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Activision Blizzard's Earnings Call: Beachhead, Modern Warfare 3 & Diablo III

Activision Blizzard today held a Q4 2010 earnings call to discuss the final quarter of last year, as well as their expectations for 2011. Interestingly, they provided quite a few morsels of information that won't bore you to death like you'd normally expect out of a financial call.

At the forefront of the information drop is what company executives referred to as "Project Beachhead," or "Beachhead" at points during the call. It's a new platform being designed for Call of Duty, and sounds vaguely similar to something like Steam, Battle.net, or perhaps Xbox Live. It supports in-game integration, and will "bring console and online experiences together for the first time," according to Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg.

Likewise, the company has "dedicated resources to providing a continuous flow of online content" for Call of Duty, says Activision CFO Thomas Tippl. In addition to that, there is also a "blockbuster release" of a new first-person shooter title for the franchise planned for the fall of this year, all but confirming the development of Modern Warfare 3. Beyond that, there is also a Call of Duty game in development specifically intended to attract an audience in China, but its release has yet to be determined.

"Call of Duty is at the epicenter of online gaming, perhaps making it the stickiest franchise ever." -Erich Hirshberg, Activision Publishing CEO.

With news of peripheral-based and mid-tier titles performing lower than expected, Activision Blizzard has made the tough decision to discontinue both the Guitar Hero and DJ Hero franchises, in addition to canceling development on True Crime Hong Kong. Hirshberg cited that it has simply become too costly to continue developing the two peripheral-based titles. To that end, there will be "no music or skateboarding titles in 2011," according to the company.

On the Diablo III front, it's looking a bit grim for a 2011 release, even though the product slate suggested it late last year. Or at least, for now. Blizzard is sticking to their guns -- even when addressing investors -- and will not give word of a release date until they're confident. That said, Mike Morhaime did mention that he will have details on the game and its beta during the next earnings call. That's three months from now.

On the bright side, though Activision Blizzard did not include a Blizzard release in their 2011 outlook, and it turns out that there isn't one, they "plan to launch a minimum of two titles in 2012," according to Tippl. Those two titles are pretty easy to guess: Diablo III and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm.

While Blizzard doesn't get specific, a question came up for Mike Morhaime about the breakdown of sales between digital and retail. "Retail is still the lion's share of our sales," he said. This comes even as Blizzard for the first time ever offered a direct digital download purchase of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm before it was available in stores -- allowing players to buy it and have it ready to go for release.

Finally, some stats and other tidbits dropped during the call:

  • Cataclysm and StarCraft II are being prepared for launch in China.
  • Blizzard hopes to bring paid services to China soon. Paid character transfer is the only one currently available.
  • StarCraft II and Cataclysm were the top-two selling PC titles in retail for 2010 in both North America and Europe.
  • StarCraft II is approaching 4.5 million units sold to-date worldwide.
  • More than 150,000 StarCraft II maps have been uploaded to Battle.net.
  • Since November, about as many people have played Black Ops as there are subscribers to Netflix.
  • Black Ops players have spent the same amount of time playing that the average user spends on Facebook.

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