Activision claims top slot as Vivendi closes financing

Call of Duty 4 and Guitar Hero III publisher does victory lap as French multinational locks down funding for Activision-Blizzard union.

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Yesterday's year-end data dump from the NPD Group contained many smaller stories. One was that Activision is trumpeting the fact it was the US's top third-party publisher of console and handheld games during 2007. The Santa Monica-based publisher claimed a 17.7 percent share of the domestic non-PC game software market last year, up from 7.2 percent in 2006.

Activision gives the most credit for its success to a single franchise: Guitar Hero. Picked up for a now-bargain $100 million in 2006, the license was the top-selling property in 2007, thanks to the release of Guitar Hero II, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80, and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Citing NPD figures not released to the press, the publisher asserts that Guitar Hero III "was the number one title across all platforms in both units and dollars" in 2007 and the number one game in December. When all platforms are combined, the number three game for the month was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare from Activision-owned developer Infinity Ward.

"For the first time in our history, we were the number-one U.S. publisher for the calendar year," crowed Activision Chairman and CEO Robert Kotick in a not-so-veiled reference to Electronic Arts. "We are well on our way to delivering 16 years of record revenue growth and by far our most profitable year ever." During the fiscal year that ended last March, the company had revenues of $1.5 billion, but just $85.8 million in net income--aka profit--thanks to a massive investment in development.

But even as Kotick touted his company's dominance of the console and handheld markets, preparations were being made for the union that will put Activision and the top maker of PC games under the same corporate roof. Reuters reports that in Paris, French multinational conglomerate Vivendi has secured a loan of 3.5 billion euros ($5.13 billion) to partially assist in bankrolling the purchase of its controlling stake in soon-to-be superpublisher Activision Blizzard.

Underwritten by several banks, the loan will include 1.5 billion euros ($2.19 billion) for the unrelated purchase of an Internet services provider, and another 2 billion being handed out in timed intervals. According to Reuters, Vivendi has already acquired credit lines totaling nearly 4 billion euros ($5.84 billion) to help it acquire a controlling stake in Activision Blizzard, which will have an estimated value of $18.8 billion.

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