SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
☒ ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2019
☐TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from to
Commission File Number 1-15839
ACTIVISION BLIZZARD, INC.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
(State or other jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)
3100 Ocean Park Boulevard
(Address of principal executive offices)
(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Common Stock, par value $0.000001 per share
The Nasdaq Global Select Market
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well‑known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15 (d) of the Act. Yes ☐ No ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer”, “accelerated filer”, “smaller reporting company”, and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large Accelerated Filer
Smaller reporting company
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ☐ No ☒
The aggregate market value of the registrant’s Common Stock held by non-affiliates on June 30, 2019 (based on the closing sale price as reported on the Nasdaq) was $35,743,039,830.
The number of shares of the registrant’s Common Stock outstanding at February 20, 2020 was 769,221,524.
Documents Incorporated by Reference
Portions of the registrant’s definitive Proxy Statement, to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission with respect to the 2020 Annual Meeting of Shareholders which is expected to be held on June 11, 2020, are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report.
ACTIVISION BLIZZARD, INC. AND SUBSIDIARIES
Table of Contents
This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains, or incorporates by reference, certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Such statements consist of any statement other than a recitation of historical facts and include, but are not limited to: (1) projections of revenues, expenses, income or loss, earnings or loss per share, cash flow, or other financial items; (2) statements of our plans and objectives, including those related to releases of products or services and restructuring activities; (3) statements of future financial or operating performance, including the impact of tax items thereon; and (4) statements of assumptions underlying such statements. Activision Blizzard, Inc. generally uses words such as “outlook,” “forecast,” “will,” “could,” “should,” “would,” “to be,” “plan,” “plans,” “believes,” “may,” “might,” “expects,” “intends,” “intends as,” “anticipates,” “estimate,” “future,” “positioned,” “potential,” “project,” “remain,” “scheduled,” “set to,” “subject to,” “upcoming,” and other similar expressions to help identify forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are subject to business and economic risks, reflect management’s current expectations, estimates, and projections about our business, and are inherently uncertain and difficult to predict.
The company cautions that a number of important factors could cause Activision Blizzard, Inc.’s actual future results and other future circumstances to differ materially from those expressed in any forward-looking statements. Some of the risk factors that could cause our actual results to differ from those stated in forward-looking statements can be found in “Risk Factors” included in Part I, Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The forward-looking statements contained herein are based upon information available to us as of the date of this Annual Report on Form 10-K and we assume no obligation to update any such forward-looking statements. Although these forward-looking statements are believed to be true when made, they may ultimately prove to be incorrect. These statements are not guarantees of our future performance and are subject to risks, uncertainties, and other factors, some of which are beyond our control and may cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations.
Activision Blizzard Inc.’s names, abbreviations thereof, logos, and product and service designators are all either the registered or unregistered trademarks or trade names of Activision Blizzard. All other product or service names are the property of their respective owners. All dollar amounts referred to in, or contemplated by, this Annual Report on Form 10-K refer to U.S. dollars, unless otherwise explicitly stated to the contrary.
Item 1. BUSINESS
Activision Blizzard, Inc. is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive entertainment content and services. We develop and distribute content and services on video game consoles, personal computers (“PC”s), and mobile devices. We also operate esports leagues and offer digital advertising within our content. The terms “Activision Blizzard,” the “Company,” “we,” “us,” and “our” are used to refer collectively to Activision Blizzard, Inc. and its subsidiaries.
The Company was originally incorporated in California in 1979 and was reincorporated in Delaware in December 1992. In connection with the 2008 business combination by and among the Company (then known as Activision, Inc.), Vivendi S.A, and Vivendi Games, Inc., pursuant to which we acquired Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (“Blizzard”), we were renamed Activision Blizzard, Inc. On February 23, 2016, we acquired King Digital Entertainment plc, a leading interactive mobile entertainment company ("King"), by purchasing all of its outstanding shares.
Our Strategy and Vision
Our objective is to continue to be a worldwide leader in the development, publishing, and distribution of high-quality interactive entertainment content and services, as well as related media, that deliver engaging entertainment experiences on a year-round basis. In pursuit of this objective, we focus on three strategic pillars: expanding audience reach; driving deep consumer engagement; and providing more opportunities for player investment.
Expanding audience reach. Building on our strong established franchises and creating new franchises through compelling new content is at the core of our business. We endeavor to reach as many consumers as possible either through: (1) the purchase of our content and services; (2) engagement in our free-to-play games, which allow consumers to play games with no up-front cost but provide for player investment through sales of downloadable content or via microtransactions; or (3) engagement in other types of media based on our franchises, such as esports.
Driving deep consumer engagement. Our high-quality entertainment content not only expands our audience reach, but it also drives deep engagement with our franchises. We design our games, as well as related media, to provide a depth of content that keeps consumers engaged for a long period of time following a game’s release, delivering more value to our players and additional growth opportunities for our franchises.
Providing more opportunities for player investment. Increasingly, our consumers are connected to our games online through consoles, PCs, and mobile devices. This allows us to offer additional digital player investment opportunities directly to our consumers on a year-round basis. In addition to purchasing full games or subscriptions, players can invest in certain of our games and franchises by purchasing incremental “in-game” content (including larger downloadable content or smaller content, via microtransactions). These digital revenue streams tend to be more recurring and have relatively higher profit margins. Further, if executed properly, additional player investment can increase engagement as it provides more frequent and incremental content for our players. In addition, we generate revenue through offering advertising within certain of our franchises, and we believe there are opportunities to grow new forms of player investment through esports and consumer products. We are still in the early stages of developing these new revenue streams.
Based upon our organizational structure, we conduct our business through three reportable segments as follows:
(i) Activision Publishing, Inc.
Activision Publishing, Inc. (“Activision”) is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive software products and entertainment content, particularly for the console platform. Activision primarily delivers content through retail and digital channels, including full-game and in-game sales, as well as by licensing software to third-party or related-party companies that distribute Activision products. Activision develops, markets, and sells products primarily based on our internally developed intellectual properties. Activision also includes the activities of the Call of Duty League, a global professional esports league with city-based teams for Call of Duty®.
Activision’s key product franchise is Call of Duty, a first-person action title for the console and PC platforms and, following the October 1, 2019 launch of Call of Duty: Mobile, the mobile platform, including for Google Inc.’s (“Google”) Android and Apple Inc.’s (“Apple”) iOS. Call of Duty has been the number one console franchise globally for 10 of the last 11 years, based on data from The NPD Group, GfK Chart-Track, and GSD, and our internal estimates of upfront console sales. Additionally, Call of Duty: Mobile installs exceeded 150 million, ending the fourth quarter of 2019 in the top-15 grossing games in U.S. app stores per App Annie Intelligence and internal estimates.
(ii) Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
Blizzard is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive software products and entertainment content, particularly for the PC platform. Blizzard primarily delivers content through retail and digital channels, including subscriptions, full-game, and in-game sales, as well as by licensing software to third-party or related-party companies that distribute Blizzard products. Blizzard also maintains a proprietary online gaming service, Blizzard Battle.net®, which facilitates digital distribution of Blizzard content and selected Activision content, online social connectivity, and the creation of user-generated content. Blizzard also includes the activities of the Overwatch LeagueTM, the first major global professional esports league with city-based teams.
Blizzard’s key product franchises include: World of Warcraft®, a subscription-based massive multi-player online role-playing game for the PC platform; Diablo®, an action role-playing franchise for the PC and console platforms; Hearthstone®, an online collectible card franchise for the PC and mobile platforms; and Overwatch®, a team-based first-person action title for the PC and console platforms.
(iii) King Digital Entertainment
King is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive entertainment content and services, particularly for the mobile platform, including for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. King also distributes its content and services on the PC platform, primarily via Facebook. King’s games are free to play; however, players can acquire in-game items, either with virtual currency or real currency, and we continue to focus on in-game advertising as a growing source of additional revenue.
King’s key product franchise is Candy Crush™, which features “match three” games for the mobile and PC platforms.
We also engage in other businesses that do not represent reportable segments, including the Activision Blizzard Distribution (“Distribution”) business, which consists of operations in Europe that provide warehousing, logistics, and sales distribution services to third-party publishers of interactive entertainment software, our own publishing operations, and manufacturers of interactive entertainment hardware.
We develop interactive entertainment content and services, principally for console, PC, and mobile devices, and we market and sell our games through retail and digital distribution channels. Our products span various genres, including first- and third-person action/adventure, role-playing, strategy, and “match three,” among others. We primarily offer the following products and services:
full-games, which typically provide access to main game content, primarily for console or PC;
downloadable content, which provides players with additional in-game content to purchase following the purchase of a full game;
microtransactions, which typically provide relatively small pieces of additional in-game content or enhancements to gameplay, generally at relatively low price points; and
subscriptions for players in our World of Warcraft franchise that provide for continual access to the game content.
Providing additional opportunities for player investment outside of full-game purchases has allowed us to shift from our historical seasonality to a more consistently recurring and year-round revenue model. In addition, if executed properly, it allows us to increase player engagement with our games and content.
Product Development and Support
We focus on developing enduring franchises backed by well-designed, high-quality games with regular content updates. We build interactive entertainment content with the potential for broad reach, sustainable engagement and year-round player investment. It is our experience that enduring franchises then serve as the basis for sequels, prequels, and related new products and content that can be released over an extended period of time. We believe that the development and distribution of products and content based on established franchises enhances predictability of revenues and the probability of high unit volume sales and operating profits. We intend to continue development of content based on our owned franchises in the future.
We develop and produce our titles using a model in which a group of creative, technical, and production professionals, including designers, producers, programmers, artists, and sound engineers, in coordination with our marketing, finance, analytics, sales, and other professionals, has responsibility for the entire development and production process, including the supervision and coordination of internal and, where appropriate, external resources. We believe this model allows us to deploy the best resources for a given task, by supplementing our internal expertise with top-quality external resources on an as-needed basis.
While most of the content for our franchises is developed by our internal studios, we periodically engage independent third-party developers to create content on our behalf. From time to time, we also acquire the license rights to publish and/or distribute software products that are, or will be, independently created by third-party developers.
We provide various forms of product support. Central technology and development teams review, assess, and provide support to products throughout the development process. Quality assurance personnel are also involved throughout the development and production of published content. We subject all such content to extensive testing before public release to ensure compatibility with appropriate hardware systems and configurations and to minimize the number of bugs and other defects found in the products. To support our content, we generally provide 24-hour game support to players through various means, primarily online and by telephone.
Marketing, Sales, and Distribution
Many of our products contain software that enables us to connect with our gamers directly. This allows us to communicate and market directly to our customers, including through customized advertising and in-game messaging based on customer preferences and trends. Our marketing efforts also include activities on: online social networks; other online advertising; other public relations activities; print and broadcast advertising; coordinated in-store and industry promotions (including merchandising and point of purchase displays); participation in cooperative advertising programs; direct response vehicles; and product sampling through demonstration software distributed through the Internet or the digital online services provided by our partners. From time to time, we also receive marketing support from hardware manufacturers, producers of consumer products related to a game, and retailers in connection with their own promotional efforts, as well as co-marketing from promotional partners.
Our physical products are available for sale in outlets around the world. These products are sold primarily on a direct basis to mass-market retailers (e.g., Target, Walmart), consumer electronics stores (e.g., Best Buy), discount warehouses, game specialty stores (e.g., GameStop), and other stores (e.g., Amazon), or through third-party distribution and licensing arrangements.
Most of our products and content are also available in a digital format, which allows consumers to purchase and download the content at their convenience directly to their console, PC, or mobile device through our platform partners, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft Corporation (“Microsoft”), Nintendo Co., Ltd. (“Nintendo”), and Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. (“Sony”). Blizzard utilizes its proprietary online gaming service, Blizzard Battle.net, to distribute most of Blizzard’s content and selected Activision content directly to PC consumers.
In addition to serving as a distribution platform, Blizzard Battle.net offers players communications features, social networking, player matching and digital content delivery and is designed to allow people to connect regardless of which of our games on Blizzard Battle.net they are playing. It attracts millions of active players, making it one of the largest online game-related services in the world.
We prepare master program copies for our products on each release platform. With respect to products for Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo consoles, our disk duplication, packaging, printing, manufacturing, warehousing, assembly, and shipping are performed by third-party subcontractors or distribution facilities owned by us.
Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo generally specify or control the manufacturing and assembly of finished products and license their hardware technologies to us. In return, we pay an applicable royalty per unit once the manufacturer fills the product order, even if the units do not ultimately sell. We deliver the master materials to the licensor or its approved replicator, who then manufactures the finished goods and delivers them to us for distribution under our label.
Significant Customers and Top Franchises
While the Company does sell directly to end consumers in certain instances, such as sales through Blizzard Battle.net, in other instances our customers may be platform providers, such as Sony, Microsoft, Google, and Apple, or retailers, such as Walmart and GameStop, who act as distributors of our content to end consumers. For the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018, and 2017, Apple, Google, and Sony have been our most significant customers with revenues of 17%, 13%, and 11%, respectively, for 2019, 15%, 11%, and 13%, respectively, for 2018, and 16%, 10%, and 14%, respectively, for 2017. No other customer accounted for 10% or more of our net revenues in the periods discussed above.
We had two customers—Sony and Microsoft—who accounted for 18% and 11%, respectively, of consolidated gross receivables at December 31, 2019. We had two customers—Sony and NetEase, Inc.—who accounted for 15% and 12%, respectively, of consolidated gross receivables at December 31, 2018. No other customer accounted for 10% or more of our consolidated gross receivables in the periods discussed above.
