Analysts bullish on Activision-Bungie alliance, 10 million sales predicted

[UPDATE] EEDAR's Jesse Divnich calls 10-year deal "a win-win for the entire industry;" Pachter predicts blockbuster sales; Schachter, Hickey, Wilson point to earning potential, Infinity Ward fiasco deflection.


Halo 3
Halo 3: ODST

This morning, Activision broke its string of poor publicity with word that it had signed Halo creator Bungie to an exclusive 10-year publishing deal. The partnership gives Activision international publishing rights of a new, unnamed intellectual property created by Bungie through 2020, one that will be available on all relevant platforms.

Bungie fans are starting to get an idea of what's next after Halo: Reach.
Bungie fans are starting to get an idea of what's next after Halo: Reach.

So how do analysts view the deal that will see Activision lording over the next big thing from the 25-million-unit-selling studio? Positively, of course. According to Electronic Entertainment Design and Research vice president of analyst services Jesse Divnich, the Activision-Bungie partnership isn't just a positive for the two companies; it's a win for the industry as a whole.

"A Bungie/Activision relationship is a win-win for the entire industry," he said. "Bungie retains property and creative rights, Activision is a top-tier publisher, which gets a Bungie game on retail shelves worldwide, and a huge win for consumers, who will finally get a multi-platform IP from the Bungie team."

"I've seen many comments about Bungie selling their 'soul' on this deal, but that is not the case," he continued. "This agreement with Activision is one of the best things that could happen to Bungie and for the gaming community. It doesn't matter how great an independent developer may be, you still need a publisher. Making an impeccable game is only half the equation, because without a retail infrastructure your game will go nowhere, literally."

Divnich also pointed out how the deal echoes that of the Infinity Ward castaways at Respawn, who signed a publishing deal with EA as an independent studio. He noted that the industry appears to be reversing the consolidation trend it has been on for the past 15 years.

"Since 1995, we have seen enormous consolidation of large independent studios, but what we've been seeing lately is that a lot of the creative minds that helped build these billion dollar properties (Sims, Call of Duty, etc.) simply do not thrive in a corporate environment," he said.

[UPDATE] Though details remain nonexistent on what, exactly, Bungie's next project will entail, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter believes that the studio's name alone will result in unit sales in the 10s of millions.

"My guess is that any future Bungie game will sell at least 10 million units, as they will appear on multiple platforms for the first time," Pachter said. "As a reference, the typical Halo game made by Bungie sold around 10 million units worldwide over its life at an average retail price of around $50, and these appeared only on the Xbox/Xbox 360. If future Bungie games are as popular as Halo, they could sell as many as 15 million units on Xbox 360 and PS3 combined."

Pachter also believes Bungie's first Activision-published game will arrive in 2011, with subsequent installments following every two years.

A variety of other analysts also offered approval of the deal, due to both its ability to generate cash for Activision and its timing to deflect attention from the increasing turmoil at Modern Warfare 2 studio Infinity Ward.

"We think this is a very important win for Activision and liken it to the equivalent of signing a 10-year deal with Stephen Spielberg," commented Broadpoint.AmTech analyst Ben Schachter. "That said, we suspect it was a very expensive deal for Activision to win as well, although the company would not provide specifics on terms of the agreement."

Schachter went on to note that "the announcement should put to rest any concerns about whether the well-publicized issues at Infinity Ward would limit Activision's ability to attract key developers." Janco Partners' Mike Hickey echoed those sentiments, saying, "Clearly, Activision continues to be a solid partner for some of the biggest and brightest developers in the world."

Lazard Capital Markets' Colin Sebastian noted that the deal will go a long way in diversifying Activision's current portfolio, which he believes is heavily reliant on the Call of Duty franchise. "We believe that the new publishing agreement with Bungie provides additional long-term visibility for Activision Publishing, which currently is largely dependent on the Call of Duty franchise for the bulk of its operating profits," he said. "As such, we view the deal positively."

Investors have also taken keenly to Activision's new partner. The publisher's stock was trading up 2.84 percent, or $0.31, at $11.24 as of press time.

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