Activision not counting on Diablo III in 2011

Publisher's year-end financial figures show $4.45 billion in sales; company not committing to any major release from Blizzard this year.

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Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk aren't the only Activision franchises going silent this year. In its year-end investor conference call today, the publisher cautioned investors that its sales and profit estimates for the current year didn't take into account any major releases from Blizzard for 2011.

When summoning demonic overlords, it's best not to rush.
When summoning demonic overlords, it's best not to rush.

In the call, Activision COO and CFO Thomas Tippl specifically said that with no current release window for Blizzard's Diablo III, the publisher "felt it prudent" to omit the game from its 2011 financial outlook numbers.

"We think that in the long run, Blizzard is good for one major new release a year," Tippl said. "But of course, what always rules is that the quality of the game has to be there."

Tippl pointed out that there was no major Blizzard game in 2009 due to the delay of Starcraft II. However, the developer made up for that hole in its release schedule by launching both the sci-fi real-time strategy game and the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion in 2010. If such a situation happens again and there's no Blizzard game released this year, Tippl suggested there would likely be two major titles from the developer in 2012.

Looking to another lynchpin of the company's current campaign, Tippl addressed this year's Call of Duty game and whether or not it can top the chart-busting performance of Black Ops. While the franchise will have higher digital revenues than last year, thanks to an expanded slate of downloadable content, Tippl said the company is projecting lower sales at retail for the game. He stressed that is consistent with Activision's approach to Black Ops, which it had initially (and incorrectly) projected to sell fewer copies than 2009's hit Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

As for its recently completed campaign, Activision posted net revenues of $4.45 billion for the year ended December 31, 2010, up nearly 4 percent from the previous year's $4.28 billion. However, fourth quarter sales actually slipped, down more than 8 percent to less than $1.43 billion.

The publisher's profits mirrored its sales performance, with the full-year numbers painting a rosier picture than those for the fourth quarter alone. For the full year, Activision's net profits totaled $418 million, well over triple the $113 million it took home the year before. However, the publisher posted a net loss for the fourth quarter, ending up $233 million in the red. That was still an improvement over the previous year's fourth quarter, when Activision's net losses totaled $286 million.

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