For the year ended December 31, 2019, our top three franchises—Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft—collectively accounted for 67% of our net revenues. For the year ended December 31, 2018, our top three franchises—Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft—collectively accounted for 58% of our net revenues. For the year ended December 31, 2017, our top four franchises—Call of Duty, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch—collectively accounted for 66% of our net revenues. No other franchise comprised 10% or more of our net revenues in the periods discussed above.
We compete for the leisure time and discretionary spending of consumers with other interactive entertainment companies, as well as with providers of different forms of entertainment, such as film, television, social networking, music and other consumer products.
The interactive entertainment industry is intensely competitive and new interactive entertainment software products and platforms are regularly introduced. We believe that the main competitive factors in the interactive entertainment industry include: product features, game quality, and playability; brand name recognition; compatibility of products with popular platforms; access to distribution channels; online capability and functionality; ease of use; price of content; marketing support; and quality of customer service.
We compete with other publishers of video game console, PC, and mobile interactive entertainment software. In addition to third-party software competitors, integrated video game console hardware and software companies, such as Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, compete directly with us in the development of software titles for their respective platforms.
Like other interactive entertainment companies, our business is significantly dependent on the creation, acquisition, use and protection of intellectual property. Some of this intellectual property is in the form of copyrighted software code, patented technology, and other technology and trade secrets that we use to develop and run our games. Other intellectual property is in the form of copyrighted audio-visual elements that consumers can see, hear, and interact with when they are playing our games.
We develop a majority of our products based on wholly-owned intellectual properties, such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Candy Crush. In other cases, we obtain intellectual property through licenses and service agreements. Further, our products that play on consoles and mobile platforms include technology that is owned by the platform provider and is licensed non-exclusively to us for use in the relevant product. We also license technology from providers other than console manufacturers in developing our content and services. While we may have renewal rights for some licenses, our business is dependent on our ability to continue to obtain the intellectual property rights from the owners of these rights on reasonable terms and at reasonable rates.
We are actively engaged in enforcement of our copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secret rights against potential infringers of those rights along with other protective activities, including monitoring online channels for distribution of pirated copies and participating in various enforcement initiatives, education programs and legislative activity around the world. For our PC products, we use technological protection measures to prevent piracy and the use of unauthorized copies of our products. For other platforms, the platform providers typically incorporate technological protections and other security measures in their platforms to prevent the use of unlicensed products on those platforms.
Information about our Executive Officers
Our executive officers and their biographical summaries are provided below:
Robert A. Kotick
Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard
President and Chief Operating Officer of Activision Blizzard
Chief Financial Officer of Activision Blizzard and President of Emerging Businesses
Chief People Officer of Activision Blizzard
Chief Legal Officer of Activision Blizzard
Robert A. Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard
Robert A. Kotick, who serves as our Chief Executive Officer, has been a director of Activision Blizzard since February 1991, following his purchase of a significant interest in the Company, which was then on the verge of insolvency. Mr. Kotick was our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer from February 1991 until July 2008, when he became our President and Chief Executive Officer. He served as our President from July 2008 until June 2017, when Mr. Johnson began serving as our President and Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Kotick is also a member of the board of directors of The Coca-Cola Company, a multinational beverage corporation, and the boards of trustees for The Center for Early Education and Harvard-Westlake School. He is also the Vice Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Committee of trustees of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In addition, Mr. Kotick is the co-founder and co-chairman of the Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit, public benefit corporation that seeks to help organizations that provide job placement and training services for veterans.
Collister Johnson, President and Chief Operating Officer of Activision Blizzard
Collister “Coddy” Johnson has served as our President and Chief Operating Officer since June 2017. From April 2016 until May 2017, he served as the chief operating officer and co-founder of Altschool, a public benefit, education technology company, where he continues to serve on the board of directors. Prior to joining Altschool, he held a number of positions of increasing responsibility at our Company from 2008 to 2016, serving as the Chief Financial Officer and Head of Operations of Activision, one of our principal operating units, the Chief Operating Officer of studios for Activision, and the Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff to our Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Johnson holds a B.A. degree in ethics, politics, and economics from Yale University and an M.B.A. degree from Stanford University.
Dennis Durkin, Chief Financial Officer of Activision Blizzard and President of Emerging Businesses
Dennis Durkin has served as our Chief Financial Officer and President of Emerging Businesses since January 2019. Mr. Durkin joined the Company in March 2012 as our Chief Financial Officer and served in that role until May 2017. He served as our Chief Corporate Officer from May 2017 until January 2019. Prior to joining the Company in 2012, Mr. Durkin held a number of positions of increasing responsibility at Microsoft, a computing software and hardware manufacturer, most recently serving as the Corporate Vice President and Chief Operating and Financial Officer of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business, which included the Xbox console business. Prior to joining Microsoft’s interactive entertainment business in 2006, Mr. Durkin spent seven years on Microsoft’s corporate development and strategy team, including two years where he was based in London, England, driving pan-European activity. Before joining Microsoft, Mr. Durkin was a financial analyst at Alex. Brown and Company. Mr. Durkin holds a B.A. degree in government from Dartmouth College and an M.B.A. degree from Harvard University.
Claudine Naughton, Chief People Officer of Activision Blizzard
Claudine Naughton has served as our Chief People Officer since August 2019. Prior to joining the Company, Ms. Naughton held a number of positions of increasing responsibility within the human resources department of American International Group, Inc. (AIG) from 1997 to 2018, including serving as the company's Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer. Prior to joining AIG, Ms. Naughton served as the Regional Manager and Director of Training for Fairways Golf Corporation. Ms. Naughton holds a B.A degree in political science from Stockton University.
Christopher Walther, Chief Legal Officer of Activision Blizzard
Christopher Walther has served as our Chief Legal Officer since November 2009 and served as our Secretary from February 2010 until February 2011. Prior to joining us, Mr. Walther held a number of positions of increasing responsibility within the legal department of The Procter & Gamble Company from 1992 to 2009, including serving as the General Counsel for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa, General Counsel for Northeast Asia and, most recently, as General Counsel for Western Europe. Mr. Walther also led Procter & Gamble’s corporate and securities and mergers and acquisitions practices. Before joining Procter & Gamble, Mr. Walther served as a law clerk for Senior Judge Harry W. Wellford of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Since 2012, Mr. Walther has served on the board of directors of the Alliance for Children’s Rights and currently serves as its co-chair. Mr. Walther has also served as our representative on the board of directors of the Entertainment Software Association since 2013 and on its executive committee. Mr. Walther holds a B.A. degree in history and Spanish from Centre College and a J.D. degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law.
At December 31, 2019, we had approximately 9,200 total full-time and part-time employees. At December 31, 2019, approximately 120 of our full-time employees were subject to fixed-term employment agreements with us.
The majority of our employees in France, Germany, and Spain are subject to collective agreements as a part of normal business practices in those countries. In addition, certain employees in those countries are subject to collective bargaining agreements. To date, we have not experienced any labor-related work stoppages.
Additional Financial Information
See the “Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates” section under Item 7 “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” for a discussion of our practices with regard to several working capital items, such as rights of return. See the “Management’s Overview of Business Trends” under Item 7 “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” for a discussion of the impact of seasonality on our business.
Our website, located at https://www.activisionblizzard.com, allows free-of-charge access to our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, proxy statements and amendments to those documents filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). The information found on our website is not a part of, and is not incorporated by reference into, this or any other report that we file with or furnish to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).
Our SEC filings are also available to the public over the Internet at the SEC’s website at https://www.sec.gov.
Item 1A. RISK FACTORS
We wish to caution the reader that the following important risk factors, and those risk factors described elsewhere in this report or in our other filings with the SEC, could cause our actual results to differ materially from those stated in forward-looking statements contained in this document or elsewhere. These risks are not presented in order of importance or probability of occurrence. Further, the risks described below are not the only risks that we face. Additional risks and uncertainties not currently known to us or that we currently deem immaterial may also impair our business operations. Any of these risks may have a material adverse effect on our business, reputation, financial condition, results of operations, income, revenue, profitability, cash flows, liquidity, or stock price.
If we do not consistently deliver popular, high-quality content in a timely manner, or if consumers prefer competing products, our business may be negatively impacted.
Consumer preferences for games are usually cyclical and difficult to predict. Even the most successful games remain popular for only limited periods of time, and this popularity is increasingly dependent on the games being refreshed with new content or other enhancements. In order to remain competitive, we must continuously develop new products or new content for, or other enhancements to, our existing products. These products or enhancements may not be well‑received by consumers, even if well‑reviewed and of high quality. Further, competitors may develop content that imitates or competes with our best‑selling games, potentially reducing our sales or our ability to charge the same prices we have historically charged for our products. These competing products may take a larger share of consumer spending than anticipated, which could cause product sales to fall below expectations. If we do not continue to develop consistently high‑quality and well‑received games or enhancements to those games, if our marketing fails to resonate with our consumers, or if consumers lose interest in a genre of games we produce, our revenues and profit margins could decline. In addition, our own best‑selling products could compete with our other games, reducing sales for those other games. Further, a failure by us to develop a high‑quality product, or our development of a product that is otherwise not well‑received, could potentially result in additional expenditures to respond to consumer demands, harm our reputation, and increase the likelihood that our future products will not be well‑received. The increased importance of downloadable content to our business amplifies these risks, as downloadable content for poorly‑received games typically generates lower‑than‑expected sales. The increased demand for consistent enhancement to our products also requires a greater allocation of financial resources to those products.
Additionally, consumer expectations regarding the quality, performance and integrity of our products and services are high. Consumers may be critical of our brands, games, services, and/or business practices for a wide variety of reasons, and such negative reactions may not be foreseeable or within our control to manage effectively. For example, if our games or services, such as our proprietary online gaming service, do not function as consumers expect, whether because they fail to function as advertised or otherwise, our sales may suffer. The risk that this may occur is particularly pronounced with respect to our games with online features because they involve ongoing consumer expectations, which we may not be able to consistently satisfy. Our games with online features are also frequently updated, increasing the risk that a game may contain significant errors, or “bugs.” If any of these issues occur, consumers may stop playing the game and may be less likely to return to the game as often in the future, which may negatively impact our business.
Further, delays in product releases or disruptions following the commercial release of one or more new products could negatively impact our business and reputation and could cause our results of operations to be materially different from expectations. If we fail to release our products in a timely manner, or if we are unable to continue to extend the life of existing games by adding features and functionality that will encourage continued engagement with the game, our business may be negatively impacted.
Additionally, the amount of lead time and cost involved in the development of high-quality products is increasing, and the longer the lead time involved in developing a product and the greater the allocation of financial resources to such product, the more critical it is that we accurately predict consumer demand for such product. If our future products do not achieve expected consumer acceptance or generate sufficient revenues upon introduction, we may not be able to recover the substantial up-front development and marketing costs associated with those products.
We depend on a relatively small number of franchises for a significant portion of our revenues and profits.
We follow a franchise model, and a significant portion of our revenues has historically been derived from products based on a relatively small number of popular franchises. These products are also responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of our profits. For example, in 2019, revenues associated with the Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft franchises, collectively, accounted for approximately 67% of our net revenues—and a significantly higher percentage of our operating income. We expect that a relatively limited number of popular franchises will continue to produce a disproportionately high percentage of our revenues and profits. Due to this dependence on a limited number of franchises, the failure to achieve anticipated results by one or more products based on these franchises could negatively impact our business. Additionally, if the popularity of a franchise declines, we may have to write off the unrecovered portion of the underlying intellectual property assets, which could negatively impact our business.
If we do not continue to attract, retain, and motivate skilled personnel, we will be unable to effectively conduct our business.
Our success depends significantly on our ability to identify, attract, hire, retain, motivate, and utilize the abilities of qualified personnel, particularly personnel with the specialized skills needed to create and sell the high-quality, well-received content upon which our business is substantially dependent. Our industry is generally characterized by a high level of employee mobility, competitive compensation programs, and aggressive recruiting among competitors for employees with technical, marketing, sales, engineering, product development, creative, and/or management skills. We may have difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled personnel or may incur significant costs to do so. If we are unable to attract additional qualified employees or retain and utilize the services of key personnel, it could have a negative impact on our business.
Our industry is subject to rapid technological change, and if we do not adapt to, and appropriately allocate our resources among, emerging technologies and business models, our business may be negatively impacted.
Technology changes rapidly in the interactive entertainment industry. We must continually anticipate and adapt to emerging technologies, such as cloud-based game streaming, and business models, such as subscription-based access to a portfolio of interactive content, to stay competitive. Forecasting the financial impact of these emerging technologies and business models is inherently uncertain and volatile. Supporting a new technology or business model may require partnering with a new platform, business, or technology partner, which may be on terms that are less favorable to us than those for traditional technologies or business models. If we invest in the development of interactive entertainment products for distribution channels that incorporate a new technology or business model that does not achieve significant commercial success, whether because of competition or otherwise, we may not recover the often substantial up-front costs of developing and marketing those products, or recover the opportunity cost of diverting management and financial resources away from other products or opportunities. Further, our competitors may adapt to an emerging technology or business model more quickly or effectively than we do, creating products that are technologically superior to ours, more appealing to consumers, or both.
