Evaluating Electronic Arts: FIFA And Madden Will Be Key In Changing Landscape

Apr.29.14 | About: Electronic Arts (EA)

The video game landscape has changed significantly over the last few years. Through the last decade, the advent of smartphones and tablets has increased the ease of access to games, leading to the rise of casual gaming. Gamers are no longer restricted to consoles and high-end PCs, but can use their smartphones to play games on the go. As a result of this revolution, video game companies have had to change their business models to adapt to the evolving market. One such company is Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA), the developer of popular games such as Madden NFL, FIFA and Battlefield. EA released 56 games in 2010, of which 28 were for mobile and tablet platforms and 22 were for consoles. In 2013, the company released just 24 titles, 12 for consoles and 6 for smartphones and tablets. [1]

Despite the significant decline in the number of titles released, EA's revenues grew from $3.5 billion 2010 to $3.7 billion in 2013, while gross profits increased from $2 billion to $2.2 billion. This was largely due to the adoption of secondary service streams such as downloadable content (DLC), subscriptions, matchmaking and in-game advertising. Revenues from these streams increased from $296 million in 2010 to $1.4 billion in 2013 and accounted for almost 40% of the company's income in 2013. As product costs, warehousing and distribution costs and manufacturing royalties are not applicable to these streams, they also have higher margins. Gross margins for product sales are around 50% while those for service revenues are close to 80%.

We have been closely following this trend and accordingly have restructured our model for Electronic Arts to reflect the changes in the gaming landscape. In the new model, we divide EA into two primary business divisions: Products, and Downloadable Content, Subscriptions and Other Services. We have updated our price estimate for Electronic Arts' stock to $27, in-line with the current market price.

Below, and in several subsequent articles, we discuss the new model in detail as well as our price estimate for Electronic Arts.

Note: Electronic Arts follows a fiscal year ending March 31. However, we are using adjusted values for the calendar year ending December 31.

Is Casual Gaming Eating Up The Market?

According to research group NPD's figures, video game retail sales increased from $18 billion in 2007 to $21 billion in 2008. [2] However, sales began declining in 2009, falling 9% for the year and sliding down to $13 billion in 2012. [3] [4] There were several reasons for this decline. Among them were the prevailing economic conditions, an extended console cycle, the advent of casual gaming and game consolidation by video game companies.

The Xbox 360 was released in November 2005, and the Playstation 3 was launched in the following year. They were immensely popular with both casual gamers who spent a limited amount of time playing games, and hardcore gamers, who devoted a considerable amount of time to these games. However, in 2007, the launch of the iPhone and Android-based smartphones created a new platform to which casual gamers started migrating. By 2010, games like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja were taking away market share from EA's console-based casual games like DeathSpank, Green Day: Rock Band and Create. The company reacted to this trend by cutting down on the number of titles released, to 32 in 2011 and 24 in 2013. The number of console titles has dropped from 22 to 12. Other gaming companies such as Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) have also followed a similar trend. The cutback in the number of titles launched by video game developers was part of the reason for the decline in game sales observed in the last few years.

Another factor contributing to the sales slump was console fatigue; the seventh generation consoles had been around since 2005, while the refresh cycle for smartphones is around one year long. The launch of the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 in 2013 refreshed the console cycle after eight years, and the initial response to these eighth generation consoles has been strong. February video game hardware sales across the U.S. increased 39% over the prior year, but video game software sales fell 9%. [5] The discrepancy between hardware and software sales could be due a natural lag; gamers might prefer to buy the console first and then move on to buying software. However it could also be due to the shift toward casual games; core gamers who prefer to buy one game and play it to its entirety before moving onto other games are still buying consoles and software, but casual gamers might not favor the expensive eighth generation consoles over the smartphone and tablet platforms.

Currently, each Xbox One console sold is accompanied by nearly 3 games on average. [6] If the difference between software and hardware sales is indeed due to a natural lag, then we might see this figure increase. However a decline in the games to consoles ratio would indicate that casual gaming is eating into the console market.

How Does This Impact EA?

Electronic Arts' main strength is in the sports games domain. EA accounted for 35% of game sales on the next-gen platforms by the end of the December quarter, helped by Madden NFL 25 and FIFA 14. The company's exclusive licensing agreements with sports governing bodies such as the NFL and FIFA allow it to maintain a monopoly in the sports games genre. FIFA was the fourth highest-selling game in the world last year, accounting for 4% of total units sold worldwide, while Madden was the third highest-selling game in the U.S. [7] Due to the popularity of the sports, these games are likely to remain popular even with casual gamers.

FIFA is EA's most popular offering, accounting for nearly 45% of the company's units sold. [7] The popularity of the title has been growing, with the number of units sold nearly doubling over the last four years. [8] The game is not restricted to consoles or PCs, but is also available on mobile platforms.

The FIFA World Cup is scheduled to take place in Brazil this year, with over 500,000 fans from all over the world expected to attend the event. [9] Sales of the annual FIFA franchise went up 25% after the last world cup in 2010. [8] We expect a similar trend this time. FIFA will provide a stable platform for EA as it heads into the console transition phase.

Madden is also one of EA's most popular franchises, accounting for 11% of unit sales. However, the game's unit sales fell from 4 million in 2010 to 3.2 million in 2013. We believe that this might be a temporary hiccup as the sport remains highly popular in the U.S. We expect unit sales will recover to around 3.6 to 4 million in the coming years.

Our analysis shows that FIFA and Madden are likely to remain cash cows for EA, but its results will also depend on other games like the recently released Titanfall. In our next article, we will take a look at these games and how they might affect the company's earnings.

Disclosure: No positions.