In an analyst conference call held following Activision's announcement of strong fiscal year and quarter financial results
, company executives spoke at length about the company's successes and plans for its key franchises - but declined to comment significantly on the upcoming Vivendi merger until the deal is complete.
Company chairman and CEO Bobby Kotick (pictured) took the reins for the early part of the call, pointing to Activision's financial successes released earlier. He noted that the company's financial growth outpaced the rate of growth of the United States and European game markets by more than four times.
A significant amount of time was devoted to discussion of Activision's current two key franchises, Guitar Hero
and Call of Duty
, which took top sales slots in the last fiscal year.
Kotick put life-to-date sales of the Guitar Hero
franchise at 19 million - "versus only three million from our only competitor," he pointedly added, referencing Rock Band
from Guitar Hero
Going forward, Activision will "triple the number of [Guitar Hero] SKUs" in fiscal 2009 relative to fiscal 2008. The executive implied that development on the franchise would be expanding out to other internal Activision studios to capitalize on the company's worldwide development stable.
Currently, main entries are primarily developed by Tony Hawk
creator Neversoft, with handheld specialist studio Vicarious Visions working on the DS-exclusive Guitar Hero On Tour
. Nintendo plans to release a package bundling the game with Nintendo DS Lite hardware.
In response to an investor's question as to whether Guitar Hero
will see expansion to other peripherals such as drums, Activision Publishing president and CEO Mike Griffith called the franchise "extremely expandable" and stated that further details on the next main entry would be coming within a couple of weeks.
"We expect a leap forward in innovation for our holiday launch," said Griffith.
Griffith also noted that Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
was the only third-party Wii title to reach the top five on sales charts during the holiday period, and it remains the highest-selling third-party Wii game.
Call of Duty
Griffith confirmed that a new Call of Duty
game is in the works for this fiscal year, now set in "a new military theater." Early reports have suggested the game is being developed by Call of Duty 3
The title will match Call of Duty 4
's platform list of PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, and will add Wii, PlayStation 2, and Nintendo DS.
Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4
engine will also be used in Activision's first James Bond title, set to be released concurrently with this year's film Quantum of Solace.
Presumably in response to Electronic Arts' strong Tony Hawk
competition with EA Black Box's Skate
, Griffith stated, "We're inventing Tony from the ground up."
Activision currently has two separate Tony Hawk games in the works, the first of which is exclusive to Nintendo DS and is planned for launch this year. Vicarious Visions, which has in recent years has enjoyed better critical reception for its handheld Tony Hawk
games than Neversoft has for its home console entries, is likely creating the title.
The next Tony Hawk game intended for consoles is a more ambitious development, and will not launch until some time in the fiscal year beginning in April 2009. Said Griffith, "For competitive reasons we're not going to talk about it today, but we're very bullish on the kind of innovation it will bring, and it won't be your father's Tony Hawk."
Console Growth Projections
Griffith also laid out his company's expectations for console platform growth during the 2008 calendar year. Activision expects PlayStation 2 sales to rise by 2-3 million units, PlayStation 3 sales to rise by 3-4 million, Xbox 360 by 4-5 million, Wii by 7 million, and handhelds to see combined sales growth of 11 million units.
"We continue to be pleased by consumer acceptance of current software pricing," the executive said, "and we expect to continue to see value-added titles like Guitar Hero command significantly higher prices."
Little was said about the upcoming merger between Activision and Vivendi, but Activision executives did comment that the deal will give Activision stronger inroads into the Asian market, particularly Korea where Blizzard enjoys massive success.
In a broader sense, Kotick noted, Activision will also be leveraging Blizzard's considerable experience in the online arena worldwide.
Activision declined to provide financial guidance for the eventual merged company Activision Blizzard, stating that none would be delivered until after the deal has been finalized.