If, on the other hand, we elect not to pursue the development of products incorporating a new technology, or otherwise elect not to pursue new business models that achieve significant commercial success, it may have adverse consequences. It may take significant time and expenditures to shift product development resources to that technology or business model, and it may be more difficult to compete against existing products incorporating that technology or using that business model.
Competition within, and to, the interactive entertainment industry is intense, and competitors may succeed in reducing our sales.
We compete with other publishers of interactive entertainment software, both within and outside the United States. Our competitors include very large corporations with significantly greater financial, marketing and product development resources than we have. Our larger competitors may be able to leverage their greater financial, technical, personnel and other resources to provide larger budgets for development and marketing and make higher offers to licensors and developers for commercially desirable properties, as well as adopt more aggressive pricing policies to develop more commercially successful video game products than we do. In addition, competitors with large portfolios and popular games typically have greater influence with platform providers, retailers, distributors and other customers who may, in turn, provide more favorable support to those competitors’ games.
Additionally, we compete with other forms of entertainment and leisure activities. As our business continues to expand in complexity and scope, we have increased exposure to additional competitors, including those with access to large existing user bases and control over distribution channels. Further, it is difficult to predict and prepare for rapid changes in consumer demand that could materially alter public preferences for different forms of entertainment and leisure activities. Failure to adequately identify and adapt to these competitive pressures could negatively impact our business.
The increasing importance of digital sales to our business exposes us to the risks of that business model, including greater competition.
The proportion of our revenues derived from digital distribution channels, as compared to traditional retail sales, continues to increase. The increased importance of digital channels in our industry increases our potential competition, as the minimum capital needed to produce and publish a digitally delivered game, particularly a game for a mobile platform, may be significantly less than that needed to produce and publish one that is purchased through retail distribution and is played on a game console or PC. Also, while digitally-distributed products generally have higher profit margins than retail sales, as business shifts to digital distribution, the volume of orders from retailers for physical discs has been, and may continue to be, reduced. Further, some of the providers of the platforms through which we digitally distribute content are also publishers of their own content distributed on those platforms, and, therefore, a platform provider may give priority to its own products or those of our competitors.
The importance of retail sales to our business exposes us to the risks of that business model.
While the proportion of our revenues derived from digital distribution channels, as compared to traditional retail sales, continues to increase, retail sales remain important to our business. In the United States and Canada, our “boxed” products are often sold on a direct basis to mass-market retailers, consumer electronics stores, discount warehouses, and game specialty stores. Our “boxed” products are sold internationally on a direct-to-retail basis, through third-party distribution and licensing arrangements, and through our wholly-owned European distribution subsidiaries. Our sales are made primarily on a purchase order basis without long-term agreements or other forms of commitments, and due to the increased proportion of our revenue from digital distribution channels, our retail customers and distributors have generally been reducing the levels of inventory they are willing to carry. The loss of, or significant reduction in sales to, any of Activision’s principal retail customers or distributors could have adverse consequences.
Moreover, the importance of retail sales to our business exposes us to the risk of product returns and price protection with respect to our distributors and retailers. In some cases, return policies allow distributors and retailers to return defective, shelf-worn, damaged, and certain other products in accordance with terms granted. Price protection, when granted and applicable, allows these distributors and retailers a credit against amounts owed with respect to merchandise unsold by them. We may permit product returns from, or grant price protection to, distributors and retail customers who meet certain conditions. These conditions may include compliance with applicable payment terms, delivery of weekly inventory and sales information and consistent participation in the launches of premium title releases. We may also consider other factors, including the facilitation of slow-moving inventory and other industry factors. Activision also offers a limited warranty to end users that Activision products will be free from manufacturing defects. Although we maintain a reserve for returns and price protection, and although we may place limits on product returns and price protection, we could be forced to accept substantial product returns and provide substantial price protection to maintain our relationships with retailers and our access to distribution channels. We face similar issues and risks, including exposure to risk of chargebacks, with respect to end users to whom we sell products directly, whether through our proprietary online gaming service or otherwise.
Further, retailers typically have a limited amount of “brick and mortar” shelf space and promotional resources, and there is intense competition for high-quality retail shelf space and promotional support from retailers. Similarly, for online retail sales, there is increasing competition for premium placements on websites. Competition for shelf space or premium online placement may intensify and may require us to increase our marketing expenditures. Further, retailers with limited shelf space typically devote the most and highest quality shelf space to those products expected to be best sellers. We cannot be certain that our new products will consistently achieve such “best seller” status. Due to increased competition for limited shelf space, retailers and distributors are in an increasingly better position to negotiate favorable terms of sale, including price discounts, price protection, marketing and display fees, and product return policies. Our products constitute a relatively small percentage of most retailers’ sales volume. We cannot be certain that retailers will continue to purchase our products or provide those products with adequate levels of shelf space and promotional support on acceptable terms.
We may be unable to effectively manage the continued growth in the scope and complexity of our business, including our expansion into new business models that are untested and into adjacent business opportunities with large, established competitors.
We have experienced significant growth in the scope and complexity of our business, including through acquisitions and the development of our esports, advertising, and consumer products businesses. Our future success depends, in part, on our ability to manage this expanded business and our aspirations for continued expansion. We have dedicated resources both to new business models that are largely untested, as is the case with esports, and to adjacent business opportunities in which very large competitors have an established presence, as is the case with our advertising and consumer products businesses. We do not know to what extent our future expansions will be successful. Further, even if successful, the growth of these adjacent businesses could create significant challenges for our management, operational, and financial resources, and could increase existing strain on, and divert focus from, our core businesses. If not managed effectively, this growth could result in the over‑extension of our operating infrastructure, and our management systems, information technology systems, and internal controls and procedures may not be adequate to support this growth. Failure to adequately manage our growth in any of these ways may cause damage to our brand or otherwise negatively impact our business. Further, any failure by these new businesses may damage our reputation or otherwise negatively impact our core business of interactive software products and entertainment content. Conversely, the success of these new businesses is, in large part, contingent on the success of our underlying franchises and, as such, a decline in the popularity of a franchise may impact the success of the new businesses adjacent to that franchise.
Due to our reliance on third-party platforms, platform providers are frequently able to influence our products and costs.
Generally, when we develop interactive entertainment software products for hardware platforms offered by companies such as Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo, the physical products are replicated exclusively by that hardware manufacturer or their approved replicator. The agreements with these manufacturers include certain provisions, such as approval rights over all software products and related promotional materials and the ability to change the fee they charge for the manufacturing of products, which allow the hardware manufacturers substantial influence over the cost and the release schedule of such interactive entertainment software products. During a console transition, like the one that is expected to occur in 2020, as described below, these manufacturers may seek to change the terms governing our relationships with them. In addition, because each of the manufacturers is also a publisher of games for its own hardware platforms and may manufacture products for other licensees, a manufacturer may give priority to its own products or those of our competitors. Accordingly, console manufacturers could cause unanticipated delays in the release of our products, as well as increases to projected development, manufacturing, marketing, or distribution costs, any of which could negatively impact our business.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are also platform providers which control the networks over which consumers purchase digital products and services for their platforms and through which we provide online game capabilities for our products. The control that these platform providers have over consumer access to our games and the fee structures and/or retail pricing for products and services for their platforms and online networks could impact the volume of purchases of our products made over their networks and our profitability. With respect to certain downloadable content and microtransactions, the networks provided by these platform providers are the exclusive means of selling and distributing this content. Further, increased competition for limited premium “digital shelf space” has placed the platform providers in an increasingly better position to negotiate favorable terms of sale. If the platform provider establishes terms that restrict our offerings on its platform, significantly alters the financial terms on which these products or services are offered, or does not approve the inclusion of online capabilities in our console products, our business could be negatively impacted.
We also derive significant revenues from distribution on third-party mobile and web platforms, such as the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and Facebook, some of which are also our direct competitors, and most of the virtual currency we sell is purchased using the payment processing systems of these platform providers. These platforms also serve as significant online distribution platforms for, and/or provide other services critical for the operation of, a number of our games. If these platforms deny access to our games, modify their current discovery mechanisms, communication channels available to developers, operating systems, terms of service or other policies (including fees), or they develop their own competitive offerings, our business could be negatively impacted. Additionally, if these platform providers are required to change how they label free-to-play games or take payment for in-app purchases or change how the personal information of consumers is made available to developers, our business could be negatively impacted. These platform providers or their services may be unavailable or experience issues with their in-app purchasing functionality. If either of these events occurs on a prolonged, or even short-term, basis or other similar issues arise that impact players’ ability to access our games, access social features or make purchases, it may result in lost revenues and otherwise negatively impact our business.
Transitions to next-generation consoles could adversely affect the market for interactive entertainment software.
Each of Sony and Microsoft is each expected to launch its next‑generation console later this year, and we may develop games for these new console systems. When next-generation consoles are announced or introduced into the market, consumers have typically reduced their purchases of game console entertainment software products for prior-generation consoles in anticipation of purchasing a next-generation console and products for that console. During these periods, sales of the game console entertainment software products we publish may decline until new platforms achieve wide consumer acceptance. Console transitions may have a comparable impact on sales of downloadable content, amplifying the impact on our revenues. This decline may not be offset by increased sales of products for the next-generation consoles. In addition, as console hardware moves through its life cycle, hardware manufacturers typically enact price reductions, and decreasing prices may put downward pressure on software prices. During console transitions, we may simultaneously incur costs both in continuing to develop and market new titles for prior‑generation video game platforms, which may not sell at premium prices, and also in developing products for next‑generation platforms, which may not generate immediate or near‑term revenues. As a result, our business and operating results may be more volatile and difficult to predict during console transitions than during other times.
Our business is highly dependent on the success and availability of video game consoles manufactured by third parties, as well as our ability to develop commercially successful products for these consoles.
We derive a substantial portion of our revenues from the sale of products for play on video game consoles manufactured by third parties, such as Sony’s PS4, Microsoft’s Xbox One, and Nintendo’s Switch. Sales of products for consoles accounted for 30% of our consolidated net revenues in 2019. The success of our console business is driven in large part by our ability to accurately predict which consoles will be successful in the marketplace and our ability to develop commercially successful products for these consoles. We also rely on the availability of an adequate supply of these video game consoles and the continued support for these consoles by their manufacturers, including our ability to reach consumers via the online networks operated by these console manufacturers. If increased costs are not offset by higher revenues and other cost efficiencies, our business could be negatively impacted. If the consoles for which we develop new software products or modify existing products do not attain significant consumer acceptance, we may not be able to recover our development costs, which could be significant.
The increasing importance of free-to-play games to our business exposes us to the risks of that business model, including the dependence on a relatively small number of consumers for a significant portion of revenues and profits from any given game.
We are increasingly dependent on our ability to develop, enhance, and monetize free‑to‑play games, such as the games in our Candy Crush franchise, Hearthstone and Call of Duty: Mobile. As such, we are increasingly exposed to the risks of the free‑to‑play business model. For example, we may invest in the development of new free‑to‑play interactive entertainment products that do not achieve significant commercial success, in which case our revenues from those products likely will be lower than anticipated and we may not recover our development costs. Further, our business may be negatively impacted if: (1) we are unable to continue to encourage consumers to purchase our virtual items; (2) we fail to offer monetization features that appeal to these consumers; (3) these consumers do not continue to play our game or purchase virtual items at the same rate; (4) our platform providers make it more difficult or expensive for players to purchase our virtual items; (5) we cannot encourage significant additional consumers to purchase virtual items in our game; and/or (6) our free-to-play releases reduce sales of our other games. In addition, a continuing industry shift to free‑to‑play games could result in fewer consumers of premium versions of our games.
The increasing importance of mobile gaming to our business exposes us to increased competition.
We have seen, and expect to continue to see new competitors enter the market for mobile games and existing competitors to allocate more resources to developing and marketing competing mobile games and applications. We compete, or may compete, with a vast number of small companies and individuals who are able to create and launch casual games and other content using relatively limited resources and with relatively limited start‑up time or expertise. Competition for the attention of consumers on mobile devices is intense, as the number of applications on mobile devices has been increasing dramatically, which, in turn, has required increased marketing to garner consumer awareness and attention. This increased competition has negatively impacted, and is expected to continue to negatively impact, our business.
We may not realize the expected financial and operational benefits of our recent restructuring actions, and implementation of such actions may negatively impact our business.
During 2019, we implemented a restructuring plan aimed at refocusing our resources on our largest opportunities and removing unnecessary levels of complexity and duplication from certain parts of our business. While we believe this restructuring plan enables us to provide better opportunities for talent, and greater expertise and scale over the long term, our ability to achieve the desired and anticipated benefits from the restructuring plan is subject to many estimates and assumptions, and the actual savings and timing for those savings may vary materially based on factors such as local labor regulations, negotiations with third parties, and operational requirements. These estimates and assumptions are also subject to significant economic, competitive, and other uncertainties, some of which are beyond our control.
Additionally, there can be no assurance that our business will be more efficient or effective than prior to implementation of the plan. The implementation of the plan may be more costly than we anticipated or have other negative consequences, such as attrition beyond our planned reduction in workforce or negative impacts on employee morale and productivity, or on our ability to attract and retain highly skilled employees. Any of these consequences could negatively impact our business. In addition, there can be no assurance that additional restructuring plans will not be required or implemented in the future.
We may not be able to adequately adjust our cost structure in a timely fashion in response to a sudden decrease in demand.
