's StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm was the top-selling PC game of the year, the company said, and World of Warcraft maintained its spot atop the massively multiplayer online role-playing game category with 7.8 million subscribers.
It was announced that Activision-owned studio Sledgehammer Games is developing the next Call of Duty game, expected in November -- Black Ops II studio Treyarch continues to work on an upcoming installment, too -- under a new three-year development cycle for the franchise.
Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg called Sledgehammer Games "a AAA studio ... (that) demonstrated their skill on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and on their past highly rated games. They are the perfect choice to support our new approach and bring fresh ideas and creativity to this great franchise and to raise the bar for next-gen games overall, which we believe they can do."
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The three-year development cycle will "give our teams more time to polish, helping to ensure that we delivered the best possible experience to our fans each and every time," Hirshberg said in a teleconference call after Activision announced its earnings, according to the transcript on SeekingAlpha.com.
On Sledgehammer Games' web site, co-founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey said that "the next Call of Duty represents a new era for this amazing franchise, and we look forward to sharing what we have been working on."
A new free-to-play PC game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft from Blizzard is currently in beta and is expected to arrive on tablets and smartphones later this year, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said. And Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is due out March 25.
—By USA Today's Mike Snider