In brief: After turning in respectable first-quarter earnings, Activision Blizzard plans to expand the Call of Duty franchise. Over the next year, the company plans to hire at least 2,000 developers, nearly tripling its current CoD staffing. AB also confirmed a new "premium" Call of Duty title from Sledgehammer Games arrives this fall.
Thanks in part to the stay-at-home pandemic, gaming companies have been turning in higher than expected earnings for the first quarter of 2021. Activision Blizzard just reported net revenues of $2.28 billion for Q1 2021. The company had projected $2.02 billion. GAAP earnings were $0.79 per share, eight cents higher than investors were expecting. As a result of the positive news, stock prices bounced eight percent to $93.74 as of this morning.
Activision's money-maker, of course, was Call of Duty, which led the company to a 72-percent increase in business. Between traditional CoD titles and its free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone, Activision tripled its monthly active users in the last two years to 150 million players. In just Q1 2021, MAU increased 40 percent thanks to its decision to incorporate Warzone into Black Ops Cold War. Its mobile CoD game also contributed more than $1 billion in revenue since launching in 2019.
Blizzard's half of the business has done well too. Following the World of Warcraft expansion Shadowlands, the company saw revenue increase to $483 million, a seven-percent gain, despite losing about 2 million MAUs. Wccftech notes that Blizzard's MAU decline isn't likely to correct itself until Diablo IV and Overwatch 2 release, which could happen as early as next year.
Additionally, the company's mobile games division, Seattle-based King, continues to crush it with its top money-maker Candy Crush bringing in $609 million.
In the coming year, Activision plans to continue to grow the Call of Duty franchise. It told investors that work is almost complete on a new title in the series. Developer Sledgehammer Games should deliver the unnamed game later this year. Seeing the success of Black Ops Cold War, Sledgehammer will also integrate Warzone into the new title.
Charlie Intel reports that Activision Blizzard's COO Daniel Alegre said that the new CoD title would leverage the "next-generation experience" to attract more players.
"The game is looking great and on track for its fall release," Alegre said in the earnings call. "This is a built for next-generation experience with stunning visuals across campaign, multiplayer, and co-operative modes of play, designed to both integrate with and enhance the existing COD ecosystem."
In all, it has been something of a boom for Activision Blizzard. They just opened a new Sledgehammer Games studio in Toronto and plan to hire more than 2,000 new developers within the next year, which will triple the size of its current CoD staff. The hiring comes after the company pruned back its esports division earlier this year. Because of the pandemic, it laid off 50 staffers and restructured its esporting events to shift focus from live competitions to online-only play.