In the event of a significant decline in demand for one or more of our products, we may not be able to reduce personnel or make other changes to our cost structure without disrupting our operations or incurring costs. Further, we may not be able to implement such actions in a timely manner, if at all, to offset an immediate shortfall in revenues and profit.
We may be involved in legal proceedings that have a negative impact on our business.
From time to time, we are involved in claims, suits, investigations, audits and proceedings arising in the ordinary course of our business, including with respect to intellectual property, competition and antitrust matters, regulatory matters, tax matters, privacy matters, labor and employment matters, compliance matters, unclaimed property matters, liability and personal injury claims, product damage claims, collection matters, and/or commercial claims. In addition, negative consumer sentiment about our business practices may result in inquiries or investigations from regulatory agencies and consumer groups, as well as litigation, which, regardless of outcome, may be damaging to our reputation.
Claims, suits, investigations, audits, and proceedings are inherently difficult to predict, and their results are subject to significant uncertainties, many of which are outside of our control. Regardless of the outcome, such legal proceedings can have a negative impact on us due to legal costs, diversion of management resources and other factors. In addition, it is possible that a resolution of one or more such proceedings could result in reputational harm, substantial settlements, judgments, fines or penalties, criminal sanctions, consent decrees, or orders preventing us from offering certain features, functionalities, products or services, requiring us to change our development process or other business practices.
There is also inherent uncertainty in determining reserves for these matters. There is significant judgment required in the analysis of these matters, including assessing the probability of potential outcomes and determining whether a potential exposure can be reasonably estimated. In making these determinations, we, in consultation with outside counsel, examine the relevant facts and circumstances on a quarterly basis assuming, as applicable, a combination of settlement and litigated outcomes and strategies. Further, it may take time to develop factors on which reasonable judgments and estimates can be based.
We may be subject to intellectual property claims.
As the number of interactive entertainment software products increases and the features and content of these products continue to overlap, software developers have increasingly become subject to infringement claims. Further, many of our products are highly realistic and feature materials that are based on real‑world things or people, which may also be the subject of claims of infringement of the intellectual property of others, including right of publicity, trademark, and unfair competition claims. In addition, our products often utilize complex, cutting‑edge technology that may become subject to emerging intellectual property claims of others. Although we take steps to avoid knowingly violating the intellectual property rights of others, third parties may still claim infringement, particularly since there are many companies that focus exclusively on enforcing patent rights.
From time to time, we receive communications from third parties regarding such claims. Existing or future infringement claims against us, whether meritorious or not, may be time consuming, distracting to management, and expensive to defend. Further, intellectual property litigation or claims could force us to do one or more of the following:
cease selling, incorporating, supporting, or using products or services that incorporate the challenged intellectual property;
obtain a license from the holder of the infringed intellectual property, which, if available at all, may not be available on commercially favorable terms;
redesign the affected interactive entertainment software products, which could result in additional costs, delay introduction and possibly reduce commercial appeal of the affected products; or
pay damages to the holder of the infringed intellectual property for past infringements.
Additionally, although we maintain insurance policies, they may be insufficient to reimburse the Company for all losses or all types of claims that may be caused by our actual or alleged infringement of the intellectual property rights of others.
Changes in tax rates or exposure to additional tax liabilities could negatively impact our business.
We are subject to income taxes in the United States and other jurisdictions. In the ordinary course of business there are many transactions and calculations where the ultimate income tax determination is uncertain. Significant judgment is required in determining our worldwide income tax provision. Although we believe our income tax estimates are reasonable, the ultimate outcomes may have a negative impact on our business.
Our income tax liability and effective tax rate could be adversely affected by a variety of factors, including changes in our business, the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in tax laws or tax rulings, changes in interpretations of existing laws, or developments in tax examinations or investigations. Any of these factors could have a negative impact on our business or require us to change the manner in which we operate our business. The tax regimes we are subject to, or operate under, are unsettled and may be subject to significant change. Furthermore, tax authorities may choose to examine or investigate our tax reporting or tax liability, including under transfer pricing or permanent establishment theories. These proceedings may lead to adjustments or proposed adjustments to our income taxes or provisions for uncertain tax positions.
Additionally, a number of countries are actively pursuing fundamental changes to the tax laws applicable to multinational companies like us, including an increasing number that have enacted, or are considering enacting, revenue-based taxes on digital services. These digital services taxes target various business activities, including online advertising and, in some cases, video game sales. While the scope and applicability of these taxes often remains unclear, digital services taxes that ultimately apply to us could have an adverse impact on our business.
On December 22, 2017, tax reform legislation known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “U.S. Tax Reform Act”) was enacted in the United States. The U.S. Tax Reform Act introduced significant changes to U.S. income tax law that have had a meaningful impact on our financial position and effective tax rate. Accounting for the income tax effects of the U.S. Tax Reform Act and subsequent guidance issued required complex new calculations to be performed and significant judgments in interpreting the legislation. Additional guidance may be issued on how the provisions of the U.S. Tax Reform Act will be applied or otherwise administered that is different from our interpretation, which could result in adjustments to the income tax effects of the U.S. Tax Reform Act we previously recorded. These adjustments could have a negative impact on our business.
We are also required to pay taxes other than income taxes, such as payroll, sales, use, value-added, net worth, property, and goods and services taxes, in both the United States and various other jurisdictions. Tax authorities regularly examine these non-income taxes. The outcomes from these examinations, changes in the business, changes in applicable tax rules or other tax matters may have a negative impact on our business.
We rely on external developers to develop some of our software products.
We rely on external software developers to develop some of our software products, including Call of Duty: Mobile and certain titles currently in development. Because we depend on external developers, we are subject to the following risks:
continuing strong demand for top-tier developers’ resources, combined with the recognition they receive in connection with their work, may cause developers who worked for us in the past either to work for a competitor in the future or to renegotiate agreements with us on terms less favorable to us;
limited financial resources and business expertise or the inability to retain skilled personnel may force developers out of business prior to completing products for us or require us to fund additional costs;
a competitor may acquire the business of one or more key developers or sign them to exclusive development arrangements and, in either case, we would not be able to continue to engage such developers’ services for our products, except for any period for which the developer is contractually obligated to complete development for us; and
reliance on external developers reduces our visibility into, and control over, development schedules and operational outcomes compared to those when utilizing internal development resources.
We engage in strategic transactions and may encounter difficulties in integrating acquired businesses or otherwise realizing the anticipated benefits of these transactions.
As part of our business strategy, from time to time, we acquire, make investments in, or enter into strategic alliances and joint ventures with, complementary businesses. These transactions may involve significant risks and uncertainties, including: (1) in the case of an acquisition, (i) the potential for the acquired business to underperform relative to our expectations and the acquisition price, (ii) the potential for the acquired business to cause our financial results to differ from expectations in any given period, or over the longer-term, (iii) unexpected tax consequences from the acquisition, or the tax treatment of the acquired business’s operations going forward, giving rise to incremental tax liabilities that are difficult to predict, (iv) difficulty in integrating the acquired business, its operations, and its employees in an efficient and effective manner, (v) any unknown liabilities or internal control deficiencies assumed as part of the acquisition, and (vi) the potential loss of key employees of the acquired businesses; and (2) in the case of an investment, alliance, or joint venture, (i) our ability to cooperate with our partner, (ii) our partner having economic, business, or legal interests or goals that are inconsistent with ours, and (iii) the potential that our partner may be unable to meet its economic or other obligations, which may require us to fulfill those obligations alone. Further, any such transaction may involve the risk that our senior management’s attention will be excessively diverted from our other operations, the risk that our industry does not evolve as anticipated, and that any intellectual property or personnel skills acquired do not prove to be those needed for our future success, and the risk that our strategic objectives, cost savings or other anticipated benefits are otherwise not achieved.
Our debt could adversely affect our business.
As of December 31, 2019, the Company had approximately $2.7 billion of long-term debt outstanding. Our debt burden could have important consequences, including: increasing our vulnerability to general adverse economic and industry conditions; limiting our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and our industry; requiring the dedication of a substantial portion of any cash flows from operations for the payment of principal and interest on our indebtedness, thereby reducing the availability of cash flow to fund our operations, growth strategy, working capital, capital expenditures, future business opportunities, and other general corporate purposes; restricting us from making strategic acquisitions or causing us to make non-strategic divestitures; limiting our ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, capital expenditures, research and development, acquisitions and general corporate or other purposes; limiting our ability to adjust to changing market conditions; and placing us at a competitive disadvantage relative to competitors who have lower levels of debt. Further, though our current long-term debt all bears fixed interest rates, if and when we have borrowings at floating rates of interest, it could expose us to the risk of increased interest rates with respect to those borrowings.
Agreements governing our indebtedness, including our credit agreement entered into on October 11, 2013 (as amended thereafter and from time to time, the “Credit Agreement”) and the indentures governing our notes, impose operating and financial restrictions on our activities. In addition, under certain circumstances, the Credit Agreement and our indentures may limit or prohibit other activities. Further, various risks, uncertainties, and events beyond our control could affect our ability to comply with these covenants. Failure to comply with any of the covenants in our financing agreements could result in a default under those agreements and under other agreements containing cross-default provisions. Such a default would permit lenders to accelerate the maturity of the debt under these agreements. Under these circumstances, we might not have sufficient funds or other resources to satisfy all of our obligations, including our obligations under the Credit Agreement or the indentures governing our notes. In addition, the limitations imposed by financing agreements on our ability to incur additional debt and to take other actions might significantly impair our ability to obtain other financing. There can be no assurances that we will be granted waivers or amendments to these agreements if, for any reason, we are unable to comply with these agreements or that we will be able to refinance our debt on terms acceptable to us, or at all.
We may not be able to borrow funds under our revolving credit facility if we are not able to meet the conditions to borrowing under that facility.
We view our $1.5 billion revolving credit facility as a source of available liquidity. This facility contains various conditions, covenants and representations with which we must be in compliance in order to borrow funds. We have not borrowed under the revolving credit facility to date, but if we wish to do so, there can be no assurance that we will be in compliance with these conditions, covenants and representations at such time.
The London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR’) calculation method may change and LIBOR is expected to be phased out after 2021.
Interest on our revolving credit facility, which is scheduled to mature in 2023, is calculated based on LIBOR. On July 27, 2017, the United Kingdom (“U.K.”) Financial Conduct Authority (the “FCA”) announced that it will no longer require banks to submit rates for the calculation of LIBOR after 2021. In the meantime, actions by the FCA, other regulators, or law enforcement agencies may result in changes to the method by which LIBOR is calculated. At this time, it is not possible to predict the effect of any such changes or any other reforms to LIBOR that may be enacted in the U.K. or elsewhere on our revolving credit facility.
Lawsuits have been filed, and may continue to be filed, against publishers of interactive entertainment software products.
In prior years, lawsuits have been filed against numerous interactive entertainment companies, including against us, by the families of victims of violence, alleging that interactive entertainment products influence the behavior of the perpetrators of such violence. These lawsuits have been dismissed, but similar additional lawsuits could be filed in the future. Although our general liability insurance carrier has agreed to defend lawsuits of this nature with respect to the prior lawsuits, it is uncertain whether insurance carriers would do so in the future, or if such insurance carriers would cover all or any amounts for which we might be liable if such future lawsuits are not decided in our favor. Further, any such lawsuit could result in increased governmental scrutiny, harm to our reputation, reduced demand by consumers for our products, or decreased willingness by our customers to purchase, or by our partners to provide marketing support for, those products. Such results could divert development and management resources, increase legal fees and other costs, and have other negative impacts on our business.
We are exposed to seasonality in the sale of our products.
The interactive entertainment industry is somewhat seasonal, with the highest levels of consumer demand occurring during the calendar year-end holiday buying season. As a result, our sales have historically been highest during the fourth quarter of the year, particularly for our Activision segment. Receivables and credit risk are likewise higher during the fourth quarter of the year, as retailers increase their purchases of our products in anticipation of the holiday season. Delays in development, approvals or manufacturing could affect the timing of the release of products, causing us to miss key selling periods such as the year-end holiday buying season, which could negatively impact our business.
Our business may be harmed if our distributors, retailers, development and licensing partners, or other third parties with whom we are affiliated, act in ways that put our brand at risk.
In many cases, our business partners, which may include, among others, individuals or entities affiliated with the esports leagues we operate, are given access to sensitive and proprietary information or control over our intellectual property to provide services and support to our team. These third parties may misappropriate our information or intellectual property and engage in unauthorized use of it. The failure of these third parties to provide adequate services and technologies, the failure of third parties to adequately maintain or update their services and technologies, or the misappropriation or misuse of this information or intellectual property could result in a disruption to our business operations or an adverse effect on our reputation and may negatively impact our business.
Similarly, actions taken by third parties with whom we may be affiliated, which may include, among others, individuals or entities affiliated with the esports leagues we operate, may act in a way that places our brand at risk, which could have an adverse effect on our reputation and may negatively impact our business. At the same time, if the media, consumers, or employees raise any concerns about our actions vis-à-vis those third parties, this could also damage our reputation or our business.
We use open source software in connection with certain of our games and services, which may pose particular risks to our proprietary software, products, and services in a manner that could have a negative impact on our business.
