Call of Duty: Black Ops II had a massive launch, generating $500 million on its first day at retail, but retail channel checks point to a franchise that could be on the way down, if you ask Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia.
"We believe unit sales of Call of Duty: Black Ops II are tracking down double digits year-over-year. Our checks show initial sales of CoD: Black Ops II at some retailers were down as much as 20 percent. Subsequently, it appears sales of CoD did pick up a bit over the Thanksgiving holiday. We think the current sales curve suggests CoD: Black Ops II unit sales in its first year could ultimately be down 10 percent to 15 percent year-over-year," he said.
"If we are right, this would be the second year in a row this critical franchise will have seen units decline (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is down an estimated 5 percent versus Call of Duty: Black Ops). We estimate CoD generates 40 percent to 45 percent of the company's EBIT on an annual basis and it goes without saying that weakness in this franchise is a cause for concern."
Bhatia noted that Microsoft's Halo 4 launch and people anticipating big sales could have affected Call of Duty's performance: "We think there are possibly three reasons for the weakness in Black Ops II: 1) We note that ratings for Black Ops II on average were slightly lower than Modern Warfare 3, which may have impacted initial sell-through; 2) Black Ops II launched only a week after Halo 4, which could have impacted its sales; and 3) Black Ops II launched only a week before Thanksgiving, which may have caused some consumers to delay purchases in anticipation of potential deals/discounts."
While Call of Duty is still the king of shooters, Bhatia points out that next year is likely to see another highly-rated Battlefield game, and EA's deal with Respawn may yield something fruitful in 2014, so Activision will be facing some stiff competition.