Should Video Games be on Investors’ Wish Lists?John Patrick Lee, CFA, Product ManagerDecember 13, 2018
October was a big month for the video game industry on a number of fronts. First, video game sales posted record-setting revenue numbers, the highest of any October since at least the mid-1990s. We also saw the announcement of a flagship game being released as mobile-only, underscoring how publishers are adapting to the changing demands of consumers who are playing more games (and generating revenues) on their mobile devices. Also in October, a broad market pullback developed, which has affected some video game publishers and chipmakers. This market correction may present opportunities, as lower prices are now presenting relatively attractive valuations for companies affected by the downturn.
Video Game Revenue Strength Ahead of Holiday Season
According to NPD Group, video game spending hit $1.55B in October, the highest for any October since NPD began tracking the market in 1995. Two blockbuster releases drove this revenue number. Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 sold $725M worth of copies within the first three days of its release. The open-world1 Western adventure game is broadly considered the front-runner to win multiple “Game of the Year” awards. Earlier in October, Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was released and earned $500M in sales in three days. One of Black Ops 4’s main draws is the game’s “Blackout” mode, which follows the same battle royale2 gameplay found in Fortnite.
Analysts are predicting that the widespread popularity of Black Ops 4 will chip away at Fortnite’s dedicated user base, reinforcing the notion that the continual release of new games provides a number of benefits for both publishers and consumers. If the newly released games are high quality and engaging, gamers may be more likely to buy the new game and play it in place of the old one, especially if the older game has held market share dominance for a prolonged period of time (like Fortnite has). This provides incentives and opportunities for developers to continually produce high quality games, which can translate into revenue dollars.
Adapting to Shifting Consumer Preferences
Mobile gaming, as opposed to traditional PC and console gaming, is proving to be a bright spot in the industry. Over half of all global gaming revenues in 2018 is expected to come from mobile gaming.3 On an annual basis, mobile gaming revenues have grown by over 25%. In light of this, game publishers are adapting to the marketplace by releasing high profile games for mobile devices, and not without some controversy.
Over Half of Global Game Revenues Come from Mobile
One of the most popular PC titles of the past 20 years is the Diablo series, which is published by Blizzard (an Activision subsidiary). At its yearly BlizzCon gaming convention, Blizzard announced that the next Diablo title would be a massive multiplayer game to be released for mobile devices only. While the announcement received some negative attention from Blizzard fans at the convention and online, the decision represents a titanic shift in how people are playing one of the most popular PC titles in history. It is yet another instance of a game publisher adapting to the shifting demands of its consumer base, in this case by developing a mobile version of a PC classic.
Finding Opportunities in Market Headwinds
Broad market volatility has led to steep declines in some video game companies and related chip-makers in the fourth quarter of 2018. A number of U.S. names in particular have been hit especially hard. Fears of a U.S./China trade war and a prolonged bear market in the cryptocurrency space are helping to drive negative sentiment and push prices lower. Bureaucratic red-tape issues have also effectively halted the release of new games in China since March, which has led to less-than-ebullient sentiment for companies with heavy Chinese exposure.
Earlier in the year, these companies were widely considered to be overvalued, along with the majority of the broader technology sector. Despite price declines, the long-term outlook for these companies is essentially unchanged. We believe, lower prices are now presenting relatively attractive valuations, compared to levels from only a few months ago. The video game industry, boosted by the rise of esports, sits at the forefront of global cultural consciousness, and video gaming revenues remain robust.
A targeted, pure-play approach may offer a way to gain exposure to this long-term growth story. The VanEck Vectors® Video Gaming and eSports ETF (ESPO™) seeks to track the MVIS Global Video Gaming and eSports Index, which is composed of video game and related software developers, streaming services and companies involved in esports events. The index is designed to include video gaming and esports companies with market cap exceeding $150M, while also avoiding adding companies which don’t generate at least 50% of revenue from the targeted industry.
1Open world is a video game genre featuring a virtual world in which players can explore and approach objectives freely, instead of following a more linear gameplay.
2Battle royale is a video game genre blending survival, exploration, and scavenging with last-man-standing gameplay.
3Source: Newzoo Global Games Market Report, 2018.
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Authored byJohn Patrick Lee, CFA