We use open source software in connection with some of the games and services we offer. Some open source software licenses require users who distribute open source software as part of their software to publicly disclose all or part of the source code to such software or make available any derivative works of the open source code on unfavorable terms or at no cost. The terms of various open source licenses have not been interpreted by courts, and there is a risk that such licenses could be construed in a manner that imposes unanticipated conditions or restrictions on our use of the open source software. Were it determined that our use was not in compliance with a particular license, we may be required to release our proprietary source code, pay damages for breach of contract, re-engineer our games or products, discontinue distribution in the event re-engineering cannot be accomplished on a timely basis, or take other remedial action that may divert resources away from our game development efforts, any of which could negatively impact our business.
Our products are subject to the threat of piracy and unauthorized copying, and inadequate intellectual property laws and other protections could prevent us from enforcing or defending our proprietary technologies. Further, the use of unauthorized “cheat” programs or the use of other unauthorized software modifications by users could impact multiplayer gameplay or lead to reductions in microtransactions in our games.
We regard our software as proprietary and rely on a variety of methods, including a combination of copyright, patent, trademark and trade secret laws and employee and third-party non-disclosure agreements, to protect our proprietary rights. We own or license various copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. The process of registering and protecting these rights in various jurisdictions is expensive and time-consuming. Further, we are aware that some unauthorized copying occurs, and if a significantly greater amount of unauthorized copying of our software products were to occur, it could negatively impact our business.
Piracy is a persistent problem for us, and policing the unauthorized sale, distribution and use of our products is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Further, the laws of some countries in which our products are, or may be, distributed either do not protect our products and intellectual property rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States, or are poorly enforced. In addition, though we take steps to make the unauthorized sale, distribution and use of our products more difficult and to enforce and police our rights, as do the manufacturers of consoles and the operators of other platforms on which many of our games are played, these efforts may not be successful in controlling the piracy of our products in all instances. Technology designed to circumvent the protection measures used by console manufacturers and platform operators or by us in our products, the refusal of Internet service providers to remove infringing content in certain instances and the ability to download pirated copies of games from various Internet sites and peer-to-peer networks could result in an expansion in piracy.
In addition, “cheating” programs or other unauthorized software tools and modifications that enable consumers to cheat in games could negatively impact the volume of microtransactions or purchases of downloadable content. In addition, vulnerabilities in the design of our products or the platforms upon which they run could be discovered after their release, which may result in lost revenues from paying consumers or increased cost of developing technological measures to respond to these, either of which could negatively impact our business.
We also cannot be certain that existing intellectual property laws will provide adequate protection for our products in connection with emerging technologies.
The insolvency or business failure of any of our business partners could negatively impact us.
Our sales, whether digital or retail, are concentrated in a small number of large customers. This makes us more vulnerable to collection risk if one or more of these large customers becomes unable to pay for our products or seeks protection under the bankruptcy laws. Retailers and distributors in the interactive entertainment industry have from time to time experienced significant fluctuations in their businesses and a number of them have failed. Challenging economic conditions may impair the ability of our customers to pay for products they have purchased and, as a result, our reserves for doubtful accounts and write-off of accounts receivable could increase and, even if increased, may turn out to be insufficient. Moreover, even in cases where we have insurance to protect against a customer’s bankruptcy, insolvency, or liquidation, this insurance typically contains a significant deductible and co-payment obligation and does not cover all instances of non-payment. Further, the insolvency or business failure of other types of business partners could result in disruptions to the manufacturing or distribution of our products or the cancellation of contractual arrangements that we consider to be favorable. A payment default by, or the insolvency or business failure of, a significant business partner could negatively impact our business. In addition, having such a large portion of our total net revenues concentrated in a few customers reduces our negotiating leverage with these customers.
We are a global company and are subject to the risks and uncertainties of conducting business outside the U.S.
We conduct business throughout the world, and we derive a substantial amount of our revenues and profits from international trade, particularly from Europe and Asia. Moving forward, we expect that international sales will continue to account for a significant portion of our total revenues and profits and, moreover, that sales in emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere will continue to be an important part of our international sales. As such, we are, and may be increasingly, subject to risks inherent in foreign trade generally, as well as risks inherent in doing business in emerging markets, including increased tariffs and duties, compliance with economic sanctions, fluctuations in currency exchange rates, shipping delays, increases in transportation costs, international political, regulatory and economic developments, unexpected changes to laws, regulatory requirements, and enforcement on us and our platform partners and differing local business practices, all of which may impact profit margins or make it more difficult, if not impossible, for us to conduct business in foreign markets.
A deterioration in relations between either us or the United States and any country in which we have significant operations or sales, or the implementation of government regulations in such a country, could result in the adoption or expansion of trade restrictions, including economic sanctions, that could have a negative impact on our business. For instance, to operate in China, all games must have regulatory approval. A decision by the Chinese government to revoke its approval for any of our games or to decline to approve any products we desire to sell in China in the future could have a negative impact on our business. Additionally, in the past, legislation has been implemented in China that has required modifications to our products and business model to satisfy regulatory requirements. The future implementation of similar or new laws or regulations in China or any other country in which we have operations or sales may restrict or prohibit the sale of our products or may require engineering modifications to our products and our business model that are not cost-effective, if even feasible at all, or could degrade the consumer experience to the point where consumers cease to purchase such products. The Chinese game approval procedure was suspended from March 2018 until December 2018 and, due to the large number of pending applications and unclear approval timeframes, it remains uncertain as to if and when our new products will be approved for release in China. Further, the enforcement of regulations relating to mobile and other games with an online element in China remains uncertain, and further changes, either in the regulations or their enforcement, could have a negative impact on our business in China.
In addition, cultural differences may affect consumer preferences and limit the international popularity of games that are popular in the U.S. or require us to modify the content of the games or the method by which we charge our customers for the games to be successful. If we do not correctly assess consumer preferences in the countries in which we sell our products, or if the other risks discussed herein come to fruition, it could negatively impact our business.
We are also subject to risks that our operations outside the United States could be conducted by our employees, contractors, third-party partners, representatives, or agents in ways that violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.K. Anti-Bribery Act or other similar anti-bribery laws, as well as the 2017 U.K. Criminal Finances Act or other similar financial crime laws. While we have policies and procedures, as well as training for our employees, intended to secure compliance with these laws, our employees, contractors, third-party partners, representatives, or agents may take actions that violate our policies. Moreover, it may be more difficult to oversee the conduct of any such persons who are not our employees, potentially exposing us to greater risk from their actions.
Additionally, in June 2016, voters in the U.K. approved an advisory referendum to withdraw from the European Union (the “E.U.”), commonly referred to as “Brexit.” The U.K. commenced withdrawal proceedings with the E.U. in March 2017, and, on January 31, 2020, left the E.U. This withdrawal has created political and economic uncertainty, particularly in the U.K. and the E.U., and this uncertainty may persist for years. The uncertainty surrounding the consequences of the U.K.’s withdrawal could adversely impact consumer and investor confidence and the level of sales of discretionary items, including our products. The terms of the U.K.’s future trade agreements with the E.U. or other nations could negatively impact global financial markets, including currency exchange rates and interest rates, which could have a negative impact on our business, our suppliers and business partners, or our lenders and financial counterparties. Further, the terms of the U.K.’s future trade agreements with the E.U. or other nations could potentially cause adverse disruptions to our operations, including (1) for our workforce, or the workforce of our suppliers, business partners, lenders or financial counterparties, in the U.K. or the E.U. as a result of potential changes to applicable employment or immigration rules; and (2) to our systems and information technology infrastructure or that of our suppliers, business partners, lenders or financial counterparties as a result of potential changes to regulations for data security or other data protection rules. Given our extensive global operations, the potential widespread impacts triggered through Brexit could adversely affect our business.
Fluctuations in currency exchange rates could negatively impact our business.
We transact business in various currencies other than the U.S. dollar and have significant international sales and expenses denominated in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, subjecting us to currency exchange rate risks. A substantial portion of our international sales and expenses are denominated in local currencies, including euros, British pounds, Australian dollars, South Korean won, Chinese yuan, and Swedish krona, which could fluctuate against the U.S. dollar. Since we have significant international sales but incur the majority of our costs in the United States, the impact of foreign currency fluctuations, particularly the strengthening of the U.S. dollar, may have an asymmetric and disproportional impact on our business. We have, in the past, utilized currency derivative contracts to hedge certain foreign exchange exposures and managed these exposures with natural offsets. However, there can be no assurance that we will continue our hedging programs, or that we will be successful in managing exposure to currency exchange rate risks whether or not we do so.
Our games are subject to scrutiny regarding the appropriateness of their content. If we fail to receive our target ratings for certain titles, or if our retailers refuse to sell such titles due to what they perceive to be objectionable content, it could have a negative impact on our business.
Our console and PC games are subject to ratings by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (the “ESRB”), a self-regulatory body based in the U.S. that provides U.S. and Canadian consumers of interactive entertainment software with ratings information, including information on the content in such software, such as violence, nudity, or sexual content, along with an assessment of the suitability of the content for certain age groups. Certain other countries have also established content rating systems as prerequisites for product sales in those countries. In addition, certain stores use other ratings systems, such as Apple’s use of its proprietary “App Rating System” and Google Play’s use of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) rating system. If we are unable to obtain the ratings we have targeted for our products, it could have a negative impact on our business. In some instances, we may be required to modify our products to meet the requirements of the rating systems, which could delay or disrupt the release of any given product, or may prevent its sale altogether in certain territories. Further, if one of our games is “re-rated” for any reason, a ratings organization could require corrective actions, which could include a recall, retailers could refuse to sell it and demand that we accept the return of any unsold or returned copies or consumers could demand a refund for copies previously purchased.
Additionally, retailers may decline to sell interactive entertainment software containing what they judge to be graphic violence or sexually explicit material or other content that they deem inappropriate for their businesses, whether because a product received a certain rating by the ESRB or other content rating system, or otherwise. If retailers decline to sell our products based upon their opinion that they contain objectionable themes, graphic violence or sexually explicit material, or other generally objectionable content, we might be required to modify particular titles or forfeit the revenue opportunity of selling such titles with that retailer.
Our games may include undisclosed content or features. If our retailers refuse to sell such titles, or consumers refuse to purchase such titles, due to what they perceive to be objectionable undisclosed content, it could have a negative impact on our business.
Throughout the history of the interactive entertainment industry, many interactive software products have included hidden content and/or hidden gameplay features, some of which have been accessible through the use of in-game codes or other technological means, that are intended to enhance the gameplay experience. In some cases, such undisclosed content or features have been considered to be objectionable. While publishers are required to disclose pertinent hidden content during the ESRB ratings process, in a few cases, publishers have failed to disclose hidden content, and the ESRB has required the recall of the game, changed the rating or associated content descriptors originally assigned to the product, required the publisher to change the game or game packaging and/or imposed fines on the publisher. Retailers have on occasion reacted to the discovery of such undisclosed content by removing these games from their shelves, refusing to sell them, and demanding that their publishers accept them as product returns. Likewise, some consumers have reacted to the revelation of undisclosed content by refusing to purchase such games, demanding refunds for games they have already purchased, refraining from buying other games published by the company whose game contained the objectionable material, and, on at least one occasion, filing a lawsuit against the publisher of the product containing such content.
We have implemented preventive measures designed to reduce the possibility of objectionable undisclosed content from appearing in the interactive software products we publish. Nonetheless, these preventive measures are subject to human error, circumvention, overriding, and reasonable resource constraints. If an interactive software product we publish is found to contain undisclosed content, we could be subject to any of these consequences.
Our results of operations or reputation may be harmed as a result of objectionable consumer- or other third party-created content.
Certain of our games and esports broadcasts support collaborative online features that allow consumers to post narrative comments, in real time, that are visible to other consumers. Additionally, certain of our games allow consumers to create and share “user‑generated content” that is visible to other consumers. From time to time, objectionable and offensive consumer content may be distributed within our games and on our broadcasts through these features or to gaming websites or other sites or forums with online chat features or that otherwise allow consumers to post comments. We may be subject to lawsuits, governmental regulation or restrictions, and consumer backlash (including decreased sales and harmed reputation), as a result of consumers posting offensive content.
Additionally, we have begun to generate revenue through offering advertising within certain of our franchises and in connection with our esports broadcasts. The content of in‑game advertisements and esports broadcast advertisements is generally created and delivered by third‑party advertisers without our pre‑approval, and, as such, objectionable content may be published in our games or during our esports broadcasts by these advertisers. This objectionable third party‑created content may expose us to regulatory action or claims related to content, or otherwise negatively impact our business. We may also be subject to consumer backlash from comments made in response to postings we make on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Our business, products, and distribution are subject to increasing regulation in key territories. If we do not successfully respond to these regulations, our business could be negatively impacted.
The video game industry continues to evolve, and new and innovative business opportunities are often subject to new attempts at regulation. As such, legislation is continually being introduced, and litigation and regulatory enforcement actions are taking place, that may affect the way in which we, and other industry participants, may offer content and features, and distribute and advertise our products. These laws, regulations, and investigations are related to protection of minors, gambling, consumer privacy, accessibility, advertising, taxation, payments, intellectual property, distribution, and antitrust, among others.
For example, many foreign countries have laws that permit governmental entities to restrict or prohibit marketing or distribution of interactive entertainment software products because of the content therein (and similar legislation has been introduced at one time or another at the federal and state levels in the United States, including legislation that attempts to impose additional taxes based on content). In addition, certain jurisdictions have laws that restrict or prohibit marketing or distribution of interactive entertainment software products with random digital item mechanics, which some of our online games and services include, or subject such products to additional regulation and oversight, such as reporting to regulators. Also, although we have structured and operate our skill tournaments with applicable laws in mind, including any applicable laws relating to gambling, and believe that playing these games does not constitute gambling, our skill tournaments could in the future become subject to gambling-related rules and regulations and expose us to civil and criminal penalties. We also sometimes offer consumers of our online and casual games various types of contests and promotional opportunities. We are subject to laws in a number of jurisdictions concerning the operation and offering of tournaments and games, many of which are still evolving and could be interpreted in ways that could harm our business. Further, the growth and development of electronic commerce and virtual items and currency may prompt calls for more stringent consumer protection laws that may impose additional burdens or limitations on operations of companies such as ours conducting business through the Internet and mobile devices. Also, existing laws or new laws regarding the marketing of in-app purchases, regulation of currency, banking institutions, unclaimed property, and money laundering may be interpreted to cover virtual currency or goods. In 2019, the World Health Organization included “gaming disorder” in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) leading some countries to consider legislation and policies aimed at addressing this issue. Moreover, the public dialogue concerning interactive entertainment may have an adverse impact on our reputation and consumers’ willingness to purchase our products.
The adoption and enforcement of legislation that restricts the marketing, content, business model, or sales of our products in countries in which we do business may harm the sales of our products, as the products we are able to offer to our customers and the size of the potential audience for our products may be limited. We may be required to modify certain product development processes or products or alter our marketing strategies to comply with regulations, which could be costly or delay the release of our products. In addition, the laws and regulations affecting our products vary by territory and may be inconsistent with one another, imposing conflicting or uncertain restrictions. Failure to comply with any applicable legislation may also result in government-imposed fines or other penalties, as well as harm to our reputation.
Change in government regulations relating to the Internet could negatively impact our business.
We rely on our consumers’ access to significant levels of Internet bandwidth for the sale and digital delivery of our content and the functionality of our games with online features. Changes in laws or regulations that adversely affect the growth, popularity or use of the Internet, including laws impacting “net neutrality,” could impair our consumers’ online video game experiences, decrease the demand for our products and services or increase our cost of doing business. Although certain jurisdictions have implemented laws and regulations intended to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against particular types of legal traffic on their networks, other jurisdictions may lack such laws and regulations or repeal existing laws or regulations. For example, in December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality regulations in the U.S. and, following that decision, several states enacted net neutrality regulations. Given uncertainty around these rules relating to the Internet, including changing interpretations, amendments, or repeal of those rules, coupled with the potentially significant political and economic power of local Internet service providers and the relatively significant level of Internet bandwidth access our products and services require, we could experience discriminatory or anti-competitive practices that could impede our growth, cause us to incur additional expenses, or otherwise negatively impact our business.
The laws and regulations concerning data privacy are continually evolving. Failure to comply with these laws and regulations could harm our business.
Consumers play certain of our games online using our own distribution platforms, including Blizzard Battle.net, third-party platforms and networks, through online social platforms, and on mobile devices. We collect and store information about our consumers, including consumers who play these games. In addition, we collect and store information about our employees. We are subject to laws from a variety of jurisdictions regarding privacy and the protection of this information, including the E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation (the “GDPR”), the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which regulates the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information from children under 13 years of age, and the California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”), among others. Failure to comply with any of these laws or regulations may increase our costs, subject us to expensive and distracting government investigations, result in substantial fines, or result in lawsuits and claims against us to the extent these laws include a private right of action.
Data privacy protection laws are rapidly changing and likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future and may be inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, the E.U. has traditionally taken a broader view than the United States and certain other jurisdictions as to what is considered personal information and has imposed greater obligations under data privacy and protection regulations, including those imposed under the GDPR. The U.S. government, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, as well as various U.S. state governments, are continuing to review the need for greater regulation over the collection of personal information and information about consumer behavior on the Internet and on mobile devices. Complying with emerging and changing laws could require us to incur substantial costs or impact our approach to operating and marketing our games. Due to the rapidly changing nature of these data privacy protection laws, there is not always clear guidance from the respective governments and regulators regarding the interpretation of the law, which may create the risk of an inadvertent violation. Various government and consumer agencies worldwide have also called for new regulation and changes in industry practices. In addition, in some cases, we are dependent upon our platform providers and external data processors to assist us in ensuring compliance with these various types of regulations, and a violation by one of these third parties may also subject us to government investigations and result in substantial fines.
Player interaction with our games is subject to our privacy policies, end user license agreements (“EULAs”), and terms of service. If we fail to comply with our posted privacy policies, EULAs, or terms of service, or if we fail to comply with existing privacy-related or data protection laws and regulations, it could result in proceedings or litigation against us by governmental authorities or others, which could result in fines or judgments against us, damage our reputation, impact our financial condition, and harm our business. If regulators, the media, consumers, or employees raise any concerns about our privacy and data protection or consumer protection practices, even if unfounded, this could also result in fines or judgments against us, damage our reputation, negatively impact our financial condition, or damage our business.
We depend on servers and networks to operate our games with online features and our proprietary online gaming service. If we were to lose functionality in any of these areas for any reason, our business may be negatively impacted.
Our business relies on the continuous operation of servers, some of which are owned and operated by third parties. Although we strive to maintain more than sufficient server capacity, and provide for active redundancy in the event of limited hardware failure, any broad-based catastrophic server malfunction, a significant service-disrupting attack or intrusion by hackers that circumvents security measures, a failure of disaster recovery service or the failure of a company on which we are relying for server capacity to provide that capacity for whatever reason would likely degrade or interrupt the functionality of our games with online features, and could prevent the operation of such games altogether, any of which could result in the loss of sales for, or in, such games. The risk is particularly pronounced with respect to: (1) the mobile games published by King, which rely on a small number of third-party owned data centers located in one city; (2) to the functioning of our proprietary online gaming service, Blizzard Battle.net, the disruption of which could prevent Blizzard from delivering content digitally or render all of Blizzard’s games, as well as selected Activision content for the PC platform, unavailable; and (3) Activision’s multiplayer game services which rely on systems hosted in a hybrid of data centers across the world as well as cloud providers.
We also rely on platforms and networks operated by third parties, such as the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live and Steam, for the sale and digital delivery of downloadable console and PC game content and the functionality of our games with online features. Similarly, we rely on those platforms and networks, as well as the continued operation of the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and Facebook, for the sale of virtual currency for our free-to-play games. An extended interruption to any of these services could adversely affect our ability to sell and distribute our digital products and operate our games with online features, which could result in a loss of revenue and otherwise negatively impact our business.
Further, insufficient server capacity could also negatively impact our business. Conversely, if we overestimate the amount of server capacity required by our business, we may incur additional operating costs.
Any cybersecurity-related attack, significant data breach or disruption of the information technology systems or networks on which we rely could negatively impact our business.
In the course of our day-to-day business, we and third parties operating on our behalf create, store, and/or use commercially sensitive information, such as the source code and game assets for our interactive entertainment software products and sensitive and confidential information with respect to our customers, consumers, and employees. A malicious cybersecurity-related attack, intrusion, or disruption by hackers (including through spyware, viruses, phishing, denial of service, and similar attacks) or other breach of the systems on which such source code and assets, account information (including personal information), and other sensitive data is stored could lead to piracy of our software, fraudulent activity, disclosure or misappropriation of, or access to, our customers’, consumers’ or employees’ personal information (including personally identifiable information), or our own business data. Such incidents could also lead to product code-base and game distribution platform exploitation, should undetected viruses, spyware, or other malware be inserted into our products, services, or networks, or systems used by our consumers. We have implemented cybersecurity programs and the tools, technologies, processes, and procedures intended to secure our data and systems, and prevent and detect unauthorized access to, or loss of, our data, or the data of our customers, consumers, or employees. However, because these cyberattacks may remain undetected for prolonged periods of time and the techniques used by criminal hackers and other third parties to breach systems change frequently, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or implement adequate preventative measures. A data intrusion into a server for a game with online features or for our proprietary online gaming service could also disrupt the operation of such game or platform. If we are subject to cybersecurity breaches, or a security-related incident that materially disrupts the availability of our products and services, we may have a loss in sales or subscriptions or be forced to pay damages or incur other costs, including from the implementation of additional cyber and physical security measures, or suffer reputational damage. Additionally, although we maintain insurance policies, they may be insufficient to reimburse the Company for all losses or all types of claims that may be caused by cyberbreaches or system or network disruptions, and it is uncertain whether we will be able to maintain our current level of coverage in the future. Moreover, if there were a public perception that our data protection measures are inadequate, whether or not the case, it could result in reputational damage and potential harm to our business relationships or the public perception of our business model. In addition, such cybersecurity breaches may subject us to legal claims or proceedings, including regulatory investigations and actions, especially if there is loss, disclosure, or misappropriation of, or access to, our customers’ personal information or other sensitive information, or there is otherwise an intrusion into our customers’ privacy.
Our reported financial results could be significantly impacted by changes in financial accounting standards or by the application of existing or future accounting standards to our business as it evolves.
Our reported financial results are impacted by the accounting policies promulgated by the SEC and national accounting standards bodies and the methods, estimates, and judgments that we use in applying our accounting policies. Policies affecting revenue recognition have affected, and could further significantly affect, the way we report revenues related to our products and services. We recognize a majority of the revenues from video games that include an online service on a deferred basis over an estimated service period for such games. In addition, we defer the cost of revenues of those products. Further, as we increase our downloadable content and add new features to our online services, our estimate of the service period may change, and we could be required to recognize revenues, and defer related costs, over a shorter or longer period of time. As we enhance, expand and diversify our business and product offerings, the application of existing or future financial accounting standards, particularly those relating to the way we account for revenues and income taxes, could have a significant impact on our reported net revenues, net income and earnings per share under accounting principles generally accepted in the United States in any given period.
Provisions in our corporate documents and Delaware state law could delay or prevent a change of control.
Our Fourth Amended and Restated Bylaws contain a provision regulating the ability of shareholders to bring matters for action before annual and special meetings. The regulations on shareholder action could make it more difficult for any person seeking to acquire control of the Company to obtain shareholder approval of actions that would support this effort. In addition, our Third Amended and Restated Certificate of Incorporation authorizes the issuance of so-called “blank check” preferred stock. This ability of our Board of Directors to issue and fix the rights and preferences of preferred stock could effectively dilute the interests of any person seeking control or otherwise make it more difficult to obtain control.
Catastrophic events may disrupt our business.
Our corporate headquarters and our primary corporate data center are located in the Los Angeles, California area, which is near a major earthquake fault. A major earthquake or other catastrophic event that results in the destruction or disruption of any of our critical business or information technology systems, or otherwise prevents us from conducting our normal business operations, could require significant expenditures to resume operations and negatively impact our business. While we maintain insurance coverage for some of these events, the potential liabilities associated with such events could exceed the insurance coverage we maintain. Further, our system redundancy may be ineffective or inadequate and our disaster recovery planning may not be sufficient for all eventualities. Any such event could also limit the ability of retailers, distributors or our other customers to sell or distribute our products.
Significant disruption during our live events may adversely affect our business.
We, as well as the teams in the esports leagues we operate, host numerous live events each year, many of which are attended by a large number of people. There are many risks that are inherent in large gatherings of people, including the risk of an actual or threatened terrorist act, fire, explosion, protests and riots, and other safety or security issues, any one of which could result in injury or death to attendees and/or damage to the facilities at which such an event is hosted. While we maintain insurance policies, they may be insufficient to reimburse us for all losses or all types of claims that may be caused by such an event. Moreover, if there were a public perception that the safety or security measures are inadequate at the events we host or events hosted by teams in the esports leagues we operate, whether or not the case, it could result in reputational damage and a decline in future attendance at events hosted by us or those teams. Any one of these things could harm our business.
Large-scale medical emergencies or public health epidemics could adversely effect on our business.
Epidemics, medical emergencies and other public health crises outside of our control could have a negative impact on our business. Large-scale medical emergencies can take many forms and can cause widespread illness and death. For example, in December 2019, a strain of coronavirus surfaced in Wuhan, China, and currently, there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs approved for prevention or treatment. Although the extent of the impact from the coronavirus outbreak is unknown at this time, it could affect the health of our employees, or otherwise impact the productivity of our employees, third-party organizations with which we partner, or regulatory agencies we rely on, which may prevent us from delivering content in a timely manner or otherwise executing our business strategies. It could also affect the health of our consumers, which may affect sales of our products or result in lower-than-expected attendance at, or the cancellation of, events hosted by us or teams in the esports leagues we operate (as has already occurred for a number of scheduled events). If any of these things happen, our business could be negatively impacted.
If general economic conditions decline, demand for our products could decline.
Purchases of our products and services involve discretionary spending on the part of consumers. Consumers are generally more willing to make discretionary purchases, including purchases of products and services like ours, during periods in which favorable economic conditions prevail. As a result, our products are sensitive to general economic conditions and economic cycles. A reduction or shift in domestic or international consumer spending could result in an increase in our selling and promotional expenses, in an effort to offset that reduction, and could negatively impact our business.
Item 1B. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
Item 2. PROPERTIES
Our principal corporate and administrative offices, which includes our Activision segment’s headquarters, are located in Santa Monica, California and consist of approximately 150,000 square feet of leased office space.
Our Activision segment primarily leases office space for development studio personnel, with a total of approximately 500,000 square feet of leased spaces throughout the U.S., primarily in California, New York, and Wisconsin. We also lease approximately 740,000 square feet of office space in Irvine, CA for our Blizzard segment’s headquarters, which includes administrative and development studio space, and approximately 68,000 square feet of office space in London, United Kingdom for our King segment’s headquarter offices. King also leases approximately 200,000 square feet of office space for additional administrative and development studio space in Barcelona, Spain and Stockholm, Sweden.
In total, we have approximately 80 facility leases, primarily for other administrative and sales functions and development studio personnel, in the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The only facilities currently owned by the Company are two European warehouses utilized by the Distribution segment, one located in Burglengenfeld, Germany, and the other in Venlo, the Netherlands.
We anticipate no difficulty in extending the leases of our facilities or obtaining comparable facilities in suitable locations, as needed, and we consider our facilities to be adequate for our current needs.
Item 3. LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
In December 2017, we received a Notice of Reassessment from the French Tax Authority (the “FTA”) related to transfer pricing for intercompany transactions involving one of our French subsidiaries for the 2011 through 2013 tax years. The total assessment, including interest and penalties, was approximately €571 million (approximately $638 million). In December 2019, the Company reached a settlement with the FTA for the 2011 through 2018 tax years, resulting in the recognition of $54 million of tax expense in the period ended December 31, 2019 and a tax payment of €161 million (approximately $179 million), including interest and penalties, in January 2020.
In addition, we are party to routine claims, suits, investigations, audits, and other proceedings arising in the ordinary course of business, including with respect to intellectual property, competition and antitrust matters, regulatory matters, tax matters, privacy matters, labor and employment matters, compliance matters, unclaimed property matters, liability and personal injury claims, product damage claims, collection matters, and/or commercial claims. In the opinion of management, after consultation with legal counsel, such routine claims and lawsuits are not significant and we do not expect them to have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, or liquidity.
Item 4. MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES
Item 5. MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS, AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Market Information and Holders
Our common stock is quoted on the Nasdaq National Market under the symbol “ATVI”. At February 20, 2020, there were 1,574 holders of record of our common stock.
Stock Performance Graph
This performance graph shall not be deemed “filed” for purposes of Section 18 of the Exchange Act or otherwise subject to the liabilities under that Section, and shall not be deemed to be incorporated by reference into any filing of Activision Blizzard, Inc. under the Exchange Act or the Securities Act of 1933.
COMPARISON OF 5-YEAR CUMULATIVE TOTAL RETURN
among Activision Blizzard, Inc., the Nasdaq Composite Index, the S&P 500 Index,
and the RDG Technology Composite Index
The following graph and table compare the cumulative total stockholder return on our common stock, the Nasdaq Composite Index, the S&P 500 Index, and the RDG Technology Composite Index. The graph and table assume that $100 was invested on December 31, 2014, and that dividends were reinvested daily. The stock price performance on the following graph and table is not necessarily indicative of future stock price performance.
Fiscal year ending December 31:
Activision Blizzard, Inc.
RDG Technology Composite
We have paid a dividend annually since 2010. Below is a summary of cash dividends paid over the past three fiscal years, along with the dividend most recently declared by the Board of Directors that will be paid in May 2020:
Per Share Amount
Dividend Payment Date
Future dividends will depend upon our earnings, financial condition, cash requirements, anticipated future prospects, and other factors deemed relevant by our Board of Directors. There can be no assurances that dividends will be declared in the future.
10b5-1 Stock Trading Plans
The Company’s directors and employees may, at a time they are not aware of material non-public information, enter into plans to purchase or sell shares of our common stock that satisfy the requirements of Exchange Act Rule 10b5-1 (“Rule 10b5-1 Plans”). Rule 10b5-1 Plans permit persons whose ability to purchase or sell our common stock may otherwise be substantially restricted (by quarterly and special stock-trading blackouts and by their possession from time to time of material nonpublic information) to trade on a pre-arranged, “automatic-pilot” basis.
Trading under Rule 10b5-1 Plans is subject to certain conditions, including that the person for whom the plan is created (or anyone else aware of material non-public information acting on such person’s behalf) not exercise any subsequent influence regarding the amount, price, and dates of transactions under the plan. In addition, the Company requires Rule 10b5-1 Plans to be established and maintained in accordance with the Company’s “Policy on Establishing and Maintaining 10b5-1 Trading Plans.”
Trades under a Rule 10b5-1 Plan by our directors and employees are not necessarily indicative of their respective opinions of our current or potential future performance at the time of the trade. Trades by our directors and executive officers pursuant to a Rule 10b5-1 Plan will be disclosed publicly through Form 144 and Form 4 filings with the SEC, in accordance with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.
Issuer Purchase of Equity Securities
On January 31, 2019, our Board of Directors authorized a stock repurchase program under which we are authorized to repurchase up to $1.5 billion of our common stock during the two-year period from February 14, 2019 until the earlier of February 13, 2021 and a determination by the Board of Directors to discontinue the repurchase program. To date, we have not repurchased any shares under this program.
On February 2, 2017, our Board of Directors authorized a stock repurchase program under which we were authorized to repurchase up to $1 billion of our common stock during the two-year period from February 13, 2017 through February 12, 2019. We did not repurchase any shares under this program.
Item 6. SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA
The following table summarizes certain selected consolidated financial data, which should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and notes thereto in Item 8 and with “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” included under Item 7 in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The selected consolidated financial data presented below at and for each of the years in the five-year period ended December 31, 2019, is derived from our consolidated financial statements and include the operations of King commencing on February 23, 2016. All amounts set forth in the following tables are in millions, except per share data.
For the Years Ended December 31,
Statement of Operations Data (1):
Net income (2)
Basic net income per share
Diluted net income per share
Cash dividends declared per share
Operating cash flows
Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and investments (3)
Long-term debt, net (4)
Long-term debt, gross
Net debt (5)
On January 1, 2018, we adopted a new revenue accounting standard utilizing the modified retrospective method of transition. As a result, periods prior to January 1, 2018 have not been restated to reflect the new accounting standard and continue to be reported under the accounting standards that were in effect for those periods.
Net income for 2019, 2018, and 2017 includes the impact of significant discrete tax-related impacts, including incremental income tax expense and benefits in 2017 and 2018 due to the application of the U.S. Tax Reform Act. See further discussion in Note 19 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Cash and investments consists of cash and cash equivalents along with short-term and long-term investments. We had total investments of $69 million, $155 million, $62 million, $26 million, and $17 million, as of December 31, 2019, December 31, 2018, December 31, 2017, December 31, 2016, and December 31, 2015, respectively. Cash and investments as of December 31, 2015, excludes $3,561 million of cash placed in escrow for the acquisition of King.
For discussion on our debt obligations, see Note 13 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Net debt is defined as long-term debt, gross less cash and investments.
During the three months ended March 31, 2019, we identified an amount which should have been recorded in the three months and year ended December 31, 2018 to reduce income tax expense by $35 million. Our selected financial data for the year ended December 31, 2018, as presented above, has been revised to reflect the correction. See further discussion in Note 2 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Item 7. MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS
Activision Blizzard, Inc. is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive entertainment content and services. We develop and distribute content and services on video game consoles, personal computers (“PC”s), and mobile devices. We also operate esports leagues and offer digital advertising within our content. The terms “Activision Blizzard,” the “Company,” “we,” “us,” and “our” are used to refer collectively to Activision Blizzard, Inc. and its subsidiaries.
Based upon our organizational structure, we conduct our business through three reportable segments: Activision, Blizzard, and King.
Activision is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive software products and entertainment content, particularly for the console platform. Activision primarily delivers content through retail and digital channels, including full-game and in-game sales, as well as by licensing software to third-party or related-party companies that distribute Activision products. Activision develops, markets, and sells products primarily based on our internally developed intellectual properties. Activision also includes the activities of the Call of Duty League, a global professional esports league with city-based teams for Call of Duty.
Blizzard is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive software products and entertainment content, particularly for the PC platform. Blizzard primarily delivers content through retail and digital channels, including subscriptions, full-game, and in-game sales, as well as by licensing software to third-party or related-party companies that distribute Blizzard products. Blizzard also maintains a proprietary online gaming service, Blizzard Battle.net, which facilitates digital distribution of Blizzard content and selected Activision content, online social connectivity, and the creation of user-generated content. Blizzard also includes the activities of the Overwatch League, the first major global professional esports league with city-based teams.
King is a leading global developer and publisher of interactive entertainment content and services, particularly for the mobile platform, including for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. King also distributes its content and services on the PC platform, primarily via Facebook. King’s games are free to play; however, players can acquire in-game items, either with virtual currency or real currency, and we continue to focus on in-game advertising as a growing source of additional revenue.
We also engage in other businesses that do not represent reportable segments, including our Distribution business, which consists of operations in Europe that provide warehousing, logistics, and sales distribution services to third-party publishers of interactive entertainment software, our own publishing operations, and manufacturers of interactive entertainment hardware.
In 2010, Activision entered into an exclusive relationship with Bungie to publish games in the Destiny franchise. Effective December 31, 2018, Activision and Bungie mutually agreed to terminate their publishing relationship related to the Destiny franchise. As part of this termination, Activision agreed to transfer its publishing rights for the Destiny franchise to Bungie in exchange for cash and Bungie’s assumption of on-going customer obligations of Activision. As a result of the agreement to terminate the relationship, the Company recognized net bookings, a key operating metric, of $20 million, GAAP revenues of $164 million, and GAAP operating income of $91 million for the year ended December 31, 2018. Activision no longer has any material rights or obligations related to the Destiny franchise.
Business Results and Highlights
2019 financial highlights included:
consolidated net revenues decreased 13% to $6.5 billion and consolidated operating income decreased 19% to $1.6 billion, as compared to consolidated net revenues of $7.5 billion and consolidated operating income of $2.0 billion in 2018;
revenues from digital online channels decreased 15% to $4.9 billion and were 76% of consolidated net revenues, as compared to $5.8 billion and 77% of consolidated net revenues in 2018;
operating margin was 24.8%, as compared to 26.5% in 2018;
consolidated net income decreased to $1.5 billion, as compared to $1.8 billion in 2018, which included significant discrete tax-related impacts in both 2019 and 2018—refer to “Consolidated Results, Income Tax Expense” discussion below for details;
diluted earnings per common share decreased to $1.95, as compared to $2.40 in 2018; and
cash flows from operating activities were approximately $1.83 billion, an increase of 2%, as compared to $1.79 billion in 2018.
Since certain of our games are hosted online or include significant online functionality that represents a separate performance obligation, we defer the transaction price allocable to the online functionality from the sale of these games and recognize the attributable revenues over the relevant estimated service periods, which are generally less than a year. Net revenues and operating income for the year ended December 31, 2019, include net effects of $101 million and $52 million, respectively, from the recognition of deferred net revenues and related cost of revenues.
Additionally, for the year ended December 31, 2019, 18% of total net revenues recognized were from revenue sources that were recognized at a “point-in-time,” while “over-time and other” revenues were 82% of total net revenues. Revenue recognized at a “point-in-time” is primarily comprised of the portion of revenue from software products that is recognized when the customer takes control of the product (i.e., upon delivery of the software product) and revenues from our Distribution business. “Over-time and other revenue” is primarily comprised of revenue associated with the online functionality of our games, in-game purchases, and subscriptions.
Content Release and Event Highlights
Games and downloadable content that were released during 2019, include:
Activision’s SekiroTM: Shadows Die Twice;
Activision’s CrashTM Team Racing Nitro-Fueled;
Activision’s Spyro® Reignited Trilogy on Nintendo Switch and PC;
Activision’s Call of Duty: Mobile;
Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare;
Blizzard’s World of Warcraft® Classic; and
Blizzard’s latest expansions to Hearthstone—Rise of ShadowsTM, Saviors of UldumTM, Tombs of TerrorTM,, and Descent of DragonsTM.
The Overwatch League, the first major global professional esports league with city-based teams, completed its second season in 2019 and began its third season in February 2020. During 2019, we also sold the first 12 teams for the Call of Duty League, which began its first season in January 2020.
International sales are a fundamental part of our business. An important element of our international strategy is to develop content that is specifically directed toward local cultures and customs. Net revenues from international sales accounted for approximately 54%, 54%, and 55% of our total consolidated net revenues for the years ended December 31, 2019, 2018, and 2017, respectively. The majority of our net revenues from foreign countries are generated by consumers in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Our international business is subject to risks typical of an international business, including, but not limited to, foreign currency exchange rate volatility and changes in local economies. Accordingly, our future results could be materially and adversely affected by changes in foreign currency exchange rates and changes in local economies.
The following operating metrics are key performance indicators that we use to evaluate our business. The key drivers of changes in our operating metrics are presented in the order of significance.
Net bookings and In-game net bookings
We monitor net bookings as a key operating metric in evaluating the performance of our business because it enables an analysis of performance based on the timing of actual transactions with our customers and provides more timely indication of trends in our operating results. Net bookings is the net amount of products and services sold digitally or sold-in physically in the period, and includes license fees, merchandise, and publisher incentives, among others. Net bookings is equal to net revenues excluding the impact from deferrals. In-game net bookings primarily includes the net amount of downloadable content and microtransactions sold during the period, and is equal to in-game net revenues excluding the impact from deferrals.
Net bookings and in-game net bookings were as follows (amounts in millions):
For the Years Ended December 31,
In-game net bookings
The decrease in net bookings for 2019, as compared to 2018, was primarily due to:
a $572 million decrease in Blizzard net bookings primarily driven by (1) lower net bookings from Hearthstone and (2) overall lower net bookings from World of Warcraft expansion and in-game content sales, primarily due to World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, which was released in August 2018, with no comparable release in 2019 (although net bookings from subscriptions increased due to the release of World of Warcraft Classic in August 2019);
a $239 million decrease in Activision net bookings primarily driven by (1) lower net bookings from the Destiny franchise (reflecting our sale of the publishing rights for Destiny to Bungie in December 2018) and (2) lower net bookings from Call of Duty franchise catalog titles, partially offset by net bookings from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, and Call of Duty: Mobile, which were new releases in March 2019, June 2019, and October 2019, respectively; and
a $55 million decrease in King net bookings primarily driven by lower net bookings from player purchases across various franchise titles, primarily driven by the Candy Crush franchise, partially offset by an increase in advertising net bookings.
In-game net bookings
The decrease in in-game net bookings for 2019, as compared to 2018, was primarily due to:
a $539 million decrease in Blizzard in-game net bookings primarily driven by (1) lower in-game net bookings from Hearthstone and (2) lower in-game net bookings from World of Warcraft, in part due to World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth;
a $167 million decrease in Activision in-game net bookings primarily due to lower in-game net bookings from the Destiny franchise, partially offset by in-game net bookings from Call of Duty: Mobile; and
a $131 million decrease in King in-game net bookings primarily due to lower in-game net bookings across various franchise titles, primarily driven by the Candy Crush franchise.
Monthly Active Users
We monitor monthly active users (“MAUs”) as a key measure of the overall size of our user base. MAUs are the number of individuals who accessed a particular game in a given month. We calculate average MAUs in a period by adding the total number of MAUs in each of the months in a given period and dividing that total by the number of months in the period. An individual who accesses two of our games would be counted as two users. In addition, due to technical limitations, for Activision and King, an individual who accesses the same game on two platforms or devices in the relevant period would be counted as two users. For Blizzard, an individual who accesses the same game on two platforms or devices in the relevant period would generally be counted as a single user. In certain instances, we rely on third parties to publish our games. In these instances, MAU data is based on information provided to us by those third parties, or, if final data is not available, reasonable estimates of MAUs for these third-party published games.
The number of MAUs for a given period can be significantly impacted by the timing of new content releases, since new releases may cause a temporary surge in MAUs. Accordingly, although we believe that overall trending in the number of MAUs can be a meaningful performance metric, period-to-period fluctuations may not be indicative of longer-term trends. The following table details our average MAUs on a sequential quarterly basis for each of our reportable segments (amounts in millions):
December 31, 2019
September 30, 2019
June 30, 2019
March 31, 2019
December 31, 2018
September 30, 2018
Average MAUs increased by 93 million, or 29%, for the three months ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the three months ended September 30, 2019, primarily due to an increase in average MAUs for Activision driven by the Call of Duty franchise as a result of the October 2019 launches of Call of Duty: Mobile and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Average MAUs increased by 53 million, or 15%, for the three months ended December 31, 2019, as compared to the three months ended December 31, 2018. The year-over-year increase in average MAUs is due to higher average MAUs for Activision, primarily driven by the launch Call of Duty: Mobile, partially offset by the absence of Destiny MAUs in our operating metric. The overall increase is partially offset by:
decreases across King’s various franchises, primarily from less engaged users leaving the network; and
lower average MAUs for Blizzard due to lower average MAUs for Hearthstone and Overwatch, partially offset by higher average MAUs for World of Warcraft.
Management’s Overview of Business Trends
Interactive Entertainment Growth, Including Mobile Gaming
Our business participates in the global interactive entertainment industry. Games have become an increasingly popular form of entertainment, and we estimate the total industry has grown, on average, 13% annually from 2016 to 2019. The industry continues to benefit from additional players entering the market as interactive entertainment becomes more commonplace across age groups and as more developing regions gain access to this form of entertainment.
Further, wide adoption of smartphones globally and the free-to-play business model on those platforms has increased the total addressable audience for gaming significantly by introducing gaming to new age groups and new regions and allowing gaming to occur more widely outside the home. Mobile gaming is estimated to be larger than console and PC gaming, and continues to grow at a significant rate. King is a leading developer of mobile and free-to-play games, and our other business units have mobile efforts underway that present the opportunity for us to expand the reach of, and drive additional player investment in our franchises. The October 2019 launch of Call of Duty: Mobile is an example of these efforts.
Opportunities to Expand Franchises Outside of Games
Our fans spend significant time engaging in our franchises and investing through purchases of our game content, including full games, downloadable content and microtransactions. Given the passion our players have for our franchises, we believe there are emerging opportunities to drive additional engagement and investment in our franchises outside of games. Our efforts to build these adjacent opportunities are still relatively nascent, but we view them as potentially significant sources of future revenues.
For example, as part of our efforts to take advantage of esports opportunities, we have sold rights for 20 teams that are participating in the Overwatch League, which recently began its third season in February 2020, and, during 2019, we sold rights for the first 12 teams for the Call of Duty League, which began its first season in January 2020.
Concentration of Sales Among the Most Popular Franchises
The concentration of retail revenues among key titles has continued as a trend in the overall interactive entertainment industry. According to The NPD Group, the top 10 titles accounted for 33% of the retail sales in the U.S. interactive entertainment industry in 2019. Similarly, a significant portion of our revenues historically has been derived from video games based on a few popular franchises, and these video games have also been responsible for a disproportionately high percentage of our profits. For example, in 2019, the Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft franchises, collectively, accounted for 67% of our consolidated net revenues—and a significantly higher percentage of our operating income.
The top titles in the industry are also becoming more consistent as players and revenues concentrate more heavily in established franchises. Of the top 10 console franchises in the U.S. in 2019, all 10 are from established franchises. Similarly, according to U.S rankings for the Apple App Store and Google Play Store per App Annie Intelligence as of December 2019, the top 10 mobile games have held such ranking for an average of 25 months.
In addition to investing in, and developing sequels and content for, our top franchises, with the aim of releasing content more frequently, we are continually exploring additional ways to expand those franchises. Further, while there is no guarantee of success, we invest in new properties in an effort to develop future top franchises. For example, in 2014, we released Hearthstone, and in 2016, we released Overwatch. Additionally, to diversify our portfolio of key franchises and increase our presence on the mobile platform, in 2016, we acquired King. We also have been focusing on expanding our franchises to the mobile platform, as demonstrated by the recently released Call of Duty: Mobile, as well as our plans for Diablo ImmortalTM , which is currently in development.
Overall, we do expect that a limited number of popular franchises will continue to produce a disproportionately high percentage of our, and the industry’s, revenues and profits in the near future. Accordingly, our ability to maintain our top franchises and our ability to successfully compete against our competitors’ top franchises can significantly impact our performance.
Recurring Revenue Business Models and Seasonality
Increased consumer online connectivity has allowed us to offer players new investment opportunities and to shift our business further towards a more consistently recurring and year-round model. Offering downloadable content and microtransactions, in addition to full games, allows our players to access and invest in new content throughout the year. This incremental content not only provides additional high-margin revenues, it can also increase player engagement. Also, mobile games, and free-to-play games more broadly, are generally less seasonal than premium games developed primarily for the console or PC platforms.
While our business is shifting toward a year-round engagement model, the interactive entertainment industry remains somewhat seasonal. We have historically experienced our highest sales volume, particularly for Activision, in the calendar year-end holiday buying season.
In the second half of 2020, we plan to release the next premium title in our Call of Duty franchise and the next expansion for World of Warcraft, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. In addition, throughout the year we expect to deliver ongoing content for our various franchises, including continued in-game content for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Mobile, expansion packs and content updates for Hearthstone, in-game events for Overwatch, and continued releases of content, features, and services across King’s portfolio with an ongoing focus on the Candy Crush franchise. We will also continue to invest in opportunities that we think have the potential to drive our growth over the long-term, including continuing to build on our advertising and esports initiatives. We expect lower revenues and earnings per share in 2020 as compared to 2019, primarily due to the impact of deferrals as a result of the timing of releases for our games and content updates in 2020.
Additionally, during 2019, we implemented our previously announced restructuring plan, which was aimed at refocusing our resources on our largest opportunities and removing unnecessary levels of complexity and duplication from certain parts of the business. The restructuring actions remain in progress and will continue into 2020 as we execute against our plan. During implementation, we expanded the scope of certain actions within our plan aimed at integrating our global and regional sales and “go-to-market” functions, along with certain of our administrative-related functions. We expect to incur aggregate pre-tax restructuring charges of approximately $50 million in 2020 as we complete the execution of the restructuring plan. Refer to Note 17 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K for further discussion.
Consolidated Statements of Operations Data
The following table sets forth consolidated statements of operations data for the periods indicated (amounts in millions) and as a percentage of total net revenues, except for cost of revenues, which are presented as a percentage of associated revenues:
For the Years Ended December 31,
Subscription, licensing, and other revenues
Total net revenues
Costs and expenses
Cost of revenues—product sales:
Software royalties, amortization, and intellectual property licenses
Cost of revenues—subscription, licensing, and other:
Game operations and distribution costs
Software royalties, amortization, and intellectual property licenses
Sales and marketing
General and administrative
Restructuring and related costs
Total costs and expenses
Interest and other expense (income), net
Loss on extinguishment of debt (2)
Income before income tax expense
Income tax expense
During the three months ended March 31, 2019, we identified an amount which should have been recorded in the three months and year ended December 31, 2018 to reduce income tax expense by $35 million. Our statement of operations for the year ended December 31, 2018, as presented above, has been revised to reflect the correction. See further discussion in Note 2 of the notes to the consolidated financial statements included in Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Represents the loss on extinguishment of debt we recognized in connection with our debt financing activities during the year ended December 31, 2018. The loss on extinguishment is comprised of a $25 million premium payment and a $15 million write-off of unamortized discount and deferred financing costs.
Consolidated Net Revenues
The key drivers of changes in our consolidated net revenues, operating segment results, consolidated results, and sources of liquidity are presented in the order of significance.
The following table summarizes our consolidated net revenues, increase (decrease) in associated deferred net revenues recognized, and in-game net revenues (amounts in millions):
For the Years Ended December 31,
Consolidated net revenues
Net effect from recognition (deferral) of deferred net revenues
In-game net revenues (1)
In-game net revenues primarily includes the net amount of revenue recognized for downloadable content and microtransactions during the period.
Consolidated net revenues
The decrease in consolidated net revenues for 2019, as compared to 2018, was primarily driven by a decrease in revenues of $1.1 billion due to:
lower revenues recognized from the Destiny franchise (reflecting our sale of the publishing rights for Destiny to Bungie in December 2018);
lower revenues recognized from Hearthstone;
lower revenues recognized from Call of Duty franchise catalog titles; and
lower revenues recognized from Overwatch.
The decrease was partially offset by an increase in revenues of $236 million due to:
revenues from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which was released in March 2019; and
revenues recognized from Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, which was released in June 2019.
The remaining net decrease of $131 million was driven by various other franchises and titles.
Change in Deferred Revenues Recognized
The decrease in net deferred revenues recognized for 2019, as compared to 2018, was primarily due to a decrease of $312 million in net deferred revenues recognized from Activision, primarily due to lower net deferred revenues recognized from the Destiny franchise.
The decrease from Activision was partially offset by an increase of $158 million in net deferred revenues recognized from Blizzard, primarily due to higher net deferred revenues recognized for World of Warcraft, driven by World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, which was released in August 2018, with no comparable release in 2017.
In-game net revenues
The decrease in in-game net revenues for 2019, as compared to 2018, was primarily driven by a decrease in in-game net revenues of $845 million due to:
lower in-game revenues recognized from the Destiny franchise;
lower in-game revenues recognized from Hearthstone;
lower in-game revenues across various King franchise titles, primarily driven by the Candy Crush franchise;
lower in-game revenues recognized from World of Warcraft; and
lower in-game revenues recognized from Overwatch.
The remaining net decrease of $28 million was driven by various other franchises and titles.
Foreign Exchange Impact
Changes in foreign exchange rates had a negative impact of $150 million and a positive impact of $102 million on Activision Blizzard’s consolidated net revenues in 2019 and 2018, respectively, as compared to the same periods in the previous year. The changes are primarily due to changes in the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the euro and the British pound.
Operating Segment Results
Currently, we have three reportable segments—Activision, Blizzard, and King. Our operating segments are consistent with the manner in which our operations are reviewed and managed by our Chief Executive Officer, who is our chief operating decision maker (“CODM”). The CODM reviews segment performance exclusive of: the impact of the change in deferred revenues and related cost of revenues with respect to certain of our online-enabled games; share-based compensation expense; amortization of intangible assets as a result of purchase price accounting; fees and other expenses (including legal fees, expenses, and accruals) related to acquisitions, associated integration activities, and financings; certain restructuring and related costs; and certain other non-cash charges. The CODM does not review any information regarding total assets on an operating segment basis, and accordingly, no disclosure is made with respect thereto.
Our operating segments are also consistent with our internal organizational structure, the way we assess operating performance and allocate resources, and the availability of separate financial information. We do not aggregate operating segments.
Information on the reportable segment net revenues and segment operating income are presented below (amounts in millions):
For the Year Ended December 31, 2019
Increase / (decrease) 2019 v 2018
Net revenues from external customers
Intersegment net revenues (1)
Segment net revenues
Segment operating income
For the Year Ended December 31, 2018
Net revenues from external customers