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Analyst:  StarCraft II  Could Sell 4 Million

Analyst: StarCraft II Could Sell 4 Million

July 29, 2009 | By Kris Graft

July 29, 2009 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Activision Blizzard shares have slumped 14 percent in the last month, MarketWatch reports, as investors seemingly fret over the possibility that Blizzard's PC real-time strategy game StarCraft II may not make the 2009 calendar year.

But with Activision-owned Infinity Ward on track to launch the first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to masses of frothing gamers, investors might have little to worry about.

Some analysts expect Modern Warfare 2 to be the biggest-selling title of 2009. Development is on-track, and Activision is ramping up massive marketing efforts surrounding the game, which launches November 10.

Modern Warfare 2 may be successful enough to offset any potential StarCraft II delay, Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter told Gamasutra. "[Modern Warfare 2] has the potential to sell an extra 4 million copies this year due to the big advertising push, so [a StarCraft 2 delay] could net out to zero financial impact."

In MarketWatch's report, Brean Murray analyst Jess Lubert concurred: "Even without StarCraft, I think Activision should be able to get to their current guidance for the year. But without StarCraft, getting an upside to that number might be challenging."

In May, Activision Blizzard raised its calendar 2009 sales guidance to $4.3 billion from $4.2 billion.

Blizzard has gone on record to say that it hopes to release StarCraft II, the sequel to the 1998 original, sometime by the end of 2009. But the studio, known for World of Warcraft and its virtually peerless roster of successful games, still clung to the policy of "it's done when it's done."

"The beta testing for StarCraft hasn't started yet. If it starts in August and takes five to six months, then launching the game this year is next to impossible," said Lubert.

Pachter said that when the game does ship, he expects it to sell 4 million units in its opening quarter. At $40 wholesale ($50 retail), that would equate to $160 million in revenues for Activision Blizzard. Operating profit could hit $80 million, he said, or 4 cents per share.

As for the StarCraft 2 beta, he said, "Nobody (truly nobody) knows how long the StarCraft II beta will take. It’s highly likely that the game is polished, with few or no bugs. The issue is balance, and until there is a large scale beta, Blizzard won’t be able to test every single weapon, defense, et cetera, in order to ensure that the three races are perfectly balanced."

"They did a phenomenal job with the World of Warcraft beta (as I recall, it was around four months), and they will have no issues at all in attracting 30,000 supremely knowledgeable beta testers, so my bias is that the beta will take less time than most expect."

He added, "...The Blizzard guys are perfectionists, and if they want to take six months, nobody at Activision is going to challenge them," said Pachter. "So the bottom line is that StarCraft II will launch when Blizzard says so."

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