Activision CEO Bobby Kotick will either go down in video game history as man who called out the social gaming bubble or the short-sited executive who missed the iPhone and Facebook games opportunity completely.
In an interview with Reuters, Mr. Kotick said his focus was on existing businesses and franchises they control (e.g., Call of Duty and World of Warcraft) and not the newfangled (I added that word for humorous effect) new platforms such as iPhone and Facebook.
Specifically, Kotick said “[Activision doesn’t] view the App Store as a really big opportunity for dedicated games.” As for Facebook, whereas he sees many playing freemium social games, it’s hard to monetize. “Right now,” he says, “we don’t see an opportunity for us to participate in that market.
This is contrary to every other video game and media companies (for examples: EA, Disney) that are placing huge bets on social games on Facebook and the iPhone.
In the short term, Mr. Kotick is correct to assume that any revenues Activision will earn on the iPhone and Facebook will pale in comparison to the money they can make on their existing businesses. Call of Duty: Black Ops set a video game record of $650 million in revenues on five days of sales.
He’s also being short sided though. Zynga is reportedly earning greater than $500 million in revenues in 2010 with projections of $1 billion in 2011. 12 million copies of Angry Birds have been sold in the past year. And this does not account for all the game companies from Asia and China that are entering and flooding the space with new freemium social games in the upcoming year.
Even if Mr. Kotick is correct and Facebook and iPhone games crash and burn like a value of subdivision in the Las Vegas desert, with $3 billion in cash and cash cows like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, what does Activision have to lose by investing $5 – 10 million into Facebook and iPhone? A triple AAA title for consoles costs $50 million to make and a game franchise can lose its value anytime (case in point, Guitar Hero). A Facebook or iPhone game costs much less.
The irony is that every Facebook and social mobile games company in the world is pitching themselves as the company that will create World of Warcraft for Facebook or iPhone.
Activision is a well-run company and Mr. Kotick has a reputation for being very smart, so I would not bet against them. I am also not going to go out of my way to buy Activision stock either.