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Activision confirms new games and new focus in pre-E3 conference

Publishing giant describes European business as "underdeveloped" as new titles confirmed

Activision Blizzard has opened E3 with the first conference of the week - although, rather than a physical meeting, the publisher elected to hold a webcast and conference call on last evening ahead of the main activities this week.

CEO and president Bobby Kotick began the by claiming that Activision Blizzard is on course to hit USD 1 billion in profit by 2012. As detailed by GameSpot, he attributed the company's continued growth to an increase in the worldwide audience for games.

Kotick stated his belief that the modern audience is driven by three factors: new interfaces, social interaction and good value for money. He quoted a recent Activision study which found that 23 million people now play games online, compared to just 12 million 18 months ago.

Other statistics included a 22 per cent increase in the number of console gamers in the West since 2005, with a 36 per cent increase in the number of female gamers. Activision has found that the number of hours spent playing games for existing customers is on the increase, with attach rates up by 17 per cent on the previous generation.

Taking his turn speaking to investors and journalists, chief financial officer Thomas Tippl characterised Activision's European business as "underdeveloped".

He also spoke about the company's move towards what he characterised as "higher-margin businesses" and away from "nickel-and-dime" businesses such as distribution and licensed properties. He also discussed how all employees were encourages to keep costs down and focus on "thrift and action".

"If there is one thing true of this hardware cycle, it's that the rising tide no longer lifts all boats," said Tippl in a series of thinly veiled references to EA and other competitors.

In discussing specific brands, new Guitar Hero boss Dan Rosensweig stated that international growth was now one of the main focuses for the company's music games, with the series still lagging in popularity in Europe compared to the US.

Rosenweig hinted at expanding the number of genres covered in Europe and making the hardware "more relevant" - although it was unclear whether this was simply a reference to DJ Hero. He also mentioned a new version of Guitar Hero for the PSP that would feature drumming for the first time.

Other new titles confirmed for the first time included a new Tony Hawk game in 2010, after this year's Ride, as well as new uses of the James Bond, Spider-Man and Transformers licenses - although presumably none of them based on specific films. Also mentioned was Shrek 4 and a new action game using an original intellectual property. There was also a hint of expanding the Call of Duty franchise into "related genres".

Blizzard's Mike Morhaime was also on hand to confirm that StarCraft II is expected to launch this year - although he made it clear this was subject to further change. Perhaps his most interesting comment though was in the questions and answers segment at the end of the call, when he answered a question about monetising the platform by saying simply, "I'm not ready to talk about that today."

More news and features from this year's E3 can be found on the special E3 event